Live United: Helping people in need maintain their dignity and autonomy – Albert Lea Tribune
Live United by Erin Haag
Have you heard who Gerry Brooks is? He is an elementary school principal in Kentucky. He has become something of a hero for educators and school social workers across the country. He is now a much sought-after motivational speaker, with his unique humor, deep Southern accent, and irony against guidelines that prevent educators from what they do best: teaching.
He is popular for his car videos where he sits in his car and speaks philosophically about the trials and tribulations of working in schools. They’re funny, they’re sharp – and they resonate with you with solid truths in life.
My friend posted a video. In it, he begins by recounting how he receives text messages from the school counselor that they are heading to Walmart and he asks why they are going to Walmart in the middle of the school day. When the answer is “a PE teacher needs tennis shoes” he doesn’t understand anything, but confides in the video “Lord, I don’t have time for this, Jesus take the wheel, I’m just going move on, not even go ask. “I laughed at that because I feel this statement many times a day.
He says he sees the PE teacher later with the shoes on and asks what’s going on. The physical education teacher told him that that morning over breakfast he heard children laughing at their classmate for wearing Walmart shoes. He’s having this class later this afternoon.
At this point, Gerry slows down his fast, comedic style of storytelling. Holding this pair of Walmart shoes, he is attentive and staring straight at you. “Let it sink in. It’s called giving someone dignity. ”
Publication date. The. Microphone.
Give someone dignity. We have this ability to give dignity to someone every day. For me, it’s always been about giving people choices. Choices to empower them, and the respect and kindness to honor those choices, even if it’s not what we think is right.
Giving dignity to people is at the heart of much of my daily work. We structure our Winter Gear Drive to be a shopping experience, to give people the dignity of choosing for themselves. I wrote in the past how a well-meaning volunteer wanted to give someone a purple coat. This person actually preferred a black coat and respectfully asked her if she should take the purple coat. The joy on her face when she was told she could have the black coat is exactly what we hope for: dignity. Accountability. Choice.
Nikolle oversees the NAPS Homebound Elderly Benefit Program. She loves and cares about her elder group, and enjoys talking to them every month. She talks to them, learning that older people worry about having food that they can’t use or enjoy, but don’t know what to do with it. They would like to have different things, foods that remind them to grow up. The month when there was no peanut butter in the box, we heard about it.
Choosing the food we eat, choosing the clothes we wear, it gives us dignity. It’s something we inherently value above all else, so why would we deny it to those who need it most?
When school social workers call and say, “I have a child who needs a coat,” I often ask them what their favorite color is. I don’t always have the options, but I will take pictures of the choices and send them back. Or drop three to four versions and the child can choose.
It is dignity. I feel like I need to make a big decal of Gerry Brook’s face and the word “dignity” to hang up.
With that, it’s a good time to remind our community of the annual United Way Winter Gear Drive campaign. We collect coats, boots, hats and more from the community and accept cash donations. We work directly with school social workers to meet the needs of specific sizes and children. I can tell you that we still need waterproof gloves and boots and snow pants.
In about a month, you will see white boxes around town. However, if you take advantage of the change in weather and the long weekend, go ahead and take them to the United Way office. We usually have someone available from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday / Tuesday / Wednesday, and other times by appointment.
We will be looking for volunteers to help us collect the coats and bring them back to the office to sort and organize. Distribution dates start in October and end in December. We will also need teams to help work these distribution evenings.
Together, we can give families the dignity to choose what to wear and keep everyone warm this winter. If you would like to volunteer or learn more about hosting a box at your workplace, give us a call at 507-373-8670.
Erin Haag is the Executive Director of the United Way of Freeborn County.