On Thanksgiving Monday morning we opened the kitchen at the normal 6 a.m. It was a bit slower because of the holiday, but it was not too long before the clients started rolling in.
Among the first group that entered was a young man I’ll call Jeff. At about 20 years old, he is well known to us because his whole family has been coming to the kitchen ever since I have been there and Jeff and his sister were babies.
Although all of them are very healthy and fully capable of working, not one of them has worked a day in their life.
They might help out once in a while, but sadly they have never held a job. They have always been on the government payroll in one form or another, and this tradition has been passed down from one generation to the next.
Now before you judge them, you have to understand where they came from. This is not an excuse, rather it is a likely reason. Stay with me as I try to explain how I see and understand it. Some of Jeff’s ancestors may have come through the residential school system which was not so much a training centre as it was a lifestyle eradication system.
Any time you want to undertake the raising of a child you have to — over a long period of time, and with great persistence and perseverance — teach them everything, including how to work, how to manage money, and how to live productive lives within a community. That they did not receive in a school of that nature.
The lack of any of these forms of teaching will produce children who will emulate their parents and live lives devoid of responsibility and productivity. It is not only relegated to the indigenous community.
On the Caucasian side, the kids will sometimes be over diagnosed with health issues such as ADD, bi-polar, and there are many more related illnesses for which they are given drugs to dumb them down so they can function within a society that will demand nothing from them nor give them responsibilities to exercise their minds.
Children who grow up to be responsible and find the work that is available are usually children born into families that have an understanding of the need for that responsibility.
Their children are the ones involved in many extra-curricular activities and duties that help to shape their lives.
This costs a great deal of money which many parents are willing to sacrifice for their children. In the majority of these efforts, very little allowance is made for those of limited means; those in the poverty section or the minimum wage poor.
For young Jeff, his education and extracurricular activities involved tagging along with his older siblings and their friends on the street, none of whom were ever taught the responsibility of working for their money.
If they had an ounce of entrepreneurship in them, there were many ways to earn a bit of money on the street, selling drugs, shoplifting to order and so on; just nothing that involved labour.
If and when Jeff has children or at least fathers some, he will have nothing in the way of character building to offer them.
The mother of his children who was raised under similar standards, will be the same; so the children that come out of that environment will just carry on that tradition. Believe me, it is a tradition.
So, where do we go from here? Do we just ignore what hits us in the face every day or do we undertake some sort of system by which we can help? Do we gain by having child-welfare take these kids and stick them in foster homes, (just another residential school system)?
Maybe we could try this on for size? Even though there are hundreds of agencies both state and private that are willing to help, we fight against a system that is more willing to throw cash at these people rather than to take the initiative to train and support them in an effort to integrate them into the mainstream.
Stop the handing out of cash without accountability! It’s ironic that we pay to keep folks that do no work from starving, while at the same time we pay others to clean streets, shovel snow etc. etc. Would it cost to change that scene? For sure it would, way more, but at least it could be counted as an investment into a much more productive and acceptable community.
You see, in my mind, Jeff is poor and will remain that way if changes are not made. The reason he is poor is because he was never taught to be anything different.
Chris Salomons is kitchen co-ordinator for Potter’s Hands ministry in Red Deer.