A Season For Change


In early December on a cold Thursday morning, we had our first major snowfall of the season. The beauty of that first snow only further reinforced the holiday spirit. On that particular day, it became ...

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In early December on a cold Thursday morning, we had our first major snowfall of the season. The beauty of that first snow only further reinforced the holiday spirit. On that particular day, it became contagious.

Unfortunately, as the snow grew heavy, road crews could barely keep the roads from becoming increasingly slippery. A growing number of motorists began to panic. There were fender benders up and down Main Street in Port Jefferson for miles.

Despite these unfortunate circumstances, countless people were not deterred from getting out of their cars and assisting their disabled neighbors with kindness and support.

As I walked amid the chaos on that snowy day, I could not help but smile as I thought of the many hands and hearts that were reaching out. It only underscored my belief in the basic goodness of most people.

However, I also realized as I passed one accident after another, how we panic and spend half our lives rushing. Sometimes we need to slow down and smell the flowers. We need to really appreciate all that we have and all that we are. We need to think and respond, rather than impulsively react.

On the Tuesday of the week of the first snow, I went to an annual holiday party celebrating the creation of Christa House, the Jerry Hartman residence in West Babylon. It is a home for the dying poor. It was founded to provide non-judgmental and compassionate care for the dying poor and those in the end stages of AIDS. This community promotes holistic living within one's self and with others. It empowers the dying to live in peace, safety and dignity.

Over six hundred people gathered at the Huntington Town House to celebrate the holidays and support this vital resource for the poor. Hundreds of thousands of dollars were raised that night to maintain a dignified, loving environment for the dying poor, which will empower them to embrace their end days with peace.

Their residence is very simply appointed. As soon as you walk through the front door, your heart and spirit are transformed by the compassion and warmth of the staff, the volunteers and the residents. It is truly a blessed and holy place.

The countless hands and hearts that touch that place every day are the best-kept miracles in our larger community.

So many at that dinner gave more than money. They volunteered in some capacity and felt that they received more than they gave. Sister Pat Ryan and Monsignor Thomas Hartman (of the God Squad fame) are the prime movers in this compassionate effort. They work ceaselessly to raise funds and advocate for the dying poor, never looking for anything in return. They are among the unsung heroes of our larger community.

When I visited the residence firsthand and met many of the residents, it was clear to me that they were grateful. Even though they were dying, Christa House had given them back their lives with dignity. In talking to one of their administrators, I was also profoundly touched that no one was turned away. There was no sanction list or forty-two things to be completed before one can be accepted into the community. There was not great concern if one's paperwork was in order or even if one's paperwork could be in order.

First and foremost the concern was for the person and their dignity and needs. That formula touched my heart, because it is not the formula in most human service settings. Too many programs are shackled by governmental regulations that set people up for failure. They are money driven. Treatment is not determined around need, but rather around money.

As a larger community, we are in a serious crisis. Human services for the poor and needy are literally being shut down. Suffolk County's on-going fiscal crisis is paralyzing a system of social welfare that on a good day is disabled and ineffective in meeting the needs of the poor.

The present recommendation of leadership is to impose a hiring freeze and cut ten percent off of all program budgets. This borders on suicide.

Since the retirement incentive took place, an already understaffed and overburdened workforce has been further crippled. Many of the knowledgeable, experienced professionals are gone. Few have been replaced. Morale is dismal and the needs of the poor are escalating daily.

It seems the goal of that plan is not to fix our ineffective system and try to make it better and more people friendly, but rather to deny services to a desperate population. The majority of people who are welfare dependent want to be self-reliant and self-sufficient. Trying to do more with less will not work.

Unfortunately, the poor are the voiceless with no fixed address. They are not invisible. They will not go away.

We need a creative vision that is willing to go beyond the bureaucracy and network with those who are really committed to making a difference.

The motel approach to homelessness as well as our approach to troubled young adults is a waste of taxpayer dollars.

This is a season to risk change. It is a time to build bridges instead of walls. I am confident that it would be more cost effective and life giving than our present approach.