Although the common perception of Orange County centers around fabulous beaches, highly competitive schools, luxury cars and homes, idyllic parks and family recreation opportunities, there is another side to this often privileged environment. When we received a reader question about how to talk to your kids about homeless families and those less fortunate in our county, we thought it could serve as a starter to a larger conversation, while highlighting some local heroes in the process.
Just Another Melodic Monday
Lois Abrams lives her life by the words of Winston Churchill, “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.” She, along with Guava Groove, a ukulele business enhancing the lives of homeless and troubled OC teens, reap the rewards of service by giving back to kids who are on temporary assignment at the Huntington Beach Youth Shelter.
Each Monday Lois brings a note of joy to those trapped in the cycle of emotional, physical, and mental abuse at the shelter. Most see the ukulele as little more than a simple instrument, but Lois and the teachers at Guava Groove have been able to use the universal language of music to help hundreds of teens and lift the heaviness of their circumstances.
The ukulele experiment began when Monty, a therapy dog owned by Lois, and his friends Chulee and Indy, began visiting the shelter every other Saturday as part of a healing program. When one of the children had a birthday, Lois would play her ukulele and sing Happy Birthday, while the dogs “danced”. When Lois saw one of the boys listening to the music and smiling she commented, “You have a beautiful smile.” In a quiet and gentle voice the boy responded, “I only smile when you are here with the ukulele.”
Lois realized the importance of the music and decided to solicit help from Guava Groove, a business that specializes in ukulele lessons, in order to bring lessons to the children at the shelter. She also reached out for donations of ukuleles in order to have enough for each child to have one of their own. By doing this, the kids could continue playing during the week following each Monday’s lesson.
Each Monday the teachers return to to teach the children additional chords and songs. Music and melodies began filling the Huntington Beach Youth Shelter as more ukuleles were donated and children took the classes. Mastering the instrument not only filled the halls with music, but enabled teens to build their self-esteem, gain confidence, discover something that they could do well, and become inspired to try new endeavors. When the time came for the teens to “graduate” out of the shelter, they were offered the ukulele to keep and take home so that they could continue playing.
There is now a strong core of teachers who have not missed a Monday or the opportunity to reach through the stresses these children face, in order to bring to them a joyful song — a great enemy of depression and loneliness. For many of us, we may never know the ripple effect of a kind word, fleck of generosity, sincere smile, or an act of service. While the team may feel like there is so much more they can do, they are giving their best every Monday, to an eager group of students, who are able to defeat the pulls of depression with the strum of a ukulele.
To find out how you can help kids who are staying at the shelter please visit Community Service Programs at www.cspinc.org
Talking with Your Kids about Homelessness
My daughter is in school with a child who is living in a homeless shelter and started to ask questions about their situation. How should I talk to my child about homelessness and poverty?
Questions like this are a great opportunity to have a conversation with your child about issues that can be difficult to bring up. Here are a few practical, compassionate tips for discussing the topic of homelessness with your child.
Know the Facts
Homelessness is an everyday reality for approximately 1,650 school age children in Orange County who are housed in motels, vehicles, or are unsheltered and on the streets. With the cost of living on the rise, the gap between rental cost and family income grows larger, forcing many parents and their children to seek refuge in places not meant for human habitation. Keep in mind that most families confronted with homelessness in Orange County have experienced job loss, natural disaster, divorce, abuse or a medical crisis. Broach the topic as one to be aware – not afraid- of.
Determine Your Own Values and Message
When you see people asking for money on the street, do you ignore them or do you offer help? Recognize that however you respond, you are sending a message to your child about what is ok to talk about and how to respond. Take some time to think about your own values so that when your child approaches you, you have a clear message.
What do I say?
Consider saying, “We have much to be thankful for. Not all children are as fortunate.” Personalize this situation for your child and ask how they would feel if they didn’t have a home. How would you feel? What would you tell your friends? How would you want them to treat you? When we normalize people as people, not putting a value on them because of their zip code or clothes or home, we raise compassionate children who will offer empathy to others.
Show your child tangible ways to help. Volunteer together to help those in need in your local community. Collect care items and other essentials or donate money to a nonprofit that serves homeless families. Encourage your child to go through their toys and select items they want to give to other kids in need. Modeling compassion and empathy is an invaluable life lesson.
Scott Larson is the executive director of HomeAid Orange County, the founding chapter of a national nonprofit organization that builds new lives for homeless families and individuals through housing and community outreach. HomeAid’s new Family CareCenter, an emergency shelter, serves 10-15 families per day.
Keeping Families Together
A new family-focused shelter has opened in Orange County. HomeAid’s Family CareCenter anticipates serving 10-15 families daily at the 56-bed, 10,000-square foot facility in Orange.
“The opportunity to support the needs of over 500 residents experiencing homelessness annually, all of them families with a minor, enables HomeAid Orange County to make a significant dent in the challenge of homelessness in Orange County,” said Scott Larson, HomeAid Orange County executive director. “Families and children who are homeless are in tremendous need, and available housing resources for them are scarce in Orange County.”
Unlike other shelters best structured for individuals and not designed to keep families together, the Family CareCenter is a place where parents can feel confident that the immediate needs of themselves and their children are met, enabling them to focus on finding secure places to live. According to Larson, HomeAid’s “commitment to providing a safe haven for families who suddenly find themselves without a home led us to develop this emergency housing solution.”