Artists in Residence

work by Willie

By Safe Harbor Shelter Clinical Case Manager, Julia Parmer

I was in my office, trying to seize on a small window of opportunity to tackle a pile of paperwork, when a client came running through my door. “Julia! You have to see this. Willie built an easel!” I knew, or rather, I had heard, that my client Willie was an artist. A likeness of Janet Jackson, almost eerie in its uncanny resemblance to the pop star, had floated for many years from office to office at Safe Harbor, left long ago by Willie after a previous shelter stay. But I had never seen his current work, nor had I seen him in action. I went outside where, indeed, Willie had, using two chairs, some posterboard, and other odds and ends, fashioned himself a makeshift easel and was hard at work, charcoal pen in cramped, blackened hand. I joined the gathered group of spectators who stood in silence, eagerly watching as Willie put pen to paper and the shape of a face began to form.

We soon decided to move Willie’s art supplies upstairs into our second floor Learning Center; a new room at the shelter, designated for onsite programming. In this room, we offer a host of courses for our residents, such as financial literacy classes and resume workshops. These classes are meant to help our residents make the most productive use of their time at the shelter; to further assist them in their goals of self-sufficiency, employment, and permanent housing. But this room also serves a second, and equally important purpose; to build life skills, to expand creative abilities, strengthen social emotional and physical well-being. To that end, we’ve offered yoga, nutrition, color therapy, arts and crafts, knitting, and, of late, Willie’s fine arts studio.

Artists in Residence by Julia Parmer 061517 3

In March, one of our staff members started a weekly women’s group in that same Learning Center. The group is not therapy; it’s a safe space to explore and navigate the challenges of living in a shelter as a woman, as well as a place for women to express their creative sides. Recently, they put together vision boards; empowering artistic collages to express ones’ dreams, goals, and hopes for the future. They made these using simple materials that we’ve had donated; old magazines, colored markers, stickers. The results were extraordinary. Sometimes I leave work feeling powerless, nearly hopeless at the homeless situation in our County. How is it, I thought to myself, as I looked at each finely crafted board, that our residents, despite the hardships, the heartache, the struggles, were able to draw on such inner strength and creativity to produce such things of beauty? And why is it that I ever doubted they could?

Earlier this year, a formArtists in Residence by Julia Parmer 061517 2er client emailed me to ask for a recommendation letter as she was putting together an application for an MFA program in creative writing. I had not seen this client since she left the shelter more than two years ago, but she felt that it was during her time at Safe Harbor that she experienced the personal and artistic growth to propel her to reach for this long-held dream of hers to go back to graduate school. I was deeply moved that she had found her experience at the shelter to be so transformative, and, more importantly, that she was taking these brave steps (at the age of 50 no less) to fulfill this goal of pursuing a career and a life in the creative arts.

So often I am surprised by the imagination and the thirst for knowledge that I witness on a regular basis at work. We’ve had guitarists, sculptor, painters, writers; so many creative and capable individuals. It is so easy to stigmatize that which we don’t know or which we fear. The concept of homelessness, of a homeless shelter, does not necessarily immediately lend itself to the notion of the creative arts. So we make assumptions and snap judgements, as we are naturally all prone to do.

But on that day, watching Willie begin to sketch out a future masterpiece in the front parking lot of our 90 bed facility, surrounded by his fellow residents, I had to simply take a moment to reflect and to remind myself that there is so much beauty in the world, if only we open our eyes to it.

Artists in Residence by Julia Parmer 061517 4

charcoal on paper works by Willie

Not All Heroes Wear Capes

Blog Post 
By: Rachel Spencer ( )

Rachel Spencer (Edited)Traffic is miserable in the . It’s not because the highways are small or that traffic lights aren’t programed properly, but because people are flocking here. As the number of cars on the road continues to increase, the number of people looking for housing is also increasing at a high rate.

As the Bay Area’s population continues to grow, the supply of rental units is rapidly decreasing and the demand for them is increasing, which is causing rental prices to sharply incline year after year.  For the affluent, the high rental rates are often discussed as an annoyance. For the working class, the high rental rates are crippling. If you want to survive the cost of living in the Bay Area, a single household needs to make a minimum of$78,000/year. Most working class individuals are working hard at jobs that pay minimum wage.  Imagine: for one household to make $78,000/year, it would require 4.7 full time minimum wage jobs!

Despite working full time and doing all that is in their control working class families are struggling to scrape by and, just when it all gets to be too much to handle, Samaritan House swoops in to save the day.

The name Samaritan House reflects perfectly the nature of the good work that they do. It calls to mind the story of The Good Samaritan.  In short, the story depicts a man who was a victim to thieves during his travels, leaving him without any possessions and half dead on the side of the street. As he lay there, people walked past him and avoided him until another traveler from Samaria helped him by tending to his wounds, giving him a safe place to stay and being a true hero for this man in need. Samaritan House exemplifies the compassion for the needy in today’s San Mateo.

In San Mateo alone, there is not a shortage of people who need help meeting their basic needs. As they come to Samaritan House, they are treated like dignified human beings and helped to get a roof over their heads, clothing on their children’s backs and food in their stomachs.

On any given day, you can go to Samaritan House in San Mateo to find a 3 story building full of compassion, dedication, humility, kindness, and laughter working day-in and day-out to meet the basic needs of those who can’t do it on their own. In other words, you’ll find a 3 story building full of heroes, and remember, not all heroes wear capes.

Community Connections Blog Posts are comprised of narratives from the people who know Samaritan House the best- our staff, clients, and volunteers!

Everyone is invited to participate, please email your experience with Samaritan House to rebecca@samaritanhousesanmatao.org.

Community Connections Blog – Improving Your Memory

memory-loss-woman-625

memory-loss-woman-625Written By:

Samaritan House Volunteer,

Dr. Jerry Saliman

With advancing age, many adults worry not only about their health, but also about their memory. First, let us examine why we value our memory, and then look at some of the latest research in how to improve memory.

With the externalization of memory by cell phones, computers, digital photographs, books, and pencil and paper, one can wonder why we need our brains to remember anything at all. However, thousands of years ago the major way we passed along information was orally, which required focused attention and memory. Dating back 2500 years, the Iliad and the sequel, the Odyssey, were transmitted orally by the rhythm of the words. It is said that the Torah, or Five Books of Moses, was memorized by Moses, then taught to the leaders of the Hebrew people, and then passed on to the 1 million or so who left Egypt around 1500 BCE. The Torah chant or trope aided memorization, and may have even contributed to more precise interpretation. For 1000 years, not one word of Torah was recorded in the written word. The value of “knowing” the Torah in the mind was that it could be scanned quickly for reference and applied meaningfully to any life situation. Today, with the exception of some Torah and Talmudic scholars, few possess this skill. Although computers are useful memory tools, digitalized knowledge cannot be applied in situations requiring emotional awareness and response. For example, a musician who performs a piece from memory can evoke musical pathos or elation that extends beyond the printed notes.

There are scores of self-help books on improving memory. One that I recently enjoyed reading is Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything by an investigative journalist, Joshua Foer. He states this about the process of improving his memory, “My experience has validated the old saw that practice makes perfect. But only if it’s the right kind of concentrated, self-conscious, deliberate practice.” The main technique he utilized was the “PAO system.” A specific person, action, or object is associated with a specific card in a deck, or a segment of poetry, or a number to be recalled. I won’t reveal the ending of the book, but the memory feat Joshua Foer was able to accomplish was quite extraordinary. Moreover, the tools he used can be learned by anyone.

There have been many medical studies to investigate memory loss and interventions to improve it. Despite early hopes that computerized brain games or taking gingko biloba could make a significant difference, follow up studies have not confirmed their long-term benefit. One novel medical study from UCLA (in the journal Aging, September 2014) showed actual Reversal of Cognitive Decline. In this study, 9 of 10 patients with early Alzheimer’s, or mild and subjective cognitive impairment improved within 3-6 months using a comprehensive program involving up to 36 interventions. The one patient who did not improve had advanced dementia. Patients who had quit their jobs because of poor memory were able to return to work. Notably absent from the regimen were prescription medicines. Although the program was personalized, here are some of the key components:

  1. Exercise 30-60 minutes, 4-6 times per week. (Exercise stimulates the growth of new neurons of the hippocampus, the memory center of the brain, and preserves existing neurons.)
  2. Eat a healthy diet. Eliminate simple carbohydrates, increase consumption of fruits and vegetables, and non-farmed fish.
  3. Reduce stress; meditate, practice yoga, or listen to music.
  4. Aim for 8 hours of sleep per night.
  5. Fast 12 hours per night including 3 hours prior to bedtime to reduce sugar and insulin levels. (The higher one’s glucose, the greater the risk for memory loss.)
  6. Supplements such as B12, Vitamin D, fish oil, and curcumin were individualized in this study.

Although none of the participants followed the protocol entirely, the results were still impressive. Dr. Dale Bredesen, the neurologist and author of the study, advises a full clinical trial to substantiate the findings.

I instruct my patients who have concerns about their memory to incorporate heart-healthy habits: “What is good for the heart is good for the brain.” Other measures that aid our memory that I have witnessed watching my 3-year-old granddaughters and 92- year-old mother include:

  1. Learn by song or rhyme. Think of the ABC song. Singing or chanting triggers additional nerve pathways to aid memorization and recall. Whenever I attend Shabbat services with my mother, chanting of a prayer aids her ability to remember it.
  2. When I observe my granddaughters learning a new word, they repeat the word out loud. When you meet a new person, try to state the name of the person 2-3 times to reinforce it in your memory bank.
  3. New experiences add links to memory circuitry. Socialize with others, take your children or grandchildren to the zoo, or travel to maximize the opportunity for memorable moments. Stay active.

In summary, keep yourself focused, exercise your mind, and practice a healthy lifestyle to stay sharp. Your personal memories are valuable because they define you. Protect them.

Jerry Saliman, MD is a volunteer internist at Samaritan House Medical Clinic in San Mateo. He retired from Kaiser South San Francisco after working there more than 30 years. While at Kaiser SSF, Dr. Saliman was also Chief of Patient Education. He received the 2012 “Lifetime Achievement Award” given by the Kaiser SSF Medical Staff.

This article was reprinted with permission from Peninsula Jewish Community Center. For complete original version, visit blog.pjcc.org.

Community Connections – Vicky Stein

Vicky Stein -

Vicky Stein -Written By:

Samaritan House volunteer – Vicky Stein

There are few things in the world as satisfying as feeding people. My favorite memories of my childhood are of the chaos in our kitchen as we finished cooking and sat down at a crowded table, filling ourselves with warm food and good company: I could look around the table at my friends and family and feel proud that I had worked hard to leave everyone healthy, satisfied, and loved. As a result, the Samaritan House Produce Harvest is one of my favorite volunteer activities- it also leaves me with the sense that I’m helping my community create warmth in their own homes.

Not every one of my neighbors is as lucky as I’ve been, to have constant and predictable access to healthy food- junk food is cheaper, faster, and more readily accessible. It doesn’t require special storage like fruits and vegetables do, which makes it simpler to stock up and store both for donors and clients. But the health benefits of produce are clear- high in nutrition and flavor, low in fats and salts and added sugars- and we’ve figured out a way to help people who might not be able to afford grocery store fruits and vegetables benefit from local bounty. When leftover produce from farms isn’t bought by supermarkets, it’s often donated or sold below cost to the Second Harvest Food Bank, which can transport the fragile goods in its refrigerated truck. The Samaritan House, teamed up with Second Harvest Food Bank, distributes the produce to nearly a hundred families on the last Monday of each month, turning potentially wasted food into fresh opportunity.

 

While the planning of the event seems smooth (the food is picked up and transported, the truck is unloaded, families check in and collect their produce, volunteers help them carry bags to cars and wave goodbye) it often becomes a happy sort of chaos. Volunteers span the ages, from students in school uniforms to retired parents, which means that only some can help with heavy lifting, some speak more languages than others, and some might not have ever cooked the produce they’re giving away. Meanwhile, clients at the event might also speak only one language, which won’t necessarily be English, and may have come with their elderly grandparents and children, who add to the general excitement. Those of us who regularly turn up to help are joined by men from the Worker’s Resource Center, who pitch in with unloading the truck, unfolding tables, and moving heavy boxes into empty spaces so that the handout can continue smoothly. Everyone signs in and pulls on a pair of gloves and, in true neighborly spirit, joins the melee and lends a hand wherever their skills are needed.

 

At the end of the event, my hands are sweaty inside the latex gloves and my sweater is covered in flecks of onion skin, and I can watch in satisfaction as hundreds of people walk away laden with the fixings to feed their families a healthy and hearty meal.

**This post was written for our Community Connections Blog. There you will find stories, ideas, opinions and other narratives from the people who know Samaritan House the best, the staff and volunteers! you have a story you would like to tell, please email it to rebecca@samaritanhousesanmatao.org. 

Community Connections – Julia Parmer

the harbor overlooking shelter at sunset

the harbor overlooking shelter at sunset

Written By:  

Samaritan House Staff Member, Julia Parmer 

John has been sitting by the window overlooking the SamTrans parking lot for two days now. He is steadfast in his vigilance, barely moving a muscle, back straight, hands in his lap. He is watching something, but I do not yet know what. Towards the end of the second day, he cautiously approaches the front desk, where I am filling out some paperwork. “Miss Julia?” he asks hesitantly. “There’s a dog in that truck by the window. I think his owner must have forgotten about him and I’m worried.” Following John’s lead, several clients run to the window, and for the first time they observe what he has been keeping a close watch over. A small dog is sitting in the driver’s seat of a large Chevy truck. The dog is completely still. Immediately, we all spring into action. Anje calls the police and the SPCA. Gus, an outreach case manager from San Mateo County Behavioral Health who happens to be here runs outside and taps on the car window, hoping to awaken the dog. The car window is slightly open. With some help from another client, Gus drops some food inside. The dog stirs; he is ok.  John continues to oversee the action from his perch, silent and steady. All hands are now on deck to save this neglected animal. I am smiling, laughing at the controlled chaos.

            Every day, the residents of Safe Harbor amaze me. John has little more than a backpack to his name. Yet there he sits, day in and day out, keeping watch over another life, protecting this small creature that cannot protect itself. It is these moments in which I feel so privileged to work here and it is these moments that make the other, often heartbreaking moments bearable. I am so thankful to know people like John, and to be a part of this community at Samaritan House.

**This post was written for our Community Connections Blog. There you will find stories, ideas, opinions and other narratives from the people who know Samaritan House the best, the staff and volunteers! you have a story you would like to tell, please email it to rebecca@samaritanhousesanmatao.org. 

Community Connection

Written By:

Samaritan House Staff Member, Carol Laughlin my picture at dali (3)

Since coming to Samaritan House four months ago, I have been constantly surprised and amazed by the generosity and the depth of involvement of our community. Volunteers come to us from every sector of the county moved by a deep urge to help, to give back, to share their own good fortune, to have a sense of purpose.

Coming from a volunteer director job in San Francisco, I feel like I have traveled back in time to a kinder, gentler era in our history, when the community pulled together to help others. My days of getting together with other volunteer directors to bemoan the difficulty of finding and retaining volunteers are over. Rather, every day, requests to volunteer, to donate, pour in. Finding new ways to involve everyone is the challenge, now.

From the earliest days of Samaritan House, many of our staunchest supporters have been faith-based organizations.

For 40 years, Samaritan House has acted out that ancient story of selfless caring for another, helping all who have a need without regard to religion or ethnicity and our faith-based partners have been right there with us, giving and giving.

Here are just a few of the many things faith-based groups do at Samaritan House:

  • For six years, the Tzu-Chi Foundation has been purchasing delicious Asian Food and serving it toall of our Safe Harbor Shelter residents on the fourth Wednesday of every month.
  • Our neighbors at San Mateo Congregational Church are donating refurbished bicycles, helmets and locks to the Worker Resource Center, giving the people a means of transportation.
  • The Peninsula Interfaith Council served breakfast for more than fifty people at the worker resource center to honor the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. They also ran a clothing drive, and cooked and served a BBQ at the Safe Harbor (SH)Shelter.
  • Every Thursday a team of dedicated Latter Day Saints youth volunteer in our kitchen, helping stock food, clean, and cook.
  • St. Bartholomew Church has been actively helping for many years, in the kitchen and at the SH shelter. St. Timothy Catholic Church and Crystal Springs United Methodist Church have been serving at the SH shelter for years, as well.
  • On the last Saturday of every month, Sri Sathya Sai Baba Center of San Bruno cooks and serves a delicious vegetarian meal at the SH shelter.
  • And Temple Beth El in San Mateo has been making and delivering sandwiches for our clients to eat over the weekends.

If I have left out your group, please forgive me. These are just the groups I have seen and spoken with in the past month. As I am here longer, I hope to meet all of our incredible partners.