‘So moving and healing to my soul, a peaceful feeling came over me…’ This is a powerful story of hope. But it saddens me deeply. My heart and soul reminds me that all too often homeless men and women die in the streets way to early than the rest of us.
In the case of Chaz, he died on a cold lonely pavement of a parking lot. I was so taken by this loving tribute to the life of Chaz that keeping his story alive permanently in my archives seemed so appropriate and healing. I want to share Chaz’s story with a broader audience as ‘food for the soul’ for others to see and learn from.
Chaz lived the spirit life… Chaz, and many other brothers and sisters are loving members of our local community just like the rest of us. We are all the same…
I believe we should think about how to remember the homeless population in ways that reinforce programs like the Stepping Up Initiative, designed to help the most vulnerable folks among us find a healthier and sustainable lifestyle. Most importantly to stick around with us much longer to make a difference for others.
Chaz was a mentor, who provided peer support to others who struggled to find hope for a better future. Chaz is not here anymore, but his spirit survives and thrives… As a caring and loving community we should never forget Chaz… How we care for the most vulnerable citizens in our community is a reflection of who we are…
• Make medical appointments or drive to the doctor? • Drive to the pharmacy to pick up prescriptions? • Get dressed, take a shower, or take medication? • Get in and out of bed? • Complete physical therapy or give injections? • Feed self, with feeding tubes or complete similar procedures at home? • Talk with doctors, nurses, social workers, and others to understand about their medical care or benefits?
If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, you are a caregiver and may be eligible for caregiver services at VA.
Hug your caregiver everyday and often. Tell this most important person in your life how much you appreciate them. It’s hard when you’re in serious physical and emotional pain to stop for a moment when possible to say I love you… I see the stress and tears from my loving wife when the going gets tough. We try to work as a team to focus on empathy and compassion for each other. Judy puts her hand on her heart and gives me that beautiful smile that heals my soul. Love wins over the demons everytime. A new day is born with hope. The triggers then stay at a safe distance.
Steve Sparks, Author, Blogger, Mental Health Advocate
I can never appreciate enough all the love and support received over the years from the person who has been my rock for over 35 years, my soul mate, and wife, Judy. As a person seriously affected by addiction and mental illness with lifetime recovery implications, I would not be here today at age 73 without the profoundly life saving unconditional love of Judy… This is what I truly believe…
With all the decades of loving support from Judy and caregivers like her everywhere, it takes its toll and often presents a risk of Secondary PTSD on the person caring for a loved one or as a friend, colleague, clinician or peer support professional. Along with the joyful times in our life together, my physical and mental health issues have been ever present from day 1, and a work in progress, indeed. I was in denial for most of my life so the “work in progress” part was much harder and reactionery with bad results. Now, in these later years with a much higher level of awareness, we work more as a team and help each other as a family. Healing is a team effort. Don’t try it alone, please!
Take a moment each day to thank the caregivers in your life and hug them often, Check out the reference links above to learn more about how to support your special caregiver(s).
“Holidays and family functions can make the PTSD sufferer feel like an outsider. They may feel uncomfortable joining in the celebration and, as a result, end up feeling alone and isolated. Although family members may try to include the person with PTSD, if the event brings back memories or makes him or her uncomfortable, being pushed into participating can make the feelings of isolation even more uncomfortable.”
I am now learning how to love the best time of the year, the Holiday Season! It is still a challenge at times, but knowing why I “hated Christmas” for most of my adult life has been very healing and constructive for me and my loved ones. Each and every year at Christmas time, my wife, Judy, dreaded my annual announcement, “I hate Christmas!” The joyous season was no joy for me starting around Thanksgiving, and it was a feeling never understood until researching and writing my book, Reconciliation: A Son’s Story. I usually did a pretty good job making others at home miserable during the Holiday Season.
Not knowing why one has certain negative feelings that affect those close to you is not good anytime of the year. But with increased awareness of the symptoms of PTSD and the pain of moral injury, it is entirely possible to experience the joy of the Holiday Season. This will be the sixth year in a row that Judy nor others will hear, “I hate Christmas.” I feel more joy now than ever, and very blessed. The journey of healing is well in hand for me and others in my family. My heart is more open to the spiritual meaning of Christmas as a Christian. My only regret is not knowing and learning much earlier in life about moral injury and the symptoms of PTSD. Living and coping with the pain is terrible for the person affected, but even worse for those you love, who have to live with this negative behavior. This time of the year is special and it is when we should all have forgiveness in our hearts, lots of love to share, and a desire to make a difference for others. When you engage in making others happy, you are much happier!
The holidays are far more joyful for me these days since researching and writing my book, Reconciliation: A Son’s Story. I am now fully aware of the circumstances and symptoms of life after trauma. Although still a work in progress, it is so much easier to keep the pain of the past at a safe distance. I now look forward to the holidays with my family and friends. I engage with pleasure and joy with loved ones in all the preparations and celebrations rather than escape to my blanket fort of the past. I spend my time counting our blessings and the spiritual meaning of this season of joy. For me, helping others, focusing on loved ones, and things larger than myself creates new and positive memories during the holidays. The best part is knowing that my own outward expressions of happiness and joy are infectious and allow those close to me to experience a much happier season rather than being distracted.
Several years ago while walking around our City Park in Depoe Bay, Oregon, I stopped to look closely at our town’s VFW Veterans Memorial. When I looked closer, the name Ronald Allen Slane, Sp5, US Army 1967-68 was engraved on the plaque as an example to honor veterans of all wars. Ron was a medic who died during an ambush in Vietnam while trying to save another soldier…he didn’t even have a weapon to defend himself. “Ron Slane, Lincoln City, Oregon, volunteered to go to war as an army medic. He was a conscientious objector, but believed he had a duty to serve in some way.”
For me, and millions of kids born before and after WWII, Veterans Day, is very personal. Now, in retirement, I devote much of my spare time honoring veterans of all wars, and military families who serve too… I also honor my fellow veterans who served during the Vietnam War, and all the wars since then. We can never thank our veterans and their families enough for serving America while protecting the freedoms we enjoy each and every day of our lives. This is a debt that can never be paid back…
On this Veterans Day, go visit at least one veterans memorial close to home, and give thanks to all those who have served, who serve now, and will serve in the future, including 1st responders who keep us safe on the home front. Thank the families and loved ones who serve too, and who become the care givers to our heroes who return home with moral and physical injuries that often require a lifetime of healing.
ATTENTION! This is a reader engaging lessons learned activity! Think about what this suggests from a dear friend(s) and colleague(s), “running a nonprofit ain’t no picnic at the beach!”Neighbors for Kids, Depoe Bay, Oregon. I served as board director and officer from 2010 to 2016. What a ride! My first nonprofit board service experience was Village Art in the Park, Leavenworth, Wa from 1991 to 1996, including serving as chair for three years. Anyone serving on a nonprofit board, staff, committee, including stakeholders and partners, or interested in making a difference for your community, this is a worthy read!
Please begin this activity by reading the brief article in the link below.
Big Picture Realities
Serving is far more work than you anticipated… Until you experience this you will never know how much board members, staff and volunteers slave to build the best of the best nonprofit business model for a social services cause they love.
Far more responsibility than you may have understood or imagined, but highly rewarding. Count on a relatively few board members who are actually appropriately passionate, compassionate and empathetic toward the cause. Social services non-profits, as an example, are often providing 24/7 essential community based services to the most vulnerable citizens in our community. The executive director’s passion and leadership is the difference between success and failure. But without a proactive, highly engaged board and larger community commitment to the cause, your non-profit will struggle to compete for funding… It’s like a 3 legged stool…
No doubt it is far more frustrating than you considered. Serving on a board is thankless, believe me. The charity cause has to be part of your DNA. Don’t commit to board service if this makes you nervous about a time and energy commitment, please don’t do it! Serve on a committee first. Try it, you might like it… This experience could be the most rewarding thing you have done in a lifetime of giving back to your community. Serving on boards and making a difference in my community has been a source of healing for me from a very challenging life history.
1) Board service may well be the hardest but most rewarding job in your life. It has been for me…
Board service is a very serious commitment. Board officers and directors have fiduciary and governance duties and must follow best practices as any other business enterprise. Vetting good board members is the key to building a solid team of community building leaders who really care about the charity. There is a huge amount of “sweat equity” by board members, including investing in the non-profit’s future sustainability through in-kind services and money. In the for profit business world it is called, “participation.” The most important ingredients to success are trust, respect, and confidence in each other as friends and colleagues. Don’t hold back, communicate your passion and ideas. Board development and capacity building training must be an on-going priority with measured outcomes.
2) Your voice is as valuable at your first meeting as it is at your last.
Each and every board member has equal power to make a difference. It is in your commitment and participatory engagement that builds exponential capacity to make things happen in your community. When the full board is working together as a cohesive, strategy driven team with the executive director, staff and larger community, anything is possible!
3) You deserve a very good orientation.
The best advice I ever heard from a legacy donor about board service; “The good news, is you will not go to jail for being stupid.”
The most critical orientation for a new board member is learning the laws and executive management best practices connected with 501cX charity nonprofits. This is IMPORTANT! Buddy up with a board member with experience, meet once a week for coffee/chat. Build relationships and trust. Work together to champion a new fund raising idea. Pursue opportunities for building capacity with new community collaborations and partnerships. Learn how you can help and get engaged as a board member volunteer. I have found that my empathy and compassion for the most vulnerable citizens we serve, increased ten fold. This kind of proactive engagement results in more passion, more energy, more personal satisfaction with the social cause and in succeeding as a star agency in your community. Leading in the community as a nonprofit pays off big time with extra sweat equity on the part of board members. Hire a business development director. These highly skilled community building professionals pay for themselves 10 times over the long run by building a strong donor list, with estate planning and legacy giving strategies.
4) The board is NOT an appendage to the organization.
Maximizing opportunities as a board in your social services space requires highly passionate and compassionate board members. This work is all about empathy and trust. The staff of a nonprofit wouldn’t be there if they were not all in on the mission and probably have a life history connected to the cause. Don’t get in their way! Be a collaborator on the inside as well as community building on the the outside. Don’t wait for the phone to ring, listen, learn, get involved, and take ownership. The board’s job is to build capacity for the charity cause with a long term goal of achieving sustainability. Board members are the very best citizens in communities all over America. A well run nonprofit charity will recruit and retain volunteers far more effectively. When you love your community, they will love you back! We are the stewards of community owned nonprofits. It has always been an honor and priviledge to serve my community in this capacity.
5) You do NOT need to know rich people to be successful.
It’s worth knowing that the smaller donor ($100) living within your community represents a significant potential for incremental and sustainable funding. We can’t live off a “grant to grant pay period” for staff and operations. Building a diversified funding strategy and portfolio is key to sustainability. Board members are the ‘sales arm’ of a charity! It is your passion about the cause that attracts new donors and funding opportunities. For nonprofits fortunate enough, larger donations are more competitive with “bricks and morter” on the balance sheet. Identify and apply for earned income opportunities through larger community partnerships, especially upstream health care and social services connected with Medicaid population for the most vulnerable citizens in your community. The social services landscape is changing dramatically and taking on more of the services related to the “social determinants of health care.” Start a new ‘innovation’ committee on your board to look at earned income opportunites and/or partnerships that open the door to building capacity. The future is in public/private/philanthropic partnerships that leverage and scale social services to be more responsive and cost effective to the community.
6) Your passion for the organization must be greater than your fear of asking
“Passion is the #1 ingredient for successful board service. It’s also the ingredient to inviting people to know and do more for the organization.” Board members become the face to the community, community outreach champions. Without the high energy, sense of urgency, and hypervigilence of great board members we have all known and love, the community would be unable to sustain vital and essential community based social services. I have always been so grateful for the friends and colleagues who served with me over many decades, and treasure the fond memories and community successes.
7) If you miss two board meetings in a row, call your board chair.
If you are unable to attend regular board meetings and start to fall away, have a chat with your board chair. Maybe it is time to move on or get a new assignment that touches your heart. Missing all the action of community events, regular and committee meetings, makes it hard for the rest of the team. I remember the worst of it on rare occassions when myriad personal and professional circumstances of board members made it very challenging for those of us left behind to pick up the pieces, requiring volunteer neighbors, along with back up temporary board director appointments. It’s usually a big mess and no fun for your remaining friends and colleagues. I call it the “Humpty Dumpty” transition back to good governance and fiduciary stability. They will hate you for this, believe me! Your staff typically knows how to ride this wave…and keep the ship afloat. All heros in my mind…
8) You have power over staff – use it wisely and never abuse it.
“Do not get me started on abuse of power. The number of stories I hear about bullying and abusive board members just gobsmacks me. So two things… if you are joining a board because it feels powerful, go be powerful somewhere else. And secondly and more importantly, please call it out if you see it.” I can’t say this any better!
9) You need to give a gift that Is one of the top 3 charitable gifts you make.
My experience with board members gifts is very personal. Don’t push board members on this topic. Each person will make a commitment of their own choosing on their own time. Gifts are both cash and in-kind. Board members who bring professional experience and skill sets to the board, are worth much appreciation and acknowledgement. Think of the cost of professional services if board members offered experience and certain skills in fund raising and community building. Put it all together, building a diversified board with complementary skill sets and life experience is ideal and doable, no pipe dream.
10) PLEASE share rewarding stories of board service to folks by joining the conversation.
Please share your story! I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a comment.
“Twenty three years later (following WWI), we were preparing for yet another world war and we answered that all too familiar call. The call that your country needs you, and without hesitation spouses gave what their country demanded of them, even on the heels of The Great Depression when times were still tough. Spouses went to work in defense plants and volunteered for many war related organizations such as The Red Cross. Life on the home front was a crucial part of the war effort and had a significant influence on the outcome of this particular war. Spouses, in part, helped supply the fruits of victory. That is where we come from, remember that!”
The photo above of my mother, Marcella, was taken the very last time we visited in Reno, Nevada. Mom passed away January 1, 2016. With each visit for so many years, I couldn’t help asking myself if this was the last time I would see her. At age 97 on September 25, 2015 was up and around living her life in the comfortable and caring home of Regent Care Center in Reno, Nevada.
We owe so much to the military spouses and moms of all wars! “Together we served!” Without the courageous military spouses of “then and now,” we military kids, including my own boomer generation, would not be here at all. War weary soldiers and sailors had the hopes and dreams of going home to resume their lives, which gave them the spiritual power and bravery to get through each day, no matter how horrific the circumstances of battle. We remember and honor the ultimate sacrifice of countless numbers of warriors who didn’t make it home. Many had children they never met. It was then and now that the military spouse as a single mom, had to carry on and raise the children who would not have a father. For those warriors who did come home, the war often came home with them. It was then and now a double duty to care for a broken warrior as well as raise the children who came before and after the war was over…
It is with love, privilege and honor to celebrate my mother’s birthday; and her service to America. Military families serve(d) too! It was a hard road for my parents and countless couples who came out of the Depression Era to fight for freedom during World War II. The home front was critical to fighting and winning wars then and now…
Happy Birthday, Mom! I will always treasure the memories of our closeness during the last years of your life… We heal as a military family…
The reality of my own “adverse childhood experiences” is just catching up with me at age 73. My guess is I’m not alone. Not too long ago I took an ACEs test for the very first time, and scored 9/10, not good, terrible really, and sad, very sad. The only reason for not getting the worst ACEs score of 10 was our parents stayed married. From my own life experiences, I don’t know if staying married makes any sense if it damages children with life-long mental health challenges, like me and so many others. But back in the 1950’s, the US Navy was the only source of income for our family. Otherwise, we would have been foster kids, and that could have made things far worse. We will never know.
It was a very tough start for me as a young child when I contracted Polio at age 2 in 1948. Of course, there are no memories, probably a good thing. But from learning through conversations with my loving and caring siblings, I know that around that time, early in Polio research and before the discovery of a vaccine by Jonas Salk, I was isolated for many weeks in the US Naval Hospital in San Diego, CA. People were scared of Polio back then, so there was little or no hugging or nurturing as a toddler and throughout my childhood.
The unfortunate and emotionally numb state of mind of my mother for all of my childhood must have caused me to feel alone and scared that something was wrong with me…click here. Why did other kids get hugs and not me?What was wrong with me? My siblings were not hugged either, so it seemed that was the way it was in our home. Sadly, our home during the 50s and early 60s before I left home at age 17, was a loveless, chaotic, cold and scary place to be. My father was just getting back on his feet from 4 years fighting during the Pacific War, including surviving Pearl Harbor. Dad was also deployed for 9 months during the Korean War. Both parents suffered from significant mental health challenges from their own ACEs and after the war for the rest of their lives…inadequate treatment.
With much sadness in my heart, hugging and nurturing was not in the mix back then for our US Navy military family. Hugging – 7 Benefits For You And Your Child (Backed By Science)…click here. Add that to the overall profoundly dysfunctional culture in our home following the war, and it is not surprising that an ACEs score of 9/10 would apply to all 5 children in the Sparks home. Every one of us took all the baggage of moral injury into adult life. We decided as a family to end the cycle of intergenerational pain. The true motivation for me in healing is to leave this planet with a smile, peace of mind and a heart full of warm fuzzies.
Happy Adult Kids…
The good news from all of the truly painful childhood experiences, is that it is never too late to heal and recover. Healing is a life long journey of being exceptionally kind to yourself every day. It is hard, very complicated and painful at times to navigate my own journey of healing. I will say without a doubt, it is worth it! With a strong and loving family support system, great friends, and colleagues, I feel hopeful that peace of mind is now a healthy work in progress. I have also learned from my heightened awareness that with a “whole patient” treatment and recovery strategy, recovery success per the above reference is 86%. There is HOPE!
When you go home and hug your kids tonight, hug them tight, and tell them you love them. Help your little ones grow up so they leave home happy, healthly, confident, loving, and smart.
Lincoln County Commissioner, Claire Hall, a close friend and colleague, asked me to come in for a visit in May of 2016 after she attended a National Association of Counties (NACo) conference in Washington D.C. At that moment the Stepping Up Initiative was hatched in Claire’s office, and the rest is history. Commissioner Hall hired me as project consultant, and recruited newly installed Lincoln County Sheriff Curtis Landers to join the project leadership team. It is within this leadership structure and steadfast commitment that we began paving the way for the amazing transformation we have experienced as a community in the last three (3) years, including a ready and willing community of partners and stakeholders. As a community we had reached a critical point in 2016 when we had to change or be left behind as a rural County of close to 50,000 citizens. We were running out of time…
On October 5, 2016 Lincoln County Oregon Board of Commissioners (BOC) passed a resolution to make Stepping Up Initiative a top priority for leading Lincoln County into a 21st Century transformative health care delivery system; especially for the most vulnerable citizens, including our brothers, sisters, fathers, mothers, cousins, who are so often left behind in the streets as homeless, and all too often suffer from mental illness, and addiction. We then set out to navigate the County through an exciting and challenging period of change and breaking down barriers. As a community we were too siloed stuck in place for far too long. We had limited collaborations and partnerships which denied the community of diversified funding opportunities. Lincoln County Sheriff, Curtis Landers stepped up immediately to help lead with a smart on crime approach of diverting vulnerable individuals from the County Jail and hospital emergency services to community based treatment and recovery upstream services…a continuum of care.
The culmination of this awesome community building effort was represented in full force last Friday, September 13th. With a full moon and the stars aligned we met for the 3rd year as a leadership team of partners and stakeholders to review progress and continue to close the gaps and solidify Stepping Up Initiative as the new community based culture of collaboration. Hosted by Oregon Center on Behavioral Health & Justice Integration, the workshop goals are focused on this broader theme…
“Mental health and criminal justice systems often collide, creating significant barriers to treatment and support services. Sequential Intercept Mapping & Taking Action for Change helps develop and implement plans for community change through cross-system collaboration. This workshop enhances practices and facilitates organizational change utilizing innovative and dynamic tools to map systems, identify gaps in service, and clarify community resources.”
delivery of appropriate services to people with mental illness and/or substance
use disorders involved in the criminal justice system
identifying gaps in service
of local resources
This program is customized to the very specific needs and desired
outcomes of our community.
and Gaps in Service
an Action Plan to Implement Change
As a long time citizen of Lincoln County and Depoe Bay, Oregon, I’m so very honored and proud to have been part of this unprecedented community building effort in our coastal community. Lincoln County now leads in the State of Oregon and across the nation as a transformative rural community. We can be proud as a community of the excellent leadership and commitment from Lincoln County Board of Commissioners and Sheriff for their steadfast leadership commitment…and innovative spirit. We succeeded in becoming an empowered community of partners and stakeholders…and there is no turning back the clock. We are more than ready for the next generation of Stepping Up Initiative…2.0.
Steve Sparks, Project Consultant, Stepping Up Initiative, Lincoln County Oregon and Resident Cheer Leader
As an 18 year old young man in the US Navy in 1965, I was very lucky! Click here… Thanks to the excellent care by US Navy mental health professionals, I am here today at age 73, I struggle with lifelong symptoms of agitated depression, but with loving support from family, friends and effective clinical therapy, I feel a peace of mind that everything is going to be okay. I know now from receiving my medical records from that time that traumatic experiences from childhood years and as a young adult took its toll. Even though my memory is lost from that time, my medical records show that W. F. Miner, LCDR. MC USN in May of 1965 was paying attention. I am very thankful for Dr. Miner’s thorough evaluation and treatment to help me through a most critical and risky period in my life.
I found a couple of references to W. F. Miner USN. His service to America and contributions as a mental health professional appear to be substantial. He along with D. S. Burgoyne CDR MC USN, Psychiatrist, were both instrumental in my treatment and recovery. I have a much better appreciation and gratitude for the US Navy mental health community after reviewing my medical records from long ago. We hear mostly of the statistics presented in the above chart, but not always about the lives saved every day by caring mental health professionals everywhere. I only wish I could find these two heroes from my US Navy experience and thank them personally for saving my life…