Who is TMO

The Metropolitan Organization (TMO) is an organization of institutions dedicated to developing power and leadership among citizens in order to transform democracy. TMO was formed in order to give a voice to people who are usually excluded from the major decisions that affect their lives. TMO offers people the opportunity to develop the leadership skills necessary to be full participants in society. TMO is a part of a larger network of organizations known as the Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF). The Industrial Areas Foundation is a nationwide network.

This blog, it’s posts or comments do not necessarily reflect the positions of TMO (The Metropolitan Organization) in Houston Texas. However, the administrators make every effort to ensure that the post are compatible with TMO’s positions and address issues of families in Houston.

TMO Alief–A New Vision

TMO has a long history of working in Houston creating a relational culture that believes that all persons are a gift from God and that they have worth and can participate in the decisions affecting their families.  For the past year and a half TMO has been working in Alief schools helping parents develop agency and leadership.  What started as a model has now expanded into TMO working in six schools.  Over the next year watch our activities and how parents and members of the community interact to create an organic community that links people and their multiple voices.

Youens Elementary Parents House Meeting

Toward a Healthier Alief

Last Sunday afternoon TMO had its first ever community meeting in Alief entitled Toward a Healthier Alief.  About 125 members of 8 congregations attended the meeting and addressed community concerns with the two city councilpersons, and the police chief from the Southwest substation.  Issues included abandoned buildings, the Forum park next to Best elementary, crime, inadequate bus service the need for speed cushions and the issue of stray dogs and cats.  Commitments were obtained from the city officials to work with TMO to address and fix the issues.  In the debriefing process after the meeting the planning committee and pastors agreed that the next step was to meet on October 11 to strategize as to how to bring the issues to fruition.

The purpose of the meeting was not just to gain commitments from public officials but to also build an organization in Alief to bring persons together that will work together for change.  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

This is just the first of a series of meetings and studies whose purpose is to build a more inclusive and healthier community.

Toward a Healthier Alief

TMO and member congregations in the Alief area have announced an event for September 28 at 1pm at Grace United Church of Christ.  Our goal is to have 300 persons from the Alief community to discuss the following issues with Councilpersons Laster and Nguyen and the police chief from the westside substation to address issues of abandoned houses and vacant lots, speeding on neighborhood streets, crime and animal control and the need for improved transportation.  MDUMC has committed to bringing 20 persons from our congregation.  A signup table will be set up in Friendship court over the next few Sundays or just respond to the blog.  This is the first such meeting that we have had in Alief, so please be a part of this event to help build a healthy community in Alief.tmo

Mission Bend UMC–Loving Neighbor In Alief

Mission Bend United Methodist Mission Bend United Methodist Church

Mission Bend United Methodist back ministry to Holmquist Elementary Kids in AliefMission Bend United Methodist is a partner with TMO in our collaborative efforts to bring stability to families in Alief.  The following is a brief description by Carrie Leader, associate intern,  of the churches efforts in Alief.  We are proud of their continuing efforts to love God and love Neighbor.  Please pray for their continued efforts.

 

Mission Bend United Methodist Church adopted Holmquist Elementary School in Alief ISD as their primary outreach last year.  As we deepen this relationship, we are looking for ways to make lasting positive impacts on the families who send their children to this school.

We are committed to raising funds so that every child who is eligible for the Backpack Buddy Program can take home food each and every weekend this school year.  Last year, Houston Food Bank provided enough food for 50 children.  Holmquist had over 230 eligible children on their list.  We, as a church, created our own “bags” so that half of the children took food home every weekend.  This required enough food for 60 bags and we had over 20 faithful volunteers who contributed time every week to assemble the backpacks (which we also provided) and deliver each week.  We had volunteers pick up empty backpacks and we continued this cycle every week, beginning in December.  We had a number of other members who faithfully contributed monies and food for the initiative.

This year, we are proud to collaborate with Westside Homeless Partnership to bring self-sufficiency to ten Holmquist families.  This is a pilot program for WHP as they look to expand into Alief ISD and possibly into Katy ISD.  They have a tremendous success rate for the past twenty years they have worked in Spring Branch ISD.  With self-sufficiency comes stability for the children who have been subjected to frequent moves during their school year, disrupting their education and their social connections.

Feng Shui in Alief– A Path To Harmony

taoist_symbol2_content

“In harmony with the Tao,
the sky is clear and spacious,
the earth is solid and full,
all creatures flourish together,
content with the way they are,
endlessly repeating themselves,
endlessly renewed.

  When man interferes with the Tao
    the sky becomes filthy,
the earth becomes depleted,
the equilibrium crumbles,
creatures become extinct.”

Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching

 

Houston Realtors who work with persons with a Chinese heritage  often have to have one extra skill in their Realtors tool box–an understanding of Feng Shui, an ancient oriental art to insure health, happiness, and harmony.  Feng Shui has its origins in Taoism, conceived by Lao Tzu, some 2500 years ago.  Even though there are numerous expressions of Feng Shui, it is primarily related to the orientation of the home and its interior.  It places great importance on the locations and orientations of rooms, shrubbery and the use of color.

For those of us who are not Asian, this may seem strange and even though we wouldn’t be as precise as followers of Feng Shui, we would still feel some hesitancy if our front door opened into our garage or bathroom or if we had a purple front door.  Feng Shui is more nuanced than this.   But it is partially about flow and is also about living a healthy and harmonious life.

Because of the large Chinese Asian community in Alief, Feng Shui has many followers and many would not think of buying a home or business location without considering Feng Shui.  But Feng Shui is only one aspect of the larger consideration attributed to following the principals of Taoism.  The Tao symbol above signifies the Yin and Yang or the balance between opposites.

The circular shape of the symbol represents the Tao. The intertwined pieces point us towards the inherent balance of two opposite forces of Yin and Yang.  Yin represents (feminine, negative, and dark) and yang represents (masculine, positive, and bright). Neither can exist without the other such as day and night or birth and death. They are ever-changing, constantly flowing one into the other.  The small dots in the middle of the larger tear drops symbolizes that even in the larger piece the opposite is also in the primary. Together they form a whole.
 The yin and yang symbol reminds us of the nature of duality (a situation that has two states that are both complementary and opposed to each other.)  These concepts are difficult for westerners to grasp.  Our tendency is to see brute power as being privileged over acquiescence and submission.  Even the concept of Love God and Love Neighbor seems too passive and unworkable to many Christians.  Often the concept of loving neighbor just doesn’t seem very practical.

The challenge that Feng Shui and Taoism present to us is the question of how can a community as diverse as Alief, live in harmony with the different religions, languages and cultures. Maybe we can learn something from Taoism–that the opposites that we confront in our world, even though different can help us create a society that values the opposites resulting in harmony, respect and acceptance of the other.  As a beginning point in this quest, consider forces in Alief that help create harmony and appreciation of the other.  Then we can ask ourselves how we can build on those points of appreciation and make the negatives into positives.

One simple way is to know a neighbor.  In a recent conversation with the manager of Sun Blossom Woods apartments in Alief, she said that she had encouraged her residents to meet at least their next door neighbor.  She believed that this would help create community.  But she said that she had very poor results from the effort but continues to work toward building a more relational community.  Isolation and distrust works against the idea of harmony and reinforces the dark side of creation.  In the coming year TMO will be working with her and the adjacent schools to build relationships that will be affirming and positive.

TMO builds relationships that enhances people's lives

TMO builds relationships that enhance people’s lives

 

Houston is a Welcoming and Compassionate City

 

 

Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”

 

 

children on a trainNC_borderchildren0619_700x394.1403211914

Protestors turning back buses in Murrieta

Protestors turning back buses in Murrieta

 

 

At the recent TMO press conference dealing with the refugee crisis at our southern border,  Reverend John Ogletree, pastor of First Metropolitan Church said, “Houston is a welcoming city.  It’s a compassionate city.  When Katrina struck the Gulf coast, Houston opened itself to the plight of these displaced persons.  And again after Ike, Houston opened itself to the needs of the displaced. In times of trouble Houston has always reached out to offer aid and comfort to those who have been displaced to start a new life.”

What Reverend Ogletree could have gone on to say was that Alief is a prime example of a community that opened itself to the needs of others.  Catholic Charities, the YMCA and other organizations were responsible for helping refugees from all over the world to resettle in Houston and particularly in Alief.  Houston opened its arms to the boat people from Viet Nam and Cuba.  We opened our arms to political refugees from El Salvador.  We opened our arms to refugees from Africa and the Middle East. And without much fanfare we opened our arms to over 4000 persons from the civil war in Burma.   Alief, even though not terribly affluent,  is now one of the most vibrant communities in the Houston area.  Alief has its challenges but many of those challenges existed before the resettlement efforts occurred.  Progress exists in business, education, community development and participation.  Its citizens, in spite of their diversity have a can do spirit that is amazing to witness.

The press conference that I’m referring too was a plea to congress to keep the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2008 in place. We also advocated that anyone under the age of eighteen should have an attorney and must never be subjected to expedited processing.  Thirdly, that those who would meet the religious needs of the children and families must be allowed access to the U.S. Border Patrol detention facilities and religious, human rights and civic groups must be allowed to the U.S. Refugee Resettlement shelters for unaccompanied minors.  Community leaders can and should provide humanitarian support to the overwhelmed detention centers and shelters.  The letter was signed by 180 pastors, bishops and religious leaders in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California to show the faith community’s concern that these migrant children should be treated with compassion and respect.

Some would say that we have enough people on our shores and we don’t need anyone else except the very affluent or educationally superior.  And those are some of the nicer objections.  But I am reminded by theologian Walter Brugemann that “we must confess that the central problem of our lives is that we are torn apart by the conflict between our attraction to the good news of God’s abundance and the power of our belief in scarcity — a belief that makes us greedy, mean and unneighborly. We spend our lives trying to sort out that ambiguity.”

With thousands of children flooding our Southern border there are many who are afraid, angry or just down right prejudiced about this new horde of refugees.  Seeing the pictures of the train coming from central America can engender deep-seated emotions that many people cannot even admit they have.  Whatever the outcome is with the current border crisis, Houston will step up as it so often has and again demonstrate that we are welcoming and compassionate to the stranger among us.  Pray that a loving and compassionate outcome may occur with this humanitarian crisis.

 

Central American Children hopeful they can stay

Central American Children hopeful they can stay

 

 

Have You Ever Played Chicken Foot?

chicken foot

One of my fondest memories of my grandchildren, was when one of them would come over to our house to spend the night and we’d all play chicken foot.  If you’ve never played chicken foot with a four year old you haven’t lived.  It’s about the most mindless game in the world that the whole family can play.  You can play it in about twenty minutes and when you’re playing with a four or five year old you’ll more than likely be making up new rules as you go along.

Working in the schools, churches and apartment projects in Alief has been eye opening in terms of engaging families.  Low-income families have many hurdles to navigate. Other than making enough money to make ends meet here are a few of the challenges:

  1. They often do not spend quality time with their children.
  2. They do not have a family or community support system.
  3. They do not have a church home.
  4. They may move as many as three or four times a year and may spend time as a “couch surfer” while living with an acquaintance until they have saved enough money to rent another apartment.
  5. There is very little stability in their lives
  6. They are not engaged in their children’s schoolwork or the school.

With many families having little or no support, we wondered how to engage them with the goal of creating a more stable community environment.  The schools have  family centers which is a primary way the schools engage parents.  But most of the schools have less than a dozen parents that attend regularly.   That’s not a condemnation of the Family Engagement program as much as it is a reality of working several jobs resulting in families not being able to attend functions during the day.  So, we decided that if the parents couldn’t come to the school, we’d go to them.  Thus, the family game nights.  So, what does a family night with board games have to do with creating stability?

  1. We’re hoping that parents, along with their children, will be engaged in fun activities that don’t include television and video games and that will build a closer bond between children and parents.
  2. We’re hoping that families will meet other families in their project that will be conducive to healthy relationships. In so doing, it is our hope that families will not move as much if there are community ties.
  3. TMO and member congregations will work with parents to develop leadership skills among the parents and engage parents in discussing ways to build bonds with their children’s school and to affirm that these families are not victims but have worth.
  4. It is our prayer that church members of supporting congregations will be able to be a positive and loving influence on these families.

For the next two Sunday’s Memorial Drive United Methodist Church is collecting gently used board games and puzzles that will take no longer than an hour to play.  Four Square Fellowship will be conducting the sessions.  This will be a continuation of their efforts at Alief Square Apartments which in the past has been primarily with just the children.   As is stated above. the goal is not just to play games but also will be to foster community and develop closer relationships with one another and the schools.  So far, there has been a wonderful outpouring from MDUMC contributing games.  So much so, that we probably will have the ability to do the same project with another apartment or two.  The only thing lacking to make that happen is to have supportive congregations or church groups to take on the responsibility of organizing and facilitating the program.  TMO will train facilitators and offer input and support.  And if you don’t know how to play chicken foot we’ll all sit down and figure out how to do it together.

I’m also looking for Mexican Bingo.  I understand that this is a big item in the Hispanic community.   Mexican Bingo

Pray for us all as we embark on this innovative endeavor.

poverty

This morning (July 27, 2014)  I was drawn to an article in the Houston Chronicle entitled, “Literacy plan at HISD is the districts third in the last six years.” It’s been 55 years since Houston began addressing the issue of school desegregation.  The reality we faced was that many minority students, if they graduated, got out of school without being able to read or do basic math.  In Texas and most other parts of the country there was a move to create an educational environment where minority students would be able to excel educationally, thus enhancing their chances of success in life.   Many minorities have been successful academically and professionally, as a result of these efforts.  However, the education achievement gap still stubbornly exists in spite of efforts to level the playing field through high stakes testing, remedial interventions and periodically changing the curriculum and the methods of teaching.  But low achievement persists.  In the past twenty years or so the state of Texas has gone through the TAKS, TASS, STARR and talk is afoot concerning the new national testing regime Common Core.  The newest move is to link test scores to teacher effectiveness.  And as yet nothing seems to work.  The irony is that with each new testing regimen upper middle class anglo students seem to do well on the tests regardless of the testing regimen, while minority and low income students  stubbornly underperform.

Our work with TMO in Alief and elsewhere has discovered that a major factor effecting this low performance often has little to do with the teaching or testing regimen.  In many cases it has more to do with family stability and poverty.  In the Chronicle article a clue to this underperformance may be in the following statement concerning a young man in their new remedial reading program:  “He attended six schools in three school districts….and repeated first and third grades.  Because the mother had critical financial and personal problems she allowed her son not to attend school for months at a time.”  This reflects more of the norm than the exception.  I would suggest that NO TESTING REGIMEN OR TEACHING METHODOLOGY WILL WORK IF A DEGREE OF STABILITY DOES NOT EXIST IN THE HOME.  This is one reason why TMO in our work in Alief  is not just focusing on working with the district’s family engagement program.  We believe that a critical piece to school success is this missing element of family stability.  Some of our initiatives include developing small cohort projects in apartment projects.  Two such programs are a family game night at Alief Square apartments and a mother’s quilting project at Sun Blossom Woods apartments.  Additionally, we have  developed a children’s ballet class at Liestman elementary that begins in the fall.  All three of these projects’ purpose is to encourage parental engagement with their children, the community and the school.  In addition to having fun and learning something, TMO will also be teaching leadership and community involvement.  It is our hope that the district and local churches and non-profits will see the benefits of parental engagement beyond to school grounds and develop cohort groups of parents in the community.  On another front, we are also concerned about the high rate of mobility and poor employment opportunities.   So, we are exploring ways of helping families remain in stable living conditions and expanding our Capital Idea–Houston program which is available to low income persons.

But there is one other area of concern that we are exploring; the high rate of adult functional illiteracy.  Persons not being able to read, end up being those living in hard core poverty.

“In Texas, 3.8 million people need the services of an adult education program, but only 100,000 are being served (TWIC 2010, A Primer on Adult Education in Texas). Texas has slipped from 45th to last among states ranked by percent for citizens in 2005 (age 25 and older) who have a high school diploma or GED (Murdock, 2007). Dropouts cost Texas $9.6 Billion (United Ways of Texas). It is estimated that more than $2 billion is spent each year on students who repeat a grade because they have reading problems (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services). There are 3.8 million adults in Texas without a high school diploma (Texas LEARNS, 2005). One in three adults cannot read this sentence (National Assessment of Adult Literacy, 2003).” Literacy Texas

From those eligible adults and engaging them in remedial programs that will  make them more productive and stable is a monumental task.  In order to engage these persons it will take not only the schools but also churches and other non-profits to ferret them out and develop more relational communities.  There are numerous non-profits such as Literacy Advance, Westside Homeless and Harris County Education that are already doing work in the area of literacy.  But as the statistics show Texas is far behind the rest of the country and we have a lot of ground to cover to make an impact.

TMO has made great progress in Alief in the last three years and are looking forward to more success in the future.