A Lighthouse in the Storm

Meet our newest team member, Nancy Craskey, through her story of serving at Cityteam.  

lighthouse

I am the light of the world. Whoever follows  me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life. John 8:12

You can’t always stop the storms in life, something I know all too well. At Cityteam we see devastation of life’s storms in the lives of the people we serve. Most of us in this work have weathered many ourselves. When I think of these storms I think of the image of a ship trying to navigate treacherous waters doing everything in its power to reach calmer waters and safe harbor.

I joined Cityteam in October as their Major Gift Development Officer after 5 years of working with many of its programs as a volunteer with my family.   In my time as a volunteer and in the 3 months since I started as a staff member I have seen how Cityteam is often a shining light in what are the darkest times for people.

That’s why I find it interesting that every time I turn on to Sproul Street and I see our red brick building with the white Cityteam sign at the top in my front view mirror, in my mind’s eye I see a lighthouse. Whether it’s the simple yet strong brick building, or the fact that it is not surrounded by any other buildings or maybe it’s just how the Lord wishes me to see it every day. That’s just what I see….a lighthouse!Cityteam Chester Building

light·house ˈlītˌhous/ noun:

a tower or other structure containing a beacon light to warn or guide ships at sea

 

Isn’t that exactly what we have been called to do at Cityteam? Don’t we serve as that beacon of light?    Not only do we serve our guests with food, shelter, clothing and all the essentials for themselves and their families we strive to be a source of hope, of dignity and respect, spiritual nourishment and love.

I have absolutely no doubt that is what I was called to do and I often say that I feel like I won the lottery when I was given the job as Major Gift Development Officer at Cityteam. I have the unique pleasure of getting to love what I do because it marries my abilities with my sense of purpose in this world. I get to see a light come alive in the men who live with us, to see laughter in their eyes, hopes, dreams, and to hear their stories when we sit together at lunch. We bear witness to them navigating their way with our help to calmer waters and a brighter future.

We are all keepers of the light; the staff, the volunteers, our guests, and our many donors and supporters. That is how I see the work I do, this simple brick building is the Lord’s lighthouse in Chester. It is my job to make sure that like any building or endeavor that we have the funds to do the necessary work to continue to be a beacon and to let that light grow stronger every year. It is truly a labor of love and the most rewarding thing (other than motherhood) that I have ever done.

I look forward to getting to know you, thanks for reading!

Nancy

nancy

Nancy Craskey, Major Gift Officer

 

December at Cityteam: 6 Easy Ways to Help

toy

Christmas is just around the corner!  If you have been wanting to celebrate by doing something special for someone in need, we have a few great ways you can do so at Cityteam. We have a list of over 1,000 families and over 2,500 children who can use your help.

1. “Adopt” a Child or multiple children who need toys for Christmas. You will be provided a child’s first name, “wish list” of favorite toys, and clothing sizes to give you a personal connection with the child you are helping. Click here for more details or contact adonahoe@cityteam.org.

2. Collect and Donate Toys and Food. Print out these lists of most requested toys and our most needed food items.Please note the requested deadlines so that your donations do the most good this year.

3. Drop In to one of these great events all over the Delaware Valley.

  • Wednesday, December 2, Dine Out at  Springmill Café in Conshohocken. They are donating a portion of all checks for the evening to Cityteam and we will also be collecting toys. 
  • Friday, December 4, meet up with K-LOVE at Franklin Mint Federal Credit Union and drop off toys.
  • Sunday, December 6Philadelphia Union Fans 5k & Holiday Family Party toy drop off 8am -12pm. You can still register for the 5k.
  • Thursday, December 10, members of Delaware County Chamber of Commerce is hosting a Holiday Business After Hours Event at Republic Bank, Media –– with a Cityteam toy collection.
  • Sunday, December 21, Cardinal O’Hara’s annual Family Christmas Mass & Tree Lighting includes a “Shower for Baby Jesus” collection of diapers, wipes and formula for Cityteam’s Mother Baby Program.
  • Wednesday, December 30th Iron Hill Restaurant in Media will donate 20% of Dinner Check to Cityteam w/coupon. 

4. Volunteer at one of our Christmas events. We have something for all ages, so check out the options by clicking here.

5. Donate  financially. Just click here and remember to select “Philadelphia” to keep your gifts local

6. Share this post with your friends and family to help spread the word of all the good you can do to share help and hope with families in need throughout the holidays!

“All I Want For Christmas”

“Christmas time is here
Happiness and cheer
Fun for all that children call
Their favorite time of the year

Sleigh bells in the air
Beauty everywhere
Yuletide by the fireside
And joyful memories there”

Remember Charlie Brown’s Christmas? Watch this little clip here if you don’t. At different points this Christmas, I have felt a little bit like Charlie. In my mind I know that this is supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year, but recent events and personal losses of my own–well they are difficult. And sad. And I find it a little confusing balancing these things with the expectations of this season.

I keep finding reassurance, though, in realizing that a world seemingly overtaken by injustice, tragedy and loss is the very reason we celebrate the coming of Jesus. The reasons He came, then, are the very same reasons we still need Him, now. He brings hope, peace, and grace to us. And we still see this hope come to life, even today.

I want to share with you an update of a story I wrote a few months ago. (You can read it here.) Last December, I watched a heroin addicted man I know walk away from Cityteam and into the cold. He was without hope that he could change and I was losing hope that he might have any strength left to try.  Last Christmas, I prayed that he wouldn’t die before he could get the help he needed.

Now, a year later, everything is different. This man celebrated another milestone this month. He has over 9 months clean and he has successfully completed our learning center program and he is one test away from completing his GED. I look at the hopelessness we both felt last Christmas, and I look at what Jesus is doing in this man’s life today and I am inspired. The same Jesus the world needed, then–He is still changing lives, now.

Recently, this man  wrote a paper about what heroin addiction does to a person, one of many papers he wrote during his time in the learning center. And he’s given me permission to share it here, which I am proud to do. The last line moved me, knowing how differently he saw things not that long ago. It reads: “Heroin is a huge downfall in the United States today and we all have to join in the fight against heroin addiction and the war can be won.”

A war that can be won. That is real hope. “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.”  Thank you, Jesus. Merry Christmas.

Kwinn Tucker, City Director

Kwinn Tucker, City Director

“The intense high the user seeks last only a few minutes. With continued use he/she needs increasing amounts of the drug just to feel normal.”

His research paper about heroin is really informative. Please take a minute and read it by clicking here.

Heroin Addiction

a research paper

by (name not shared, resident of Cityteam Chester)

The effect of using drugs such as heroin is very destructive and causes immediate damage to the person using the drug. Not only does heroin affect the physical aspect of the body, it also affects the mind with our decision-making process for a long period of time. The brain and the body will get accustomed to the intake of opioids (heroin) and will crave this drug. Without this drug when the body expects, it the body and mind will start to go through withdrawal. Rehabilitation centers play a big role in getting people clean and giving them the tools they need to be successful in recovery to stay sober.

The initial effects of heroin include a rush. This is also followed by a warm feeling of the skin, dry mouth, vomiting, and severe itching. Depending on how the addict’s body can handle the drug, sometimes he/she will experience slowed breathing, clouded mental functioning, sedation, hypothermia, coma, or death from overdosing. The intense high the user seeks last only a few minutes. With continued use he/she needs increasing amounts of the drug just to feel normal. This is a continuing cycle and the addict soon begins to realize that keeping up with this addiction is a full time job.

There is a wad of nerve cells in the central part of your brain called the nucleus accumbes. This part of the brain deals with pleasure and releases dopamine, a neurotransmitter. When an addict uses heroin, this floods the brain with dopamine. The effects of this flood are stronger and faster than it would be naturally. The brain gets used to being flooded with dopamine and the cells we have that naturally produce’s will die off. As a result of heroin use, hyper stimulating drugs become the only way to trigger a palpable dopamine response. Heroin addicts seek larger and larger hits to achieve an even diminishing pleasure experience, and they have trouble feeling satisfaction from the things non-drug addicted people enjoy on a day to day basis. According to Peter Kalvis a Neuroscientist at the Medical University of South Carolina, has done laboratory routines on lab rats addicted to heroin. When he flicks the lights and sounds a tone, the rats know that their next hit will be coming soon. This relates to the human brain also. We call these cues. These cues set off a series of events leading up to the high our brains get use to over time. They call this people, places, and things. When an addict sees old friends, goes to old places and does old things, this brings out old behaviors that the brain remembers. The brain will remember someone that he/she used to get high with. When an addict sees someone that he/she used to get high with the brain will release dopamine. Because the brain got the cue and expects the final hit. The more years of heroin use the addict has the more cues the brain will have leading that person to get high. The more cues the brain has, the harder it will become for the addict to resist the urge.

When using heroin, it has short term and long term effects on our bodies. According to Jeff Dobes at the National Institute of Drug abuse center, our bodies contain naturally occurring chemicals called neurotransmitters that bind to the receptors throughout the body to regulate pain, hormone release, and a feeling of well-being. When MOR’s (mu-opioid receptors) are activated in the reward center of the brain, they stimulate the release of the neurotransmitter dopamine, causing a sensation of pleasure. The consequence of activating opioid receptors with externally administrating opioid such as heroin, versus naturally occurring chemicals within our bodies will destroy the natural flow and release of dopamine. Depending on a variety of factors, how much is used, where in the body it binds, how strongly it binds, and for how long, how quickly it gets there, and what happens after the drugs enter the body. After heroin enters the body the user experiences a warm flushing feeling of the skin. He/she might experience nausea or vomiting, and severe itching. The user will experience slowed heartbeat, severely slowed breathing, blurry vision, and sometimes becomes numb and cannot determine if it is hot or cold outside. Some users will experience a fall-out. This is a term that addicts use when they administer very strong heroin to themselves and they actually pass out and fall to the ground. This is considered over dosing but the subject will continue to breathe for a few minutes or so until they come to or someone wakes them up. This is caused from the user injecting, snorting, or smoking too much at one time. There have been cases where the users have been severely injured from the initial fall-out whether the subject lost consciousness, to driving and crashed or was smoking a cigarette and set the house on fire. Heroin abuse is associated with a number of serious health conditions including fatal overdoses, spontaneous abortions, and infectious disease such as Hepatitis and HIV. Chronic heroin abusers may experience collapsed veins, infection of the heart lining and valve, abscesses, constipation, gastrointestinal cramping, and liver or kidney diseases. Street drugs like heroin often contain toxic contaminants or additives that can clog blood vessels leading to the lung, liver, kidneys or brain causing permanent damage to vital organs. The use of heroin holds no bar. This drug will quickly start affecting the body and will lead to death if the user does not stop.

In the United States heroin has seen a dramatic comeback in the last few years. This shift has largely occurred due to the increasing dependency of opioid painkillers. For this reason, it is vital we know the signs of heroin use and how recovery from heroin addiction can occur. We cant feel helpless when someone is harming themselves with heroin use. There are many rehabilitation centers in the United States that can provide the services needed to kick start the fight against heroin abuse. There are also outpatient programs that an addict can attend on a day to day basis to learn about heroin addiction and what the subject can do to stay out of the grips of addiction and not return back to it. There are also programs that family members and friends can attend to help them with learning about the heroin abuse and the disease without using it themselves. Heroin is a huge downfall in the United States today and we all have to join in the fight against heroin addiction and the war can be won.

——————————–

This post was originally featured within the story “All I Want for Christmas”.

Humble Pie

Verdell Thomas

I want to tell you about Ms. Verdell Thomas. She was one of the most memorable people I’ve ever met at Cityteam, and she was humble. I think about humility a lot, because I struggle with it: I read about Jesus, a God who became a man, living and suffering along with us, and his example is powerful but can be tough to follow. I think that’s why there are people like Ms. Verdell–when we seek to become authentically humble, here they come–an example of the real thing.

Kwinn Tucker, City Director

Kwinn Tucker, City Director

There is so much work to do at a place like Cityteam, and even early on I noticed myself drawn to certain kinds of work. There are jobs that guarantee a certain level of human connection: holding a baby, or teaching someone to use a computer, or even serving meals. Honestly? Certain kinds of jobs just feel more fulfilling than others. And I’ve noticed over the years that I’m not alone. Most people are drawn to certain kinds of “jobs” at places like Cityteam.

Meanwhile, there is so much other work to be done, a lot of it less obviously “rewarding.” One of the toughest jobs for me was sorting through bags of donated clothing. People are so generous that sometimes we have piles and piles of clothes to sort through. And then the room will fill up again for next week. But that’s where Ms. Verdell could always be found, sitting in a chair in the back of the clothing donation room, surrounded by bags of clothes.

See, I didn’t even notice her at first. That job kept her away from the crowd, and she would simply arrive and go right to work. I had a hard time figuring her out, she was quite a bit older than me and she hardly ever smiled. Once I saw her, I had to find out her name and introduce myself. And then I saw her smile! “Well, hi!” she said, and of course she already knew my name.

Well, that began our friendship which sadly only lasted a few years before she passed. But in that time she affected me deeply. She’d bake every week and bring different pies or cakes for the volunteers to enjoy. Out of loyalty to her, I tried sweet potato pie and carrot cake for the first time. I’ll always be grateful for that introduction, although I’m still looking for any that tastes as good as hers.

But of course she taught me in much deeper ways than educating my palate. She showed me what true humility in service is. She tirelessly took on that donation pile, for hours each week. She had a greater understanding of just how important that work really is. Kids need those clothes. And the clothes need sorting so we can be sure they’re clean, safe, and in good shape.

Maybe that’s all humility is, really, the lesson for me, from Jesus to Verdell is this: see where there is need. See where there is suffering. And then go to work. Maybe it’s just that simple.

Ms. Verdell's Recipe she was generous enough to share

Ms. Verdell’s Recipe she was generous enough to share

Like our post? Please share! ~Kwinn

Graduation Day

2014-09-12 19.57.35Author’s Note: For the full effect of this blog, you should turn on Pomp and Circumstance in your headphones. 

Cue the caps and gowns. Cue the suits and ties. Cue the family and friends. Cue the tears and happy goodbyes.

This past Saturday marked the second Men’s Recovery program graduation that I have been a part of as the Mission Program Manager at Cityteam Chester. Watching five men talk of their changed lives is truly a humbling experience. Especially when you hear the stories of what they were before they came.

I think in lessons a lot in my personal debrief time. There are a few things I walk away with from a night like that.

No One Need Walk Alone: One of our graduates reminded us of the story in the Bible where Elijah spent time by the river, and God sent ravens to feed him when there was no other promise of food. He then went through some of the “ravens” that walked alongside him in his process. He spoke so highly of the case manager, who invested her life in him, calling him on his behavior, never letting him escape himself. He spoke of the brothers who challenged him to be something different in the program. He spoke of those who were able to afford him these opportunities.

Sometimes, the journey of change feels lonely. It’s desert. It’s vast. It’s confusing. But none of us walk alone.

In fact, anything that’s worth having in life is worth fighting together for. It’s worth asking help for. It’s worth the pain of relationship.

And especially in recovery. As every volunteer was able to stand at that event, I was in awe of the look of shrink-wrapped tears in their eyes.

It takes an army, and I’m grateful for that army.

Not Everyone Makes It: Yes, not everyone made it to the graduation ceremony. This year, we had two individuals who were unable to make it with extremely good reason.

Though all of our grads this year are gainfully employed, two were opening the new PPL Park in Allentown, were providing food for 15K screaming Eagles fans. They were getting to sit down with Don Henley, and hear “Take It Easy” live.

Take a look here.

You never think that the homeless, broken person standing before you will someday be entertaining rock and roll royalty. We often write these folks off, or wonder at their brokenness, or fight for them to get one of the four F’s (“Flowers, facilities, filing, or food service”).

But God doesn’t work like that. He uses the despised things of the world to show off how good He is. This was a perfect example.

Not Everyone Makes It Part 2: “There were fifty of us to start, and now there are five.”

I heard this a few days before as I was recording his testimony. It hasn’t left me since.

The journey of recovery is a narrow path. An individual faces constant craving for the drugs, constant pressure from “friends”, constant push from their own internal worries and stress, constant demand from a world that has already ostracized them.

Many of the men who were there admitted this was the first thing they started AND finished.

This is all the more reason it takes an army of encouragers. Of givers. Of sacrificial lovers who will give of themselves. Of people saying, “I did it! You can too!”

There Is Promise In The Insanity: And because of the constant demand and pressure, those who invest are constantly challenged. It’s tough living with, working with, serving individuals who are addicted.

Nights like these remind me why we’re here. Not everyone makes it, but some do. Some give themselves fully to God, fully to another human, fully to the process of recovery. Then they receive the reward. Renewed lives. Restored families. Rewarding careers.

And recovery. Significant clean time. A network of folks who make it their goal to aid the sick and suffering.

And you remember in that moment: The reward is worth the cost.

Doug Black, Mission Program Manager at Cityteam

Doug Black, Mission Program Manager at Cityteam

Five Ways to Help at Cityteam This Fall

Cityteam StaffSeptember marks the start of our busiest time at Cityteam. In the coming months, we will meet hundreds of families facing crisis, hunger, and homelessness. Together, we can make a difference for our neighbors in need. If you’d like to help, we’ve got something for everyone! Check out our top 5 suggestions:

1. Organize a food drive. We’ll be delivering food to over 1,000 families for Thanksgiving and Christmas and we’re just getting started with collecting food. Check out our list here.

2. Like to golf? Or a good charity dinner and auction? Our biggest fundraiser is just around the corner on September 29th and you can still register here to play or join us for dinner.

3. Volunteer to pack and deliver food and toys for Thanksgiving and Christmas. You will love how it feels to get hands on involved in making the holidays special for children an families. There are opportunities for all ages, sign up here.

4. Sponsor a Child in need to make this Christmas special for families in our area.  We will supply you with a child or family’s toy wish list and you can shop away! Contact adonahoe@cityteam.org to get started today.

5. Donate to Cityteam. Click here to make a financial gift to support food, holiday help, shelter, recovery and so much more through Cityteam Chester. Please designate “Philadelphia” to make sure that your gift stays local.

Please share our post with your friends and contact us with any questions at philadelphia@cityteam.org.

A Father’s Story: Coming Back From a Life of Addiction

by Doug Black

“She won the lottery!”

He stopped me in the hall at Cityteam, holding his cell phone with the biggest, proudest grin.”Who?”, I asked. “My daughter! She won [a large amount] on her scratch-off ticket!”

He was excited. Whether or not you agree with playing the lottery, it’s pretty easy to get excited about a suitcase full of money. But, besides the money, he was excited about something else. “I’m so glad she’s provided for. Almost like God’s making up for what I couldn’t do.”

He relived the accounts of his time on the street. He told me how his wife would overlook his crack cocaine sales and stay home to take care of the kids. How he would make sure he wouldn’t use his own “product” like all the other guys. His plan to be a smart businessman, keeping from the arguments and gang violence that the other guys would get involved with.

He spent time telling me about how he began using crack “here and there” until it took control of his life. There were days he would wake up in an abandoned house, covered in his own filth and drug residue. His wife and kids, unaware of his location, would just wait and pray. Then, loud and heated discussions came once Daddy got home.

Until, ultimately, there was no home left to return to.

And that’s when he came to the Men’s Recovery Program at CityTeam. His attitude that kept him from interacting with folks in a happy manner dissipated. His lack of empathy that kept him far from his kids was washed away. Hours of hard work on his recovery, nights of praying to God for his addiction issues lead to a changed heart–and a new relationship with his family. One that continues to this day.

Addiction is a family destroyer; it doesn’t just break the bonds between family members, it decimates the emotional and physical strength of everyone involved. Typically, a male who uses drugs will find himself soon divorced, estranged from children, and ignored by other family members who deny they even know him.

Doug Headshot

Doug Black Recovery Manager at Cityteam

We’re grateful at Cityteam that we get to be part of the healing. Not just healing the body, but seeing souls mended. Witnessing finances come back on track, and broken families get pieced back together. Just like this man, who graduated our program, and returned back into his kids’ lives.

Click Here To See How Addiction Impacts Us All