Finding passion in the midst of constant change

Nothing lasts on Earth. Nothing at all.

Is that a good thing?

Depends on your outlook.

If you are adventurous, you like doing new things all the time. You create change. Things that last probably bore you.

If you prefer security, commitment and long-term involvement, then change gets in the way. You might even fear it.

What if change comes, and you wish it wouldn’t?

I’m finding it hard to remain committed to much of anything these days. Maybe I have some secret anger, a restlessness, an insecurity, an impatience with something that keeps me from things that last.

Perhaps it’s none of those things. Perhaps this is just the way life is.

Short-term volunteering

For example, I enjoy mentoring elementary-age students through local schools. Many children these days need a good male role model. If I can help, I enjoy doing that.

Our church in Saginaw, Mich., partnered with the elementary school across the street, and that’s where I first got involved. I showed up at lunchtime and played games with the student, ate lunch with him, and gave him encouragement. Sometimes I helped him with homework that he didn’t finish in the morning.

That lasted a couple of years, until we moved to Rockford, Ill. A month or two after we moved there, I found a reading program through Rockford Public Schools. That winter/spring and the following fall, I spent an hour in a classroom, reading with four students whom the teacher sent to me in 15-minute segments. I assisted them with words they had trouble pronouncing, and I helped with their comprehension – do you understand what you are reading?

We moved away after a year to Elyria, Ohio. I found a lunchtime mentoring program at Midview Schools in nearby Grafton. After a year, that program disappeared and I never heard from the school district again.

So I connected with Greater Cleveland Volunteers, which introduced me to My Mentor My Friend, a lunchtime mentoring program at four elementaries in the Cleveland Metropolitan School District.  I picked the school on the west side of Cleveland (the other three schools all were on the east side), and mentored three students there in a little more than a year.

Trying to make a difference

My first student there moved away in the summer. My second student, probably a loner like me, seemed uncomfortable with the one-on-one attention and dropped out of the program. My third student also moved away this summer.

That’s the lifestyle of the typical low-income inner-city student. Many live with one parent, or in the case of one of my students, with Grandpa. The parent often rents and moves across town frequently. My last student told me his dad got a job in Arizona, and he was planning to move out there to be with him. Dad said Cleveland was too violent. The student had anger management issues and it wasn’t unusual for him to be on suspension when I showed up to mentor.

Did I make a difference? Only God knows. I will never see the long-term results of any student I have mentored thus far, in any district in any state.

That’s just the way it is.

And now, My Mentor My Friend lost its United Way funding and has ended.

The Cleveland school district might keep the mentoring program going on its own. We’ll see. I’m also looking into another mentoring program in Lorain, which is nearer to my home. Either way, it’s another new start.

Elyria City Schools doesn’t have a mentoring program, a teacher there told me recently, because of the work involved to set up and administer such a program. I get that. When a man wants to work with children, red flags go up, don’t they?

At each school district, I had to pass a background check. In Cleveland, I also faced two interviews, fingerprinting and had to provide references – as intensive as any job interview I’ve had.

A year and a half later, is it all for naught?

Where’s the passion?

I’ve had trouble keeping jobs long-term as well. I had one job that lasted eight weeks. The job in Rockford lasted 14 months. My first job here in Elyria lasted 13 months. My next job lasted 2.5 years, but I got burned out. Without going into details, that job is over too.

I enjoy volunteering in the community. Mentoring, yes, but doing other things as well.

It’s me and God now. I no longer answer to a supervisor.

Will I find work again? Perhaps, but perhaps not. Financially, we are doing well.

And, as I said, I’m burned out. Impatient. Perhaps angry.

I have no home on Earth. I’ve felt that way for a long time.

The Rev. Doug Mater, who is the current pastor of a former church where we worshipped and served, wrote the following in a church newsletter earlier this year:

 

How often do we let our God-given strengths go to waste? We spend so much time trying to overcome our limitations by doing things we are not equipped to do. On the contrary, we should consider our special talents for ministry and focus on doing these things better, asking ourselves if we are trying to do something that we are not equipped to do, just for the sake of thinking I need to be different. …

We must continue to be the best we can at these talents so that others will see us as Christians who care about others and want them to share in the joy that we have in Jesus Christ. So, I ask you to look at your talents and keep practicing them. … Let us excel for God with the talents He has given us for his glory.

 

That’s a great message. Often we focus on our weaknesses and try to get better. Or take a job, any job, just to meet the budget.

Instead, we should emphasize our strengths and do them with passion.

What am I “equipped to do?” Do I have any “special talents?” How can I “excel for God?”

As I face yet another transition in my life, this is a good time to ponder such questions.

The journey continues.

Beyond Donald and Hillary: The votes that truly matter

While the presidential election between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump gets by far the lion’s share of political headlines, there are many other races and issues on the ballot in November.

It’s easy to forget that.

The local and state votes are as meaningful – I would argue, more so – than who becomes our next president.

What condition are our roads in? Is the local school district seeking a renewal or an increase for technology, new buildings or general expenses? What about House and Senate seats, both statewide and national?

I see some judgeships on my ballot, too. If you’re like me, you don’t know much about those candidates. Time to do a little research.

Here in Ohio, there’s a U.S. Senate seat up for election that’s almost as contentious as the presidential race. The incumbent, Republican Rob Portman, and the challenger, Democrat Ted Strickland (a former governor), are waging high-profile, often mud-slinging campaigns, and have been for months. (Actually, many of the most vicious ads are paid for by PACs and not by the candidates themselves. That’s worth noting.)

I’ll be glad when the election is over for more than one reason.

The smartest candidates, especially in their radio ads (since I’m on the road a lot, I listen to the radio several hours a day), don’t even say what party they represent. They tout their stance on an issue or two important to them, often in a positive way.

I wish TV ads were modeled after radio ads. They’d be much more productive.

Local candidates

Our local newspaper recently published its election guide. That’s a great place to begin your research of the candidates and issues in your area. Ours was done in a Q-and-A format, allowing each candidate to answer specific questions in his or her own words. I can judge for myself how well each candidate responds.

We also can see which candidates did not take the time to respond.

That actually is more of an issue in the local League of Women Voters guide, available at local libraries, social service agencies and senior centers.

I was surprised. You’d think the League of Women Voters would be as impartial as anyone. Why not accept the free publicity?

You also could visit www.vote411.org and enter your street address to get a “one-stop shop” for election related information. This works in any jurisdiction across the country.

In Lorain County, Ohio, you also can visit the Board of Elections site, http://www.loraincountyelections.com/, for lists of candidates and issues. In Saginaw County, Mich., where my family lived for 27 years, check the county clerk’s elections page, http://www.saginawcounty.com/clerk/elections.aspx.

The League asked challenging questions, such as: “What should the federal government’s top three priorities be in setting a sound energy policy?”

Or, for a state House of Representatives race, how about this one: “When the Ohio legislature takes up the state biennial budget next year, what if any changes should be made to how funding is allocated between traditional public schools, charter schools, online schools, and state funds to nonpublic schools (including vouchers)? What accountability standards should be required of such schools that receive state funds?”

Answers to those types of questions offer good insight into the minds of our candidates.

Local issues

There are several dozen issues in our voters’ guide. Obviously, many of them are specific to certain communities, so I won’t get to weigh in on a lot of them, but countywide issues and local requests in my jurisdiction are topics I need to know about.

For example, my county is seeking a small sales tax increase to be split between the transit authority and the county general fund. Worth supporting? I need to decide.

I’ve seen numerous yard signs for Issue 35, an addiction services levy. Heroin and opioid (pain-killer) addictions are severe problems around here, and, in the words of our election guide, “The county is asking for help in funding local drug addiction recovery centers as the need is outpacing the support available.”

That issue impacts more lives in this county than who our next U.S. president will be.

At least two neighboring jurisdictions are seeking levies to stabilize funding for firefighters. Worth the cost?

There are a half-dozen or so school levies on ballots across our county. One is a countywide renewal for a career technical training school. I’ll also get to vote on a local school bond issue (Issue 23), in which our district is seeking money to build new elementary and middle schools. The district plans to reduce the number of buildings and replace aging, outdated structures with state-of-the-art schools in strategic locations around the city. If we approve, the state will pay the lion’s share of the costs (those are tax dollars too – we can’t forget that), but the local share will be significant.

The school district has made its case. Am I buying it?

As voters, we need to do our homework on behalf of the schools.

Making a difference

Who will we elect as our next president? That winner will dominate the headlines on Nov. 9, no doubt. But addiction services and local schools will have a more immediate impact on our lives.

And a longer-term impact, too.

Hillary and Donald, neither of you is as important as you think you are. You’ll be around for four years, maybe eight, and that’s all (unless your spouse gets elected too). Local issues preceded you, and they will outlast you.

Get out of our way, actually. Let us live our lives. And tell the U.S. Supreme Court to lighten up, too.

We have more important issues to worry about.

Like how our children are going to be educated. And which roads will get repaired next.

Happy voting. See you at the polls.