Saturday, September 11, 2010

Balloons Fly Away

Friday night Angela and I went to a high school football game. It was a sad day for the home team Trojans, but everyone else seemed to have a good time. It was "Little Trojan Night", so there were tons of young kids at the game. In order to make it more fun for the kids, just about every kid was given a helium-filled balloon. In addition, the drill team did a special high kick routine dedicated to those serving abroad and those who lost their lives on September 11, 2001. Tons of red, white, and blue balloons added to the routine. Overall, I think I counted about 250 balloons that were released Friday morning.

Two thoughts came to my mind: (1) There aren't a lot of things cooler than watching balloons float away, and (2) how the heck are we able to get away with littering just because the trash goes up, not down? I want to focus on this second point.

According to the Texas Health and Safety Code, "Litter" includes "decayable waste from a public or private establishment, residence, or restaurant, including animal and vegetable waste material from a market or storage facility handling or storing produce or other food products, or the handling, preparation, cooking, or consumption of food, but not including sewage, body wastes, or industrial by-products." Tex. Health & Safety Code sec. 365.011(6)(A). Section 365.011 goes on to tell us it is a Class C misdemeanor if the litter is under five pounds and has a volume of less than 5 gallons. If it is more, it is a class B misdemeanor up to 500 pounds or 100 cubic feet of volume -- then it's a class A misdemeanor (you can get jail up to a year).

I'm going to go ahead and say that with the release of over a hundred balloons could make you liable for a class B misdemeanor. I have seen mention of a specific "balloon release" statute, but couldn't find anything in my research.

Apparently the main problem with balloons is not the balloon itself, but rather the strings that are often attached to them. According to this website, funded by The Balloon Council (who knew they had a balloon council?), balloons aren't a problem at all. Latex balloons (the non-silver ones) are made from 100% organic material and are completely biodegradeable. The website also points out the "proper" way to do a balloon release. It does not include the strings.

Regardless of what this website says, I doubt that the hundred or so balloons that were released from the stands were an official, approved release. I also wonder, without knowing for sure if there is an official release statute, if the school can be held criminally liable for release of all of the balloons. If not for the big release, at least with negligently supplying small children and others with balloons that were more likely than not going to be released into the air.

It's also interesting to note that the Texas Health and Safety Code lists latex balloons as a "choking hazard" See For the same reasons it is dangerous for children, it is dangerous for animals. Check out this website from Virginia. It apparently contradicts The Balloon Council's claims with what the Council calls mere "subjective" data.

I know it looks cool, but isn't there a better option? On top of that, shouldn't a "Christian school" be leading the way in showing us how to be good stewards of our planet? It's not hard to be responsible . . . unless you don't care.

The Church Response on Cliff Manor

The following is an email I received. It lets us know that not everyone is upset about the way things went or are going down in Oak Cliff's newest permanent supportive housing project, Cliff Manor. The letter has been reprinted with permission. We need to all remember that we are called to be in the people-helping business, not property-value-helping business.

Oak Cliff Churches Silence Opponents of Housing Homeless by Acts of Kindness

Will You Be My Neighbor? How Oak Cliff groups have become great neighbors to former homeless through the assistance of the Greater Dallas Justice Revival.

Good Neighbor Done Right

In a time where there is so much controversy over what to do with the homeless, a group of Oak Cliff churches and residents are showing how to truly be Good Neighbors. Over the past several weeks, a group of Oak Cliff residents have quietly been reaching out to their seventeen new neighbors, who were formerly homeless. The new home for the seventeen individuals is the Cliff Manor, a Dallas Housing Authority property.

Baskets and Hugs

When residents moved into the facility a few weeks ago, five Oak Cliff churches provided gift baskets and greeted the residents with open arms. In addition to inviting them to church, they have special group meetings. On a recent Thursday night, eleven of the seventeen new residents attended a “Friendship Circle” that included interaction around a bible study and prayer. The event led by Roger and Jana Jackson has proven to be a great success.

In reaching out their new neighbors, these groups of Oak Cliff residents are giving a living demonstration of how to help our formerly homeless citizens become neighbors with grace and dignity. Churches involved in the outreach led by Cliff Temple Baptist Church, also include Christ Episcopal, Gospel Lighthouse, Grace Temple Baptist, Oak Cliff House Church Network, and Kessler Community Church.

Serving as a Catalyst

Behind the scenes, the Greater Dallas Justice Revival has been privileged to help be a catalyst for these “Good Neighbor” efforts by organizing leaders, building dialog and sponsoring outreaches. The Greater Dallas Justice Revival has partnered with Dallas Housing Authority and the Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance to engage local churches into Good Neighborhood Covenant Councils. The Greater Dallas Justice Revival sponsored the meetings with the local pastors who then invited their members to be involved.

The councils consist of local Dallas Housing Authority (DHA) residents, formerly homeless new residents, DHA property management, social service representatives, Dallas Police representatives, local church representation, local community residents, and an outreach coordinator to the community.

West Dallas Success
The council is modeled after the successful similar model that helped launch a safe community initiative five years ago in West Dallas. In previous years crime in West Dallas was out of control, violent crime was rampant, and fear ruled the community. Since the launching of the initiative violent crime has been reduced seventy percent and overall crime by forty percent.

The West Dallas model was organized by Strategic Justice Initiatives, Inc., an educational non- profit for the development of safe communities. Strategic Justice Initiative’s executive director, Randy Skinner, worked with Norm Henry of Builders of Hope, a community development non- profit and home builder, to organize more than 50 community leaders to form a campaign to eradicate crime.

The two non profits led in the development of a U.S. Justice Department launch of a Weed and Seed site (that eradicates crime and develops healthy communities). Strategic Justice Initiatives developed a block by block, house by house, reclamation database with support services, and Builders of Hope brought their successful home building program and holistic approach to the process. Dramatic results have followed including a housing renaissance, school reclamation, and economic development.

Oak Cliff Transformation

When a town hall meeting in Oak Cliff was led by opponents to placing rehabilitated homeless individuals into the Cliff Manor public housing site, a silent group of attendees determined to put a different face on Oak Cliff. During the closing of the tumultuous evening session, Skinner, a resident of nearby West Dallas, who also serves as director of the Greater Dallas Justice Revival, shared that the faith community would walk with the formerly homeless and work with the support agencies assigned to make their new homes a success.

Skinner knew the rich history of Oak Cliff faith community commitment to the homeless and mentally handicapped for the past decade led by Cliff Temple Baptist Church and The Well, a ministry to the disadvantaged.

True to his word, and the nature of the faith community in Oak Cliff, seventeen new residents feel welcomed and wanted.

The wonderful welcome and outreach from the “Good Neighbors of Oak Cliff” deeply touched the lives of their seventeen new neighbors. The Greater Dallas Justice Revival was celebrates the unity in Oak Cliff and looks forward to helping other communities and churches become “Good Neighbors”.

Thank you so much for your contributions, hard work, and continued prayers, and support for the Greater Dallas Justice Revival. We would appreciate you help in expanding this much needed work. Help us help Dallas be a community that is known for its “Good Neighbors”. If your interested in serving on a council, or serving in a service project, please contact us today by filling out the volunteer form.

The work of the Greater Dallas Justice Revival is made possible by the generous donations of people who have a desire to see our community transformed. This past year thousands of volunteer hours were donated in outreach projects to help the hungry and our inner city schools. We urgently need your financial support to continue this work. Please give generously.

Randy H. Skinner
Executive Director
Greater Dallas Justice Revival
Read more on the exciting results of church outreach in Oak Cliff from a local resident:

Join our movement to support the new residents into housing with support services by volunteering. Click here:

Echoing the words of Mother Teresa, as he reflected on the new residents of Cliff Manor, Skinner said: “The material and physical suffering is suffering from hunger, from homelessness, from all kinds of diseases. But the greatest suffering is being lonely, feeling unloved, having no one. I have come more and more to realize that it is being unwanted that is the worst disease that any human being can ever experience."

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Bus Ridin' in the Rain

I'm on the bus again heading to work. I can still smell the experience from yesterday as mildew starts to grow. Yesterday, as many already know, was a pretty eventful day for weather. It culminated at about 6:30 for Angela and me as we saw that the funnel cloud had passed and time had come to put the mattress back on the bed and go to our bible study.

The start of the day was also pretty eventful. I decided to take the bus, because I wante
d to see who rides the bus in bad weather. Since the bus had been coming a few minutes early these past few weeks, I decided to leave my apartment at 8:10 to catch the 8:18. I had shoes at the office, so I rolled up my pants and put on my flip-flops. As soon as I left my apartment, I realized the bus wasn't going to be early. The light at Lemmon and Inwood was flashing red (and still is), and cars were waiting as far as I could see in all directions. About the time I saw this the wind picked up rendering my umbrella useless except for keeping my already wet hair from getting wetter.

I quickly walked to CVS to seek shelter for a few minutes, pretending to look for a drink. When I became nervous that the bus might pass, I went back outside. Instead of standing at the stop where rain was blowing and cars were splashing, I found the one dry circle at the side of the CVS and began watching the intersection while the propane containers watched me from their cages.

Thirty minutes later, at about the time the next bus usually arrives, I saw my bus approach the intersection. I walked back out to the stop one car too early--the car hit the puddle and splashed my legs. Once on the bus it wasn't too bad. Every time the bus would slow down, a river of water would cascade to the front. When it sped up again, the water evened back out.

This blog has gone on way too long without talking about the purpose of my bus ride: the other people. I have a car and a bike, so I have options. Most people who ride the bus can't say the same. I guess part of me was expecting to see only the poorer population that rides the bus taking the bus in the rain. But to my surprise it was basically the same crowd that takes the bus every morning: some with no jobs, some with well-paying jobs; most alone, but some with friends or kids. Every race was represented as usual. I also expected people to be in bad moods. Again, I was wrong. Some people were tired like every morning, but I think most were just happy to be on the bus.

As I try to close this over-long entry, I'm trying to think about conclusions I can make about my experience yesterday. I guess I can break it down into two things: (1) People ride the bus because it's the better option most of the time, and (2) getting wet on your way to work isn't as bad as most people make it out to be. Not strong conclusions, but I think they are filled with truth.