November 21, 2013

Shelter Network—Teaching Time Management While Learning So Much More

by Kristin Fabos Livingston 

Tonight was my first experience leading a Shelter Network life skills workshop. I lead three 20-minute, small group trainings on Time Management.  I was unsure of what to expect. Would they be engaged? How would they react to me?

My first group of seven women were highly engaged and conversant.  I quickly learned that, in the shelter, there was no such thing as “time to yourself.” One of the residents asked: "What do you call it when you are so very tired, but you lay in bed and cannot get to sleep?" "Overtired." I replied. "Yes,” she said. “That happens to me a lot. That is the only time I have to myself." At the shelter, some residents are required to have paid jobs or to be searching for work daily, and in addition, are placed on a schedule of "mandatory" chores at the Shelter that have to be completed each day. Often, they must use public transit to get to and from work. This is in addition to getting their kids off to school and then back to the shelter by a hard deadline of 6 p.m. for dinner, followed by mandatory attendance at training sessions. In the evenings, there are nightly bed checks at 10 p.m. and 12 p.m.

Their lives make my life, with the occasional 5:30 a.m. wake up for an extra early meeting (that I drive myself to, in a heated car, with built-in time for a Starbucks stop) seem like absolute heaven. One woman said "I get up every morning at 5:30 to get the kids ready for school and all of us fed, them on the bus, and me off to work." At the end of the day, she leaves work on the bus, gets the kids from school, returns to the shelter, does her chores at the shelter, eats dinner and feeds the kids and arranges for a babysitter (another shelter roommate) while she attends classes. She must do all of this in order to be able to stay at the shelter for at least the first three weeks.

We shared time management tools in common. Many of them have calendars, some electronic and some hardcopy. We talked about how good it feels to make “To-Do” lists with boxes and to systematically put X's in the boxes at the completion of each task. We laughed at the sheer joy that comes with checking off an ENTIRE list! The common time wasters? There aren't many, as they didn’t have much time to waste, but the biggest issues were the time it takes to use public transportation and the occasional requests by family members and friends for help. One woman mentioned Facebook, until her aunt disconnected her data plan, which she saw as a blessing in disguise! Several of the residents commented that being in the shelter, they are protected from the outside distractions, which brings some relief.  I couldn't help but wonder, how did these smart and capable women become homeless?

I reminded myself that there are several unfortunate life events could knock a family into homelessness. In some cases it might be a sudden and unexpected departure or split from a spouse or a partner—many are caring for kids on their own. It could be an incarceration of a partner, a struggle with an addiction, a loss of work, an illness in the family.  In one case, it was an illness of a child. I was touched by one particularly tough and outspoken resident in tonight's session. She seemed grateful for the shelter, yet resentful of her circumstances. "[Pointing to the handout] It says here that 'Effective Time Management helps improve one's self esteem,' but here [in the Shelter] we don't have self esteem, because we're in this situation. If my time were my own and I didn't have all these mandatory things to do, I'd have more of it to manage."

At the conclusion of our session, I handed the participants a small parting gift for their participation—a radio alarm clock, with battery backup. "So you never have to worry about the power going out and accidentally oversleeping," I pointed out. There were squeals of delight. "I have wanted one of these!" exclaimed one resident.  I was taken aback as one resident’s eyes filled with tears when she realized that the alarm clock had a radio. "Oh my gosh—It has a radio—and music," she said. "This way I can stay in touch with the outside world." The residents were very kind and grateful for the training, thanking us multiple times for coming and leading the workshops, asking us about our jobs, and thanking us for the gifts. "You're very welcome, and I hope to see you in a couple months when we come back..." No sooner did those words cross my lips, when I realized that I didn’t want to see them in a couple months, because as much as I would like to know about the next chapters in each of their stories, I hope that by then each of them has moved on and found permanent housing, and the freedom to manage time that is their own.

InnVision Shelter Network (IVSN) is dedicated to helping homeless families and individuals across Silicon Valley and the San Francisco Peninsula return to self-sufficiency and permanent housing. For more information visit

November 19, 2013

Have a ball with MPower!

by Kristen Crum

Table bowling? Ball toss? Dribbling? What do these ball activities have to do with MPower and helping foster children? Good sportsmanship! After a delicious taco and salad dinner, 20 foster children participated in mini ball games (yes, inside!). Instead of the high-pitched screams and chaos you might expect, these children cheered their teammates on with “Good game!” “Great shot!” “Try again, a little to the left.” The theme of MPower session 3 held Monday, November 4 in East Palo Alto was Life Skills Exercises for Interpersonal Relationships, specifically Good Sportsmanship. Ten dedicated MPower committee members led the children through a discussion and practice of good sportsmanship rules. Then the children practiced their new skills by playing ball games. The evening was a great success! Go MPower team!

November 04, 2013

Project Read Book Club in October

by Stephanie Braun

The Project Read Book Club had seven attendees in October, who joined together to read Excuse Me, Are You A Witch? by Emily Horn. This book tells the story of Herbert, a lonely black cat, who learns at his local library that witches like black cats. Herbert sets out to find a witch as he wanders around town asking ever so politely, "excuse me, are you a witch?"  Luckily for Herbert, he eventually finds a group of witch schoolgirls who take him home to care for as their own.

After reading the book, which is reading level 2.7, we created our own black cats out of construction paper and some foam pieces that served as eyes, noses, and ears. Hope everyone had a happy Halloween!

More information of Project Read:

In partnership with Project READ Redwood City, Junior League of Palo Alto-Mid Peninsula (JLPA-MP) volunteers tutor children in grades K-8 at the downtown Redwood City library. Each child has an individualized learning plan that is provided by Project READ to the tutor.  A typical one-hour tutoring session includes helping students complete their homework, reading aloud together and playing games or other fun activities that further strengthen literacy skills.  League members also facilitate book club sessions and other literacy enrichment activities throughout the year to help encourage a lifelong love of reading.