March 2009


My friend, Rick Parker, once told me, “If you throw enough mud against the wall, some of it is bound to stick.”  I’d asked him how he had become successful in business.  I was amused and interested by this remark. 

I remember the days when my brother and I would stand in the alley behind my parents’ ice cream parlor throwing mud again the outer wall of the movie theatre.  Rick, of course, was correct.  Not all of the mud would stick but my brother and I would do the obligatory dance when some of it did. 

Often when we try something new in Special Gathering, which is a ministry within the mentally challenged community, one of the staff will smile and ask, “So we’re throwing more mud against the wall?”   The others will smile back and acknowledge the throw.  We know that some of what we try won’t work but that doesn’t mean that we can’t enjoy the mud throwing anyway.

There are many things that we’ve tried that haven’t succeeded but as long as we keep the mud slinging mentality we escape the agony of defeat.  After a grand experiment, we often smile and say, “Not all the mud sticks, you know.”

Years ago, we tried to have Friday night rallies.  We would bring all of our Special Gathering programs in Brevard together in the middle of the county for a monthly “come together.”  Then on Sunday we would not have our usual church services.  We did this for about a year.  However, it didn’t work.  There were transportation issues for people who lived in the southern and northern part of the county.  They were getting home too late.  Parents complained. 

Also, our members rebelled.  Yes, they loved the monthly rallies.  However, they hated missing Special Gathering on Sunday.

We had wanted our members to attend their own churches one Sunday a month.  But either that didn’t happen or we were met with complaints.  “I don’t understand the sermon” was the most common complaint.  After a few months of mud slinging, we retreated back to our weekly chapel services.

There have been many mis-adventures.  In contrast though, there has been lots of mud that did stick.  Our monthly newsletter, Connecting Point, has been wildly successful and has actually saved us money in the long run. 

Recently, we had to be creative and change our annual retreat/camp for our members.  Several years ago, because of bus scheduling and an increase in Retreat/Camp Agape costs, we increased the hours of camp on Friday.  We tossed in an extra meal and extended the length of camp by one day.  At little cost to our members,  we are now able to offer a full three days and a half day at camp.  The bonus is that we are still able to offer Camp Agape at a much lower rate than most other camps.  Therefore, this has been a great success for everyone.

The problem isn’t throwing mud against the wall.  The problem is when you STOP throwing mud against the wall.  When we stop trying new things…stop working at listening to the Holy Spirit in order to make our programs different and exciting, then we quit growing and changing.  Nature tells us that when we stop growing and changing, we die. 

What is some of the mud you’ve thrown against the wall?  What have you learned from your mud slinging adventures?

This is a response to an e-mail I sent to Jim Liesenfelt regarding the State and County cuts which could be expected to effect Space Coast Area Transit (SCAT).

As of right now, we aren’t targeting any cuts to the disabled.  When I first arrived at Space Coast Area Transit, the Board’s mission for us was to serve the elderly and disabled.  In the late 90’s, the Board also wanted us to add focus on “Welfare to Work.” So that’s what we’ve done. 

 

If we “only” had to take a 20 percent cut in our local funding, we’ll be in decent shape. The reduction in fuel costs will let us cut 10 percent of our local funding right off the bat. We’ll probably have to reduce some fixed route service to reach the rest of the 20 percent; but it will be the lesser used routes like Route 5 (Mims), Route 24 (North/West Melbourne) and Route 26 (beaches south of Patrick).  We know this would affect some individual riders. There might be a way to help some of those folks with paratransit. 

 

Now a 40 percent cut…I really don’t know what will happen.  To be honest, I haven’t worked out that scenario.  It’s just too scary. 

 

Our budget is due on May 1, so I will have a better picture then.  At 40 percent, we have to cut $580,000 in staff and services.  The cost for 40 hours of bus service per year for just the driver’s salary and fuel is about $65,000.  Therefore, we’re looking at removing about 360 hours of service per week or almost 19,000 hours per year.  We run about 70,000 hours of fixed route service a year.  That’s a 27 percent cut to service on the road. 

 

We also have funds called balance forward. It’s basically funds left in the bank on September 30 each year.  These are funds left if we come under budget or generate higher revenue than budgeted.  I imagine that there will be a push to take that money away from us.  Since we don’t have reserves, we have always used that balance forward each year to provide transportation service.  Keeping as much of this funding will help to dampen the upcoming local funding cuts. 

 

In theory, you would cut the lowest performing routes.  However, we have to look at connectivity, time of day, time of week, etc. to determine what to cut.  In my mind, paratransit and contract routes are the base that would be one of the last things to cut; but I still could see us tweaking the contract routes.  If we did that, the biggest change the Med-Waiver folks would see is more part-time drivers on the routes and we make our scheduling more efficient.  Once we come up with something, it’s still up to the Brevard County Commissioners to make the final decision.

 

It doesn’t hurt to let the Commissioners know what’s important to your customers and how it helps to provide their independence.  Right now, we are doing okay with our state funding.  No cuts to the Transportation Disadvantaged funds or our general state transit aid are projected.  However, that could change starting next year, so we have to be vigilant. 

 

A real bright spot is that even with gas prices dropping, our fixed route ridership is up about 15 percent for the year.  Interestingly, it’s paratransit service that is struggling, since a number of our disabled riders have lost their jobs.  I’ve let Brevard Achievement Center and the School Board folks know about this.  We want them to know that if they had clients that needed transportation to work, we are there to help. 

God promises to bless us forever

2 Samuel 7:16

Central Theme:   God has promised to bless David‘s family forever and that promise blesses me also because of Jesus.

 

Introduction—I brought a picture of my mother.  All my members knew her.  She is sick and getting better.  But she has no fear of dying.  She knows that she will go to heaven when she dies.  I know that too.  I would miss her but I know she is secure in Jesus.  God’s promise to Mama began many years ago.  What God promised to David is meant to bless me also.  Have a member read 2 Samuel 7:16.

 

       I.     Tell the story of David and how God told him he would not build the temple but that God would bless him and bless the whole world through David’s life.

              1.  Jesus was part of the plan that would bless the whole world.

             2.  God was telling David, I will give you a part of your family who will be Emmanuel, God with us.

             3.  All of God‘s promises are meant to bless us because in all of them, he is promising to send Jesus.

 

      II.     God wants to bless all of us but there are conditions to his promises.

 

              A. The first thing he wants from us is to receive Jesus as our Savior.

              B. After that, he will work with us and bless us.

              C. Before we receive Jesus, we can’t make God happy.

             

     III.     God knew that the best thing he could do for us was to send Jesus.

              A. Now the best thing we can do for God is to ask Jesus into our hearts.

              B. The best thing we can do for ourselves is to ask Jesus into our heart.

 

Conclusion: God gives us his blessing forever through Jesus our Savior.

This is information I received in an e-mail this week.  It concerns APD reductions that will go into effect.  The concern is where to cut and how much from where.  Not will there be additional cuts. Some of it will be confusing.  I cannot copy the original attachment referred to in the e-mails.  However, I can forward it to you if you contact me at lhoward@specialgatherings.com.

(Formating note:  some of this is in bold type.  That is because I cannot get it to become normal print.  It is not for emphasis.  Thank you.)

I do not know if you have seen this e-mail but the attachment seems to be what was presented to the legislators. Sorry but  I cannot seem to get out of it current format and into this entry.  If you desire to receive this attachment e-mail me at lhoward @specialgatherings.com

# 7 on the attachment is confusing.  It appears (and I have heard Jim DeBeaugrine say) that we are going to group a lot of the service into one category.  This seems to means the state will have one service that can be used for ADT, in home supports, companion, etc.  If that is correct how does this interact with the 30 hrs a week limit on meaningful day activity?

How is # 13 different than #7?  Changes in supportive living is a concern.  The state encouraged people to move into independent settings promising to provide needed supports that we are now messing with. 

Is #15 just saying that we do not know where 59 million (over 50% of the cuts) are coming from?

Maybe I do not understand what I am reading.  I am looking for help here.

Thanks

  Original e-mail said

FYI-Attached the APD budget reduction exercise of today that all state agencies had to submit. Many of the same issues that have been on the reductions sheets are still on this one.  A summary of the reductions is as follows, see the attached for details:

BettyKay

 Reductions necessary to meet target………………………………………36,472,253

Balance of headquarters reductions…………………………………-439,030

Balance of Area office reductions………………………………..…..-109,190

·         Budget reduction in special categories…………………………….-1,359,557

·         Consolidate durable and medical equipment…………..………….-1,864,185

·         Eliminate behavior assistant servcies in group homes…………..-4,000,000

·         Reduce CDC accounts by 10%……………………………………..-3,286,586

·         Consolidate meaningful day activities and reduce by 8%…………-21,584,922

·         Cap Tier 1 at $120,000……………………………………………….-11,198,958

·         Eliminate Behavioral Therapy Assessments in Waivers…..-447,754

·         Eliminate Medication Review in Waiver………………………………………..—402,543

·         Eliminate specialized mental health assessment services in waiver………..-95,023

·         Eliminate specialized mental health therapy in waiver…-604,732

·         Redesign supported living program to reduce duplication……….-2,200,000

·         Redesign level of supported employment for recipient

                       with history of employment stability………………….-2,054,098

·         Further reductions to waiver services………………………………………-59,073,558

·         Subtotal Reductions (Annualized)…………………………………………-108,720,136

Most of these are repeat line items from previous presentations, they go beyond what the target was and Director DeBeaugrine did not recommend implementation of most of these.

My friend, Tony Piantine of Camp Daniel in Wisconsin, wrote on his Facebook wall, “It is better to have enough ideas for some of them to be wrong, than to be always right by having no ideas at all.”  That is a quote from Edward DeBono.  Not sure who Ed DeBono is but he must be important. 

(You see, Piantine writes lofty things on his Facebook wall.  He doesn’t know that Facebook is for more important stuff, such as, “I just finished a whole bag of potato chips.  I don’t even feel fat yet.  Searching the cabinet for another bag.”  Or,  “I haven’t brushed my teeth in four days.  Hope you read this because no one has come close to me in 48 hours.”)

In her later years, my mother–who was important in my life–often instructed me, “It’s amazing.  When I was actively doing ministry, there was always someone angry with me.  Now that I’m doing nothing, everyone loves me,” she would say with a whimzical smile.  “If you are busy doing work for the Lord, you are bound to do something that someone doesn’t like.  If you do nothing, no one has a complaint.”

Working with Special Gathering, I’ve also found Mother’s advice to be true.  We are a ministry within the mentally challenged community.  Our mission is evangelism and discipleship.  That is what we do and that is all we do. 

Interesting, there are people who don’t like us because of what we do.  These are usually wonderful people who deeply believe in a more  inclusive ministry for this sub-culture.  We applaud the work they are doing.  However, we also strongly believe that a specialized, community-based ministry is better able to reach the population with the dynamic, life-changing gospel.

There are equally adament folks who don’t like us because of what we do not do.  Often, these are people who believe that we should be more aggressive in our approach.  There are several areas, including funding and social work, that seem to get caught in their cross-hairs.  Several years ago, I sat in a meeting with a pychiatrist, well-known in our area.  I was surprised at how angry he became with our stand against taking federal funding.  “You are just lazy,” he concluded.  “There is money out there.  You simply need to access it for your ministry.”  After I questioned him about compromise, he said, “Of course, you’ll have to do a bit of compromising but the extra funding is worth it.  And you can find ways to work around the restrictions.”

We left the meeting without his agreeing with our principle.  In addition, he hadn’t convinced me that working around restrictions and additional funding was worth the compromise.  However, that is okay.  He had found ways with which he was enthusiastic in helping a children’s home obtain federal and state funding.  He only wanted us to tap into this supply of cash.  He was genuinely concerned and he sincerely felt we were wrong.

Other people believe that we are too aggressive in our advocacy for the population.  Our exec, Richard Stimson, loves to tell about a time that he argued before a day program staff in the same week.  He was representing two different people.  They wanted to different things in regard to the same issue.  Stimson first argued for the issue.  Later in the week, he argued again the same issue.

One of the staff members came out of the meeting and confronted Stimson.  “How can you argue for and against the same issue?” 

Stimson smiled, “Because each consumer wanted something different.  I try to obtain what they need and want, not what I need or want.” 

Without compromising our basic principles, we will argue for or against an issue, depending on what the people we represent desire.  This doesn’t always make the professional community happy with us.

We aren’t saying that our critics are right or wrong.  We are just different.   We value our supporting churches and the way we must depend on them for our existance.  And we desire to keep their contributions valuable to us.

What are some of the things that make people angry with you?  Would changing these methods go against your principles.  Or would they enhance your ministry?

Several months ago, I found that I could no longer use my credit card.  I couldn’t imagine why because we pay off the entire balance each month.  I thought little of it but decided to call the credit card company to inquire about the fact that charges were blocked.  The woman on the other end of the line said that $750 had been charged to the account, in $35 increments from convenience stores within an hour of one day.  After the credit card company realized what was happening, the credit card was flagged and a stoppage was put on the account.

According to the woman on the phone, all I needed to do was to speak to her and they would remove the amount from the card.  I was happy to spend the next hour on the phone with her answering her questions.  Naturally, I thought the entire situation was settled.

Much to my surprise, the $750 appeared on my next bill.  I went into my branch office and filled out about 15 pages of paper work.  Answering the same questions that the woman on the phone has asked me.  Another hour absorbed, but I was assured that this time the amount that had been fraudulently obtained would be removed from the account.

You guessed it, my next credit card statement I’ve just received still has the $750 debited to our account.  For us, this is a lot of money.  I am, of course, not happy that this amount hasn’t been removed from the account and that I must make yet another trip to my bank to take care of this theft.

Please understand that our credit cards have extremely small limits.  Therefore, the result of this action has been that I still am not able to use this account.  In addition, interest is being debited to the account. 

Do not ask me how someone obtained my credit card number.  I had not used the card in about six months.  I understand from the fraud department that there are many different ways to to obtain a number and a name may not even be necessary. 

My advice is that no matter how small your account, watch your credit card statements.  Go over the amounts charged to each account each month.  Be sure that the credit card lender clears any mistakes or fraudulent charges. 

Depending on the bank or credit union you are using, you may need to make several return trips to get the account balance cleared.  Small ministries, like Special Gathering, are not usually targets because we own little to nothing.  However, rampant theft is spiraling downward. 

Honestly, I wish there were great words of advice that I could share but I have little to offer except we must diligently and wisely protect what God has entrusted to our care.  We must pray for God’s continuing protection over us and the important work within the mentally challenged community that we are doing.

At Special Gathering, a ministry within the mentally challenged community, we often say that we beg and borrow from everybody in the three counties.  Because we own only the bear essential of church (See “Church in a Trunk”), we must depend on the generosity of others to survive. 

That, of course, means that we must also be lenders.  Honestly, I didn’t mind begging or borrowing but the lending part was a rub when I first came to work with Special Gathering.  Not because I didn’t want to lend but because the results were disastrous. 

In the early days, when money was tighter than Madona’s mini-skirt, we purchased only a limited number of things.  However, what we did get was equipment or gear that would show the best side of our ministry.  This meant that we saved our money or obtained a grant to get quality stuff.   

It seemed that the people who borrowed from us were folks who didn’t have any problem with money.  Frankly, they didn’t know how to take care of the things that we lend them.  I remember one year, that I went to find our Christmas costumes a week before the first play.  That was plenty of time to wash and steam everything that was needed.  I couldn’t find them in their usual storage spot.  Then we remembered that a church had borrowed them the year before and they hadn’t returned them.  This was about 30 costumes. 

Several times, I called the church to inquire.  In a couple of days the pastor called me.  “I know right where they are.  Come tomorrow at 6pm, after supper and before my finance committee meeting and I’d get them for you.”  Unfortunately, the church had enlarged their space and somene had moved everything from the old building to the new building.  After hours of searching, the pastor and I realized that we could not find the costumes.  I had lost 4 days.  There was a very limited time to replace them.

How loud can we scream, “Panic”?    One person washing and ironing 30 costumes in a week is easy.  Replacing 30 costumes in couple of days is almost impossible for one person.  In the end, the costumes were found in an unused storage shed and so was my sanity. 

After four or five incidences like this one, I had an awfully sour taste in my mouth whenever anyone wanted to borrow our costumes or other equipment.  Two things happened to me.  First, I resolved anew that whatever we borrowed would come back on time and in better condition than when we borrowed it. 

Second, I know that I had to get rid of the bitter taste about lending forever.  That wasn’t as easy and it took a great deal of prayer.  As we all know the scriptures talk about a root of bitterness.  It is as though bitterness is a weed that must be eradicated from the root and the root system is the best thing about a weed. 

I’m told that most weeds that aren’t pulled up by the root will multiply rather than die.  For several years, I had to work on this bitterness.  Finally, I was able to say.  “Take it.  Don’t worry.  I’ll come and get it as soon as the event is over.”

When it is marred and scarred, I don’t smile but I also don’t cry anymore.  In fact, I’ve come to expect it to be harmed.  Then I can thrilled when it’s in good condition.  My father used to tell me, “When I lend things, I don’t ever expect to get it back.  Then I’m not disappointed when it doesn’t come back  or it comes back damaged.”

As a parachurch ministry survival usually demands borrowing and lending.  Borrowing means returning on time and in better condition.  Lending means giving as though it will never come back. 

Are you a good borrower?  Are you a gracious lender?  Which is the harder struggle for you?

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