Sunday, April 4, 2010

CarePoint: Serving Our Forgotten Populations

113 Custer Avenue
Evanston, IL 60202

It is difficult in any economy for a nonprofit start-up to survive.  Financial struggles today are paramount as grant and foundation money becomes scarcer and the pool of potential individual donors shrinks due to high unemployment numbers.  Organizations that do survive tend to be led by visionary and driven individuals who are somehow able to keep things going.  So it is with the highest admiration that I write about CarePoint, whose founder Vincent Gillon, died suddenly of a heart attack two years ago.  Gillon, who suffered for years as a heroin addict, turned his life around after his sister died of an overdose.  He began working with agencies that served substance abusers, the homeless and people with HIV/AIDS.  He created CarePoint in 1998 to fill the gap in services he observed for underprivileged and marginalized populations.

CarePoint works with a number of populations on the north side of Chicago and in Cook County’s northern suburbs.  The major issues they deal with in the population they serve are:
·      Poverty
·      Mental Illness
·      Homelessness
·      Substance Abuse
·      HIV/AIDS
·      Viral Hepatitis
·      Incarceration

CarePoint’s philosophy is strongly rooted in an understanding that clients are not just navigating the struggles of one area.  They almost always have multiple issues to deal with at the same time.  This unique perspective allows them to be stronger and more effective allies for their clients.  They understand that many who are homeless also have substance abuse issues-and they very likely need job searching skills.  As a part of their comprehensive approach to client services, CarePoint collaborates with a number of social service agencies to help clients overcome obstacles.  They serve as an access point into the system of social service agencies for their clients and then provide assistance navigating that system.  Additionally, they also provide direct service to clients.  Here is the list of programs that CarePoint offers to clients:

·      Access to Recovery
o   Substance Abuse
o   Incarceration
·      Connections (to obtain social services)
·      HIV Testing and Prevention
·      Harm Reduction (i.e. syringe exchange, safer sex supplies, hepatitis/HIV testing/risk reduction counseling-offered on site and through outreach)
·      Hepatitis C Testing and Prevention
·      Job Center
o   Computer Access
o   Phone Access (with voicemail)
o   Job Search Skills Training
·      Youth at Risk
o   Academic Tutoring
o   Drug prevention Education
o   Safer Sex Education
o   Sponsored Enrollment in Chicago Park District Sports Programs
o   Referrals for Other Services

CarePoint provides extraordinarily important services to people who may otherwise be forgotten.  However, important funding has been cut from the State of Illinois budget; the organization hopes to be able to avoid cutting services.  Stephen Radler, former president of CarePoint’s board of directors, took over as the Executive Director following Gillon’s death.  Fortunately for CarePoint, Radler’s background includes experience in business and finance. Radler has worked to establish relationships with grant administrators and to stabilize the agency financially, aiming toward sustainable growth. 

If you are interested in helping CarePoint, the “How You Can Help” page on their website includes a request for monetary donations as well as a request for basic office supplies.  Additionally, there is a comprehensive list of volunteer opportunities.  The organization is having a profound impact on the lives of its clients.  By getting involved through donations or volunteering, I am certain CarePoint will have a profound impact on your life as well.      

Monday, January 4, 2010

Colin Beavan: No Impact Man-A Green Revolution! (Colin's blog) (For action plans/suggestions/links)

I started hearing rumblings about Colin Beavan at the end of the summer and was immediately interested to learn more.  The premise of his book, No Impact Man (and subsequent documentary of the same name) was living a zero waste/zero carbon footprint lifestyle in Manhattan.  It seemed to be an extraordinary concept.  How could anyone even consider going off the grid in New York City?  I discovered that Colin Beavan would be speaking at my local library.  As the head of an aspiring green family, I certainly was not going to miss the opportunity to meet him in person.  So I checked the book out of the library and began reading, hoping to finish in time to hear him speak.

Reading No Impact Man provided me with a wealth of ideas about minimizing my family’s carbon footprint.  I learned about buying from local area farmers and reusing containers for everything from coffee at Starbucks to food at a farmers market.  But what truly surprised me about the story Colin wrote was what surprised him as well.  His commitment to live a greener lifestyle didn’t just help the planet-it made his family happier.  And this to me is the biggest selling point for going green.  It doesn’t have to be about sacrifice.  Doing better for the planet may actually improve your life!

Consistently, Colin’s message in his book, in person and when he graciously agreed to let me interview him is that we must make a choice about negatively impacting the planet.  Sometimes we may decide that the negative impact is worth the benefit.  We may want to travel to visit family or use a washing machine for laundry.  Certainly some choices are reasonable.  But so much of the harm we are causing the planet does not improve our lives or make us any happier.  At those times, we are trashing the planet for nothing.  The challenge then, is for each of us to do a cost/benefit analysis.  However, we are so conditioned to thinking we need things that are not necessary, we may not be able to do an honest appraisal of the costs and benefits of the choices we currently make.  Therefore, I believe it is worth a good look for all of us at Colin Beavan’s family as they got by with less. 

Colin began No Impact Man as an attempt to bring attention to our planet’s environmental crisis and to engage a broader audience.  As he was thinking about the project, he began to feel as though it was hypocritical to publicly criticize what everyone else was doing unless he was willing to do things differently.  The project provided him with a more authentic podium from which to speak about environmental issues.  There were some significant challenges with the project, including ascertaining the real facts about issues such as choosing cloth versus disposable diapers and learning how to create enticing meals while utilizing locally grown in season food.  Colin discovered websites and resources for virtually every challenge in addition to crafting some of his own solutions.  One of my favorite scenes in the documentary, when Colin, his two year old daughter and at first skeptical wife, were gleefully washing clothes in the bathtub, reminded me of owners of a vineyard stomping on grapes in their effort to make wine.  The simplicity of the moment and the joy the activity provided for all three was astounding.  As they eliminated activities that negatively impacted the planet, the family increased the occurrence of these moments of connection with each other. 

Creating broad based awareness, as Colin set out to do, is a daunting task.  My 16 year old daughter, a driving force for social justice in our home, is frequently frustrated with the total lack of commitment among her peers to lessening their impact on the environment.  The younger generation is the audience most likely to participate.  How then, do we drive this message out to those less involved in environmental issues?  Colin told me he believes it is key to promote the idea of personal responsibility; it isn’t just for the corporate world to change.  We as individuals can make a difference as well.

So here is my individual contribution.  I have written this blog post and will promote it on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and via email.  I will tell everyone I know what I know.  I ask that anyone reading this blog do what you can as well.  It may be a small revolution, but a revolution just the same.  We may not save the entire planet, but we will certainly save a small piece of it.  And if enough folks decide that individual choices matter, a lot of little actions may add up to something big.  Those who know me, know that I believe in the power of each of us to have an impact.  So now, I am becoming a believer in our power to lessen our impact on the planet. 

To help you get started, below are some tips that our family has easily added. If you have others, I STRONGLY encourage you to add them in the comments section.  And if you are really motivated, join the No Impact Project on January 10, 2010 for a carbon cleansing:     

Tips for Lessening Your Carbon Footprint

Walk or ride your bike when possible-great for you AND the planet

Never idle your car at drive thru windows-you’ll save gas AND the planet

Eliminate taking bags of any kind from any store-always have reusable bags

Lower your thermostat to 68 degrees in the winter and raise it to 76 degrees in the summer

Store leftovers and pack lunches in reusable containers instead of using foil or plastic wrap.

Ask restaurants for wax paper or foil instead of styrofoam for leftovers-or better yet, bring your own containers.

STOP purchasing water bottles and use refillable stainless steel water bottles.

We purchased and are trying to use hankies-not easy for a family of chronic allergy sufferers, but we are trying!

Put a jar filled with rocks in your toilet tank to reduce water usage.

Buy cloth napkins.  We got 2 packages at Target and love the colors!

Unplug anything electric you are not using-otherwise, it still draws a charge.

Replace regular light bulbs with compact fluorescent bulbs-they last longer and use less energy.

Let me know what tips you have.  Thanks for being part of the green revolution!