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.
Saturday, October 9, 2010
What do we do about the Lockharts?