21 February

Filling The Holes

by Jon Katz

The more I work with people at the Mansion, a Medicaid facility in Cambridge, N.Y., the more I see my role – our role – as filling the holes in their lives.  We have no miracles to offer, we can’t change the course of my life.

If my work at the Mansion and with the refugees has taught me anything, it is to think smaller and smaller, not bigger and bigger.

A lot of people have noticed our work with the Mansion, I am often asked to think about expanding this program, or to urge other people to replicate it in their towns, or to establish the Army Of Good as a federal non-profit, or to set up crowd-sourcing pages.

I feel more strongly every day to stand as we are, to stay small, to stay manageable. To choose our deeds well and knowingly.

A resident at the Mansion asked me to loan them $50 yesterday so they could go out with his family. I said no, we don’t loan money, we aren’t a bank. I think he was surprised. We fill the small holes in people’s loves. Socks, stationery, sweaters.

The refugee work, which has been difficult and often painful for me – the suspicion and hostility in the refugee world has stunned me. Helping is a battle, almost every time. Even helping.

That has been hard for me, I won’t lie about it. You can have the best intentions in the world, but there is great pain and hurt and anger out there, it is a great wall to break through. Sometimes I could break though, sometimes I just ran headlong into it. My thick skull is black and blue.

I’ll write about this more one day, but not now. It would harm helpless people.

This work has also taught me something about money. It is not about money, it is not about raising tons of money and distributing tons of money. Me – we – are way too small to alter the difficult reality of refugees in America with gobs of money. Money, I have learned, can be a poison. Sticking our thumbs in dikes can’t work.

We can do enormous good in many ways with small amounts of money. And we are. With young refugee children, with the Mansion residents.

Only government can do what needs to be done with the refugees, and used to be done.

The tragedy is that government, for the most part, has stopped doing that. It’s hard to see. It tore me up.

My focus now is on helping refugee children one at a time. And if the refugee groups won’t help, then I’ll work to set it up myself. We are close to getting a gifted refugee student  Eh K’ Pru Shee Wah, into a private school. If she succeeds, then I’ll seek another, and another and another and hopefully make this an annual and continuous work.

I can’t think of a better way to change lives.

I am asking the schools to undertake the fund-raising and offer generous scholarships, we can help if we like, but we won’t be bearing the brunt of this work. If the schools want diversity, and they say they do, then they will have to pay up, and not simply rely on others. I can help find the students.

I am also working to team up with parents and kids within the private schools. There is tremendous support for this idea, and I think this is the path for me an for the Army Of Good that will change lives in a profound but realistic way. It isn’t about money, it’s about creativity, as always.

But it is the Mansion that has provided the best model and inspiration for me, day after day.

Small acts of great kindness. Filling the holes, not knocking down the house. We do the best than we can for as long as we can. I tell people to think small, go low. It is the small things of life they most need – letters, music, movies, sweaters. They will need a lot of new clothes when the warm weather comes in a few weeks.

(Picking up Chinese Food for the Mansion aides today)

I am so grateful to the Mansion for letting me do this work and supporting me.

Yesterday, a book for Matt. Watercolor pencils and a pad for Tim. A  wristwatch for Art, and a Christian video. Today, a stuffed dog for Katherine, who seems lonely at times, and who came to the Mansion with little. Some socks and some sneakers. A new wristwatch for Peggie, a stuffed dog for Ruth. Some photo books for the Activity room, some stamps for Sylvie (who said, for the first time ever, that she thought she had enough stamps for this week!) Underpants for T—-, soap and shampoo for the bathrooms. Valentine’s Day cards and gifts.

A new TV for the Great Room, and a bunch of DVD’s.

Today, I spent $117 to bring Chinese food to the Mansion aides, who worked so hard and patiently during their month-long evacuation ordeal. A small thing to me, a big thing to them. It was a joy to see.

I love this work and am deeply grateful for your support, none of this would be possible with you. I think we are working on scale now. If you wish to help me,  you can donate via Paypal, jon@bedlamfarm.com The Mansion Fund. Or you can send a check to Jon Katz, Mansion Fund, P.O. Box 205, Cambridge, N.Y., 12816. All donations help, those $5 bills lift my heart right up.

New Mansion resident list:  Winnie, Ellen, Matt, Mary, Gerry, Sylvie, Alice, Jean, Madeline, Helen, Barbara, Alanna, Linda, Peggie, Dottie, Tim, Art, Wayne, Kathryn, Ruth.

They love getting letters, but I can’t promise they can respond, and it would be inappropriate for me to ask, that might feel like pressure to them.

 

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