Saturday, October 9, 2010

What do we do when giving becomes complicated?

What do we do about the Lockharts?

They are 17 and 19 and 20 and 21, and they live together but alone in a small house in University City. They have mattresses on the floor and no decorations on the walls – but one picture, on a dining room table, of their mother.

The Observer told you in April about Tonya Lockhart, how two of her children, Brittany and Brandon, were about to graduate from North Mecklenburg High. Tonya, who was dying of cervical cancer, wasn’t sure she’d make it to graduation day, so her doctor and the high school arranged a ceremony on a Monday morning at Presbyterian Hospital.

Tonya hugged her children, in caps and gowns. Two days later, she died.

What did we do?

Readers wrote checks to pay for Tonya’s funeral. We donated more money to help the children with the next steps of their lives. A Charlotte church collected it all – more than $44,000 – and arranged for a non-profit for homeless families, the W.I.S.H. Program, to put together a team of volunteers to help guide Tonya’s children.

One woman, from Blowing Rock, offered to pay for the Lockharts’ college education.
It was an extraordinary outpouring – and wonderfully unsurprising. This can be a fine, generous place to live, with kindness that again and again provides happier endings to hard stories.

Except, as we know, that most endings aren’t really endings.

Neither Brittany nor Brandon had the credits to graduate from North Meck in June – and neither has yet graduated, although Brandon is back at school. None of the four is working, and none at this point has enrolled in college.

Also, there is tension between the W.I.S.H. program and the children, who believe the donated money should have gone directly to them instead of having the program make judgments on needs vs. wants. Brittany, in protest, has yet to attend a meeting with the W.I.S.H. team volunteers.

It has been bumpy, even ugly at times. It may be disheartening, too, for those of you who donated money and are reading this now. It certainly has been for the volunteers who raised their hands to work with the family.

“They say, ‘I didn’t know it was going to be this hard,' ” says W.I.S.H. official Lisa Howell.

It usually is. When we decide to give our money and our time, we often confront a gap between our lives and those lives caught in generations of poverty. It’s a gulf that involves not only money, but different expectations and definitions of success, different emphasis on the tools needed to get there – and a shortage of models who can show how it’s done.

Our good intentions can’t overcome that, not in six months. Our assumption that donations would quickly go toward the next, logical step of college?

“That may not be a realistic expectation,” says W.I.S.H. executive director Darren Ash.

So what do we do about the Lockharts?

They are 17 and 19 and 20 and 21 – still kids, really – and they sat in their dining room recently and talked about their lives and struggles.

And yes, they say, they are struggling. They appreciate the donations people made this spring, but they don’t like that strangers are telling them how to spend money that other strangers gave them. “That’s about the whole issue we have,” says Brittany.

They are adjusting, perhaps, to that reality. The brothers have attended meetings with the W.I.S.H. volunteers, and Brian, the oldest, has worked to get his driver’s license and is planning to enroll at Central Piedmont Community College in January. Brittany says she’d like to go to cosmetology school then.

She says, too, that she will attend the next family meeting with the team.

For now, they are learning to pay bills, to budget, to be self sufficient. That, says Ash, is what success will look like, if the kids choose it. Because ultimately, the Lockharts will have to do for themselves.

That’s what Tonya Lockhart wanted for her children. She was a single mother who moved her family to Section 8 housing in a middle-class University City neighborhood. She got a job and stayed in that job and leaned on her kids to go to class so they could do the same.

She saw for them a simple but difficult thing – a break from the cycle of poverty that so few in her family had broken from. It was happening, before she died, and it’s why the W.I.S.H. team is persevering with her children.

So this is what we do for the Lockharts – or for anyone.

We give not expecting results, but to improve their possibility. We give not to be the solution, but to offer someone a better chance to find theirs.

We do it knowing we may be disappointed.

And if we are?

We give some more.


ThaQueenCity said...

I am truly glad this money was not given directly to them as you say they are still kids and ALL kids need direction, even if it is from strangers.

Bottom line teenagers will be teenagers, most are stubborn and hard headed...nothing new there. Any of us with kids have or will go through this with our own.

But at least one of them is doing something and maybe HE can motivate the other two, or maybe another stranger can come along and help guide, you never know.

I for one am still glad I donated! I was & still am unemployed and get little from unemployment, but to me they were the cause and still are!

SO you ask "what do we do?" never give up first and foremost. Let them know when they are ready to do what is necessary the help it is available. As with anything in life there is always strings attached... I wish them well :-)

Larry said...

I always use to think my parents were dumb as fence posts until they got my butt out on my own and started working and paying my own way instead of handing it to me.

From then on I realized how smart they were and to this day there is not a day I do not thank them for it.

Growing up is hard but you know something is can happen very quick when it has to.

Anonymous said...

Looking a gift horse in the mouth. Lucky they didn't get the money. What happened to their motivation? Bunch of Baloney.

Anonymous said...

Please give to people like this, instead of the UNITED WAY. You can give and make a difference. Give directly to a family or a person you know has fallen upon hard times. Instead of tithing 10% to a church, make sure your money is going directly to someone in need, instead of your pastors new Lexus.

Anonymous said...

When the 'oritinal' article about this family was published, the CO 'made it sound' as 'if' both kids had enough credits to graduate in June, and were having no issues W credits only their mother may not be able to attend.-Hence the reason for the 'early' ceremoney @ hospital. Nothing, repeat NOTHING was mentioned about 'not-enough-credits' and 'still struggling with credits to graduate.' I am very disappointed, in the way this article was spun to garner both money and sympathy from the public. Stuff is 'spun' by the CO that 'suits-their-agenda' and while it is known they do this routinely to achieve their agenda, I am still disappointed when finding out the-other-side.' Now, 5-6 months later, they think people have forgotten, and now, the rest-of-the-story comes out.
The CO does this on just about everything, including candidates AND issues for elections. But its slanted negatively for everyone except 'THEIR' chosen one.
Shame we don't have some competition to get the real news other than the CO.

pstonge said...

Anon, 7:07: I wrote the original article in April, and I was told that Brittany and Brandon were graduating. There was no way to independently verify that, and there still isn't, because educational records are private. School officials felt they were close enough to have the ceremony for their mother, but by June they hadn't completed what they needed.

Also, if it were my intention to spin something to fit the agenda you mention, I sure wouldn't have written this update on the Lockharts' story.



Wordy T said...

Thank you for continuing to look at the reality of generational poverty. I would imagine that many well-prepared young people would struggle for motivation this close to their mother's death. I did, and I was in my thirties with my own life and home. I'm glad everyone is hanging in there and giving them space to come to terms with their situation and what it will take to move on.

heavymetal said...

This reminds me of the story my father always told of a family he and the philanthropic organization he belonged to helped at Thanksgiving one year.

Dad was always ticked off that when he went to the home to drop off bags and bags of groceries for the meal, the patriarch of the family didn't even get off his butt to help carry in the groceries.

I had to remind him of the good he was doing: providing the meal for this needy family; and that any anger he felt was cheapening that gesture.

Same thing goes for the folks that generously helped this family. Don't get so caught up in the squabbling that it cheapens the good you did or poisons your outlook for helping others in the future.

Anonymous said...

These young people are grieving the loss of their mother, who is the only parent they had. What a difficult time they must be going through. Imagine trying to do schoolwork while going through the pain of losing your only parent. Let us support and comfort them in any way we can to help them in this challenging time of their lives.

Anonymous said...

First of all, these are not kids, they are adults (except for the 17 year old, but he is within a year of becoming an adult). Secondly, you can not help people who do not want to help themselves. After thousands of dollars in donations and many caring adults who have spent their time trying to show these adults the right direction to go in, they (Lockharts) show no initiative to do right by any of these people. They just want to sit around and have a pity party for themselves. I have no sympathy for the Lockharts and shame on them for not using all the good that has come their way to make a better life for themselves. And shame on the CO for having the audacity to ask people to give more to the Lockharts.

Anonymous said...

I was ready to write check until halfway through article when I saw their ungrateful attitude and sense of entitlement, so THEY can work for their needs like I and others struggling to just get by.

Steven said...

Money is not the solution to the Lockharts' problems. You see, you get some free money, you spend some free money, and you are back where you started.

Anonymous said...

This story points to the need for early intervention. We could talk all day and into tomorrow about what that should be.

By the time young people have reached their late teens-early 20s, it's too late to do much good. Attitudes and minds are set and there's not much changing them.

Of course we could just pull the plug and see what happens...

pstonge said...

Thanks for the comments. Steven is right: money is not a solution. That's why the church involved, Myers Park United Methodist, wisely set the Lockharts up with the W.I.S.H. program, which offers guidance and a social worker.


pstonge said...

Anon, 10:39: That's an interesting premise. Do we think people are not capable of change - and therefore beyond help - after a certain age? And is it a young age? I don't agree with that as a generalization. What do others think?

ThaQueenCity said...

I agree to a certain degree with your last comment Peter. Money is here one minute and gone the next....BUT attitude is hard to change.

These kids have been raised in a generational belief system. That is what is hard to change! The belief they have a right to something they have not worked for and that money is easy.

THIS is the attitude given to those who have been supported generation after generation on government support. THAT is a cycle and attitude hard to break! And our government does not seem to care they are keeping these young folks down. So many could add to our society and yet can't, won't or don't know how! Let's help them and quit keeping them down.

ALL government assistance should have strict time limits and rigid rules to help people become self-sufficient.

I have found most people in this cycle are willing and want a better life, but why should they bother when they have no incentive.

Just my view:

ThaQueenCity said...

TO: October 10, 2010 10:39 AM

Baloney! Anyone can change as long as the see the need to change!

At 47 years old I made the biggest change in my life....

People like you see the glass 1/2 empty all the time; people like me see it both ways depending on the timing and circumstances.

These young folks are just beginning their journey at a time of serious loss and mourning. It is during these times that most healing, growth and change can and do take place.

I would love to see where each kid is this time next year. With hope & guidance one or two (if not all) will be moving forward while others may lag behind....and if so there is still hope for them as well.

pstonge said...

Queen City: Yes, I should have said that while I don't agree with 10:39's premise as a generalization, the Lockharts' story shows us that generations of poverty do present a challenge. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Their mother died...their MOTHER! The article did not mention ONE relative or other friends they could rely on. They are not adults, they are struggling children! Struggling with grief, poverty, lack of skills, lack of role models, lack of assistance. What I find VERY frustrating about the Charlotte in particular and the South in general is this lack of sympathy and lack of empathy! The idea that they should buck up & grow up, that the Lockarts are milking the system, that they sold a bill of goods to the community about their school credits; it's all baloney! So easy for the community to judge from behind a computer screen!!!!!!!!!!!!
I could only imagine if they were white and struggling in Myers Park...probably a WHOLE DIFFERENT STORY!!!

Anonymous said...

If God only helps those who help themselves, why should mere mortals do more?

Anonymous said...

I'm 10:39 :)

It's not that people can never change. It's just so very rare that they do.

Asserting that, well, of course people can change when they see the need to do so! is, um, salami.;) Were that so, everyone would be a normal weight and would never smoke nor drink to excess. All young people would never feel the "pull" of the street, because of efforts at intervention (but see Eric Frazier's excellent story on the 2 brothers a few weeks back.)Change is much harder than that.

So my point is that efforts at intervention need to happen much sooner if they're going to have a decent chance at success. And the less correct role modeling the young people have, the harder it is.

Otherwise, we're mostly just assuaging our own guilt.

wiley said...

I have yet to see any comments from Fannie Flono, Ann Doss Helms, Pete Gorman or Vilma Leake as to how CMS totally failed these kids academically.

I hope the kids come to their senses and realize people ARE trying to help them succeed.

ThaQueenCity said...

TO: OCTOBER 10, 2010 11:39 AM

Race was NOT an issue when I donated, nor is it a factor when I am in the community volunteering, so why is it a factor here, and ONLY to you?

Race is only an issue if YOU make it or allow it to be an issue.

The kids have enough on their hearts and minds without adding more false beliefs to their already complicated lives.

How about encouraging them to do better because they DESERVE better!

Mike said...

Thanks for the followup Peter. All too often we never hear abouot the outcomes of these cases the CO picks to highlight. Someone was of wisdom to setup this church and this organization to guide these kids. And as you see in their attitudes, it was very necessary. Maybe the explanation I can think of is that the mother did love the kids but she did not "care" for the kids. I use "care" here in the sense of how do parents prepare their children for the future. And as you pointed out, this cycle of poverty the government has created is difficult to break because the desire for better is just not there. Most realize that it is so far easier to sit back and let that monthly check roll in.

pstonge said...

Thanks, Mike. Appreciate the post. I think, from what I have heard from the children and others, Tonya Lockhart did "care" in the way you describe. She moved her family into a middle-class neighborhood and kept them on grade level at school. She leaned on them and set an example. I think she realized exactly what you say - that it's a difficult cycle to break. But she was trying.



Anonymous said...

It is crazy that a child says they should decide to spend the money, given in memory of their mom, from strangers, alot of whom probably gave up a "want" to help them. I want a new car, flat screen tv, but we need food, insurance and rent payments. If they finish high school and get into college and prove that they have the savvy to choose between the needs and necessitites of the family vs the wants, then let them have a say They need to go to the WISH meetings to learn budgeting and, mostly, they need to start getting jobs, McD's, babysitting, etc. this will help defray the needs' expenses and also give them the money for the wants. Hey, I want an i-pad and a kindle, but we know there isn't enough money to get them. And we did give to these children's fund, and that is what it is, a fund, not a bag of money to hand them. We gave $500, this was our vacation money, we didn't go away, I, for one, don't want my money wasted on junk.

Anonymous said...

As a long time social worker and community volunteer, I am not in the least surprised by Peter's follow up. I appreciate the update and its insight into how it is easy to write a check, but the fix is always much, much more difficult. Our guilt may be assuaged, but the problems remain, usually not far below the surface. And while I may sound cynical, I am not, just cautiously hopeful that when I read the stories they aren't just fairy tales.

Ann Doss Helms said...

In response to the comments about money not being the answer, the WISH program is specifically set up to avoid "handouts" as the answer, and instead to provide financial support coupled with an insistence that families work and develop the skills to become independent:

Full disclosure: I volunteer with this program (though not with this family). At its best, it strikes me as a great mix of loving support and tough-minded insistence on self-discipline. But as Peter's column points out, that still doesn't guarantee the results you want. Poverty is tough, and people aren't perfect.

fort mill girl said...

Can I not say what i truly feel withour being censored...This family is not worthy of the nmoney collected for them, give it to someone who really wants to go better themselves.
A big shout out THANKYOU to the volunteers.

Mike said...

Thanks Peter. I guess what got to me the most from the first story, if I recall it correctly, is that here are 4 children, in fairly rapid succession by more than one father, and by the way not much information gathered about these fathers, with so little potential to provide a successful "home" environment that gives the kids a boost rather than an albatross.

Larry said...

The problem is we have so much mess in this world today that we all want to believe that everyone is well intentioned in their own lives and futures.

So when something like this comes along we see people respond as they did this time with great outpouring.

People like Jim Baker and the PTL club knew how to pull those exact strings, and can you imagine what PTL would be today if they had been legitimate?

The Observer may be well intentioned in these stories, but in this Father Government World, we now live in, people are well taken care of, and in fact feel entitled beyond belief.

Perhaps news should be the focus at the Observer, and the more boutique media outlets can investigate more carefully those who need help and ask more personal questions?

Anonymous said...

Garbage article.

Anonymous said...

@fort mill girl said...
Can I not say what i truly feel withour being censored...This family is not worthy of the nmoney collected for them, give it to someone who really wants to go better themselves."

---->spot on!

I am a college grad, with highest honors, who is currently in graduate school ... I am short $2,000 for my tuition for the spring semester (the final one before I complete my Master's degree). I have worked to put myself through both college and now grad school, but have lost my job (due to my company's bankruptcy) in the interim.

I have never thought once about how I could "ask" for help -- but instead I have spent countless, sleepless nights looking for a new job on-line, making dozens of phone calls, even cold-calling companies out of the Yellow Pages, so as to be able to make that final tuition payment.

Here, these children have a SUPER generous woman willing to PAY their entire college tuition. Not to mention the 44k already donated and put into a trust for them. We should all be so lucky, right?

Anonymous said...

Keep re-visiting this story and you'll almost certainly find that they never graduate High School, there'll almost certainly be an out of wedlock pregnancy, and somewhere along the way active jail time. The audacity that the one would suggest that the money be given to them directly sets the tone for the future right there. And to boycott the meetings of the very people trying to help? Enough said, I'm disgusted.

Anonymous said...

My sis-in-law was diagnosed with cancer and lived 7 years before she passed away. She left 4 children a little younger than most of these. It was very hard on the whole family. One month she's doing great, the next terrible. The situation becomes very strained and stressful on children trying to keep up with school and being worried all the time.
No doubt these kids have been "without" for a long time. I'm sure they have lots of ideas about how they want to spend "their money."
Unfortunately, people didn't come to their rescue during the course of their mother's struggle. The help seems to have arrived only after their heartache has been publicized. Not everyone is cut out for college. Cosmetology is a great goal. Paying their bills and taking care of each other should be their priority right now.
Skipping the meeting with WISH is just immature...which they are.
This isn't Extreme Makeover and and they didn't send in a video asking for a handout. They need a hand-up. For those that are still reaching out to them...God Bless.

Phil said...

I stewed about this story for a couple of days, thinking in terms of being “tricked” and assuming that the Lockhart kids knew that they weren’t going to graduate. Giving them the benefit of the doubt, I allowed as how a case could be made for the would-be graduates to “deceive” their dying mother anyway, since she would have been happier in her last days celebrating what was, unfortunately, a non-event. Maybe the kids didn’t know either, with their graduation dependent on a last test or something. However, if there was deception involved, I don’t think it should have been rewarded by their accepting money from generous donors (dupes?) who probably gave money on account of the graduation hype of the story more so than out of sheer compassion for the poverty and misery that we know is all around us.
I think there is some entitlement mentality on the part of the kids here. Nevertheless, I could identify with many of the comments from your readers on both sides of this. The one that got my attention the most was from “heavymetal,” who said “Don't get so caught up in the squabbling that it cheapens the good you did or poisons your outlook for helping others in the future.” Because frankly, when I read your piece, I was disinclined to “give some more.” To use a George Bush term, a “compassionate conservative” believes in helping others help themselves, but doesn’t think it sensible to pour money down a sinkhole.
It seems to me that people like “heavymetal” and me could find common ground in what has become an increasingly polarized society. Thanks for providing a forum for us all to share our views.

Anonymous said...

I am not from your town and I happened upon this blog. I had not heard of the lockhearts story until now, but like everyone I thought I would share my opinion as well.
My father lost both his parents (separately) at the age of 17. Like this family he had to watch as my grandmother was dying of breast cancer. My father barely managed to make it through high school and of course did not continue directly into college. Instead he drank and tried drugs and blamed god for taking his family. That continued for a few years until life happened to change around him. I won't get into a long story about him but after a few years of living for himself he made a change. My dad now has 5, yes 5 different degrees. He is happily married. He has owned his own business for almost 20 years, which is booming. With 5 kids and 8 grand kids, I would say he has made the most of life.
If you were to look at him back then you would have seen these lockheart kids. It is no ones place to judge! Give and give with all your heart because you might be saving a life that otherwise could have been lost.

Anonymous said...

Ways to help WITHOUT sending money:

- Send each child an ENCOURAGING letter. Let them know that members of the community SUPPORT them on their journey. Remind them that while they won't always make the right choices (nobody does), they can always build on their experiences. It's nice to get an endearing letter from a stranger. I got one once and it was powerful because I knew this person didn't have an agenda.

- Get some friends together and offer (through the church/WISH so you can be screened) to be a mentor to the children. You can help them with homework, life lessons, friendship. You can simply teach them how to look a person in the eye and shake a hand properly (a skill that will last a lifetime and help with employment).

- If you are a counselor, offer pro-bono therapy.

- If you are a mindful cook, offer to teach the children how to cook healthful meals. Ask the church to let you use their kitchen. Bring your family or friends and turn it into a bonding experience. Have a celebratory dinner afterward. I'll bet these kids could use a family dinner on a regular basis.

- When you give, try to suspend judgement. For example, you can assume that the family dinner will not be perfect the first few times. It may be awkward. Some or all kids might not show up. They might not help. This is new to them too. Also remember, a child has an ants perspective. The world is still REALLY BIG and new to them. Adults can see from a birds-eye view so life can look small to us. We can default into thinking that things must look a certain way - the same way they've always looked. Try if you can to have big eyes! Look at the world the way a young person does! It makes life more fresh and interesting - less predictable, less boring!

Cheers Charlotte! Lets let this situation impact all of us for the best!