Marion Witte

January 3, 2016

Finding the Pony in the Pony Shit

Filed under: Thoughts — Marion Witte @ 12:42 am

For many people, myself included, 2015 was a challenging year. Losses, heartbreaks, health issues, financial difficulties and various trials seem to have occurred with more frequency than they have in the past.  In an effort to “find the pony in the pony shit,” I have been thinking about my personal challenges, and what I learned from them.

Crazy Neighbor:

The Pony Shit – It was a first for me to have a neighbor call the authorities to file a police report against me.  I thought I was actually part of an Ashton Kutcher “punk” when I opened the door to a man in dressed in a Ventura Police Department uniform.  He was following up on a complaint from the elderly lady down the hall.  It had been reported that I had taken her keys, and then broken into her condo at 3:00 in the morning, where I sprinkled itching powder on her and her dog.  This was the latest in a series of bizarre behaviors on her part, including two months of her knocking on my door at all hours to get back the keys I took, and standing outside my door trying to peer in the peep hole.  I had filed complaints with my landlord, the homeowners association and adult protective services – to no avail.

The Pony:  Thank you Maggie, for giving me the final straw I needed to move.  I found a safe, secure place to live, where my neighbors are kind and helpful – and not crazy.  And by the way – where does one get itching powder, if that even exists???

My Beloved Car:

The Pony Shit – Towanda, my loyal 1999 Toyota Avalon, finally gave up the goods in May. She served me well for 16 years, until finally too many things were breaking down, and it wasn’t worth the cost of repairing them.  Much like me.  It was hard to say goodbye, for she had become my long-term travelling companion.

The Pony – I purchased a used Toyota Rav4 in a beautiful ocean blue color, with only 28,000 miles on it. It feels like new to me. And my loyal sidekick let me know that she didn’t have any hard feelings when I “put her down,” as she let me take the plates off with her name, and put them on the new car!

CASA Service:

The Pony Shit – I completed my first year of service as a CASA (Court-Appointed Special Advocate), where we advocate for children in the foster care system. I had no idea how demanding and sometimes thankless this work could be. On many occasions we get little respect, and we are often discounted and ignored.  People ask me how I like it, and I tell them it is the hardest, most demanding job I have every had – and to top it off you don’t get paid.

The Pony – Someone has to do this work, for these are some of the most vulnerable members of our society. What has become very clear to me is what happens to children when they don’t get the love they deserve at an early age.  And more importantly, I have learned how giving them that love can change the direction of their life.

Friends:

The Pony Shit – I had several issues with “friends,” some of the situations being very painful. I have learned that individuals who only come around when it suits them, or who demand that things should always be done their way, leave me feeling marginalized and unloved.

The Pony – It took going through these situations to realize that good relationships demonstrate a solid balance of compromise and mutual respect. I will be looking for more of these in 2016, and leaving the former type behind.

A Drummer’s Death:

The Pony Shit – And on the last day of the year, my friend Michael, a drummer in the band Iron Butterfly, decided to leave the planet.  He died.

The Pony – He was a good guy, and a good musician, and I was lucky to be able to see his last performance this summer. I found a copy of In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida on ITunes, and I blast it out of my computer speakers. That’s the best farewell I could give him, as I also take the time to remember how short life truly is.

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And so here’s to a productive, creative 2016, with less drama and trauma than the year before.

And may all your ponies be beautiful – and may the little piles they leave behind be sweet-smelling!

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December 30, 2015

Hope For the Future – Maybe??

Filed under: Foundation — Marion Witte @ 3:31 pm

Foster Kids

I have spent a lot of time this past year working in the foster care system.  It has been, to say the least, eye-opening. My blog today relates to what I have learned about the institutionalization of these children in an environment known as group homes.

To set the stage for the information in this article, let me state that the placement of foster children in group home environments has been increasingly deemed a failed model by youth advocacy organizations, the State of California, and various county child welfare departments. In spite of that knowledge, year after year vulnerable children remain housed in them for lack of a better option.

With that background in mind, I have some bad news for you.

And then some more bad news.

And finally some good news.

Bad News #1 – Long-term placement (over six months) of children in group homes can be especially problematic because the foster youth who live in these settings are more likely than those living in family settings to suffer a variety of negative short-term and long-term outcomes. Such placements are associated with an increased likelihood of being involved with the juvenile justice system and the adult correctional system, as well as low educational attainment levels. In 2014, about 3,000 of the 60,000 foster youth in California were placed in group home settings.

Foster youth in group homes are the most likely to be prescribed excessive amounts of psychotropic medications, with more than half receiving court-approved prescriptions. Many of these drugs are commonly used to sedate troubled kids, often for the convenience of group homes, rather than any proven therapeutic benefit. Meanwhile, youth in group homes continue to suffer far worse outcomes than foster children raised with relatives or foster parents. Studies cited in a recent State report show they have higher rates of school dropout and arrest. Roughly 2/3 of the youth failed to attain basic proficiency in either English or math. Perhaps even more problematic are the emotional consequences. If a child is living in a group home, which is not a family setting, it may give the child the message that they may not belong in a normal family, resulting in the youth believing that they will never fit in anywhere but an institution.  Sadly, that is the future for many of these children.

Bad News #2 – Most people are unware of the cost to the taxpayer of the group home facility fees these organizations charge the County Department of Child and Youth Services – and ultimately paid for by us as taxpayers. The group home is paid for the costs of food, housing and social activities.  Medical services are provided separately by MediCal, educational services are provided by the local school district and counseling services by the county behavioral health department.  Below is an example of the minimum current rate paid to a group home facility which houses these youths on a long-term basis.  If a psychiatrist is involved to administer drugs, or specialized educational services are required, the monthly fee can increase to $10,130 per month.

$8,935 per month, per child – equates to $107,220 annually, per child

If the facility has 25 beds, the group home’s revenue is $2,680,500

If the facility has 50 beds, the group home’s revenue is $5,361,000

If the facility has 75 beds, the group home’s revenue is $8,041,500

I will spare you the displeasure of knowing how much of these funds go to administration, marketing and fundraising. And although I work in the area of youth advocacy, and have access to certain proprietary information, the above disclosure is not confidential, and you can look up the information about a particular group home on the internet.

In my estimation, the fees currently being paid would be better utilized to obtain therapeutic counseling, tutoring and educational assistance, behavioral modification services and personal life skill assistance.

Good News – (I think) – Effective January 1, 2017, California Assembly Bill 403 goes into effect – effectively discontinuing the use of group homes to house foster children on a long-term basis (over six months). Instead, the State is pursuing a multi-year implementation plan to acquire, train and support individuals and families who want to care for these children in a family home setting, with specialized therapeutic services being provided by the various county social service departments.

Is the move to discontinue the long-term warehousing of children in group homes a good one – I think so.

Will there be implementation issues as alternative therapeutic foster care placement opportunities are developed – undoubtedly.

Even with the uncertainty of the effectiveness of this new law, I am thrilled that we are finally starting to focus attention on some of the most vulnerable youth in our society.

For I know we can do better than what we are currently doing.

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November 25, 2015

The Nutcracker – A New Experience for 25 Foster Children

Filed under: Foundation — Marion Witte @ 5:57 pm

Nutcracker

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August 21, 2015

Angel Heart Foundation Summer Programs a Success!

Filed under: Foundation — Marion Witte @ 12:36 am

Foundation ALL Summer ProgramsThe Angel Heart Foundation completed its series of summer programs for youth living in Ventura County.

Children from the Oxnard Rio School District, the Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Ventura and the Assistance League Girls Club were treated to a live performance of The Little Mermaid, Jr. at the Rubicon Theater.  Click Here for Photos.

Goody bags were given to the migrant farmer worker children of Oxnard, in connection with Support for the Kids, as a reward for completing the summer school program at Hathaway Elementary School.  Click Here for Photos.

A Mad Hatter Party was held for the children of the Johnson Drive Boys and Girls Club – complete with crafts, face painting, costumes, root beer floats and take-away goody bags.  Click Here for Photos.

Young adults from the Boys and Girls Teens Club of Greater Ventura and the Boys and Girls Teen Club of Camarillo were invited to a live production of West Side Story at the Rubicon Theater in Ventura.  Click Here for Photos.

Thanks to everyone who made all of these events such a great success!

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August 6, 2015

Teens Enjoy a Youth Production of West Side Story

Filed under: Foundation — Marion Witte @ 1:04 am

The Rubicon Theatre presented an amazing student performance of West Side Story. This piece was so timely and pertinent, especially to the 60 teens we sponsored from the Boys and Girls Club of Saticoy, West Side Avenue, East Side Johnson Street and Boy and Girls of Camarillo.

See Photos of the Event!

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July 29, 2015

The Mad Hatter Gives a Party at the Boys and Girls Club

Filed under: Foundation — Marion Witte @ 12:50 am

We put on an “amazing” Mad Hatter Party at the Ventura Boys and Girls Club on Johnson Drive – complete with crafts, face painting, costumes, root beer floats and take-away goody bags. Not sure who had more fun – the kids or the volunteers.

See Photos of the Party!

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July 27, 2015

Migrant Farm Worker Children Rewarded for Program Completion

Filed under: Foundation — Marion Witte @ 10:38 pm

Hand-crafted goody bags were distributed to the migrant farmer worker children of Oxnard, in conjunction with the Support for the Kids organization, as a reward for completing the summer school program at Hathaway Elementary School in Port Hueneme.

Here are some photos of the day!

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July 1, 2015

Children See Live Production of “Little Mermaid” for the First Time

Filed under: Foundation — Marion Witte @ 12:09 am

Children from the Oxnard School District, the Assistance League Girls Club and the Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Ventura attended a special performance of Little Mermaid, Jr. at the Rubicon Theater.  It was the first time many of the children had ever witnessed a live production.

Some pictures from the day!

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June 30, 2015

Some Thoughts From Stewie

Filed under: Stewie — Marion Witte @ 6:52 pm

 

Stewie's thoughtsI love taking a long walk around the neighborhood.  There are lots of different smells by the sidewalks, and even more in the park.  Plenty of places to pee and kids to watch on the playground.  And my favorite part is walking down to the shopping center – the smells from the restaurants are great, and sometimes there is a morsel or two of food on the ground.  If I am really quick, I can get it in my mouth before my Mom sees me.

The other day we were walking by the Ralphs super market, past the area with the outdoor tables and chairs for the employees to eat their meals.

There were a bunch of men sitting at the tables, and one of them came over to pet me.  His breathe smelled kind of funny – something I didn’t recognize.  Mom said it was alcohol.  (Note to self: Not my favorite odor).

I already knew these men were “homeless,” as my Mom and I had talked about this before.  She told me I had been homeless at one time, so I think I kind of relate to them.

One of the men came up to my Mom and asked what my name was and if he could pet me.  When someone asks about me, she always says the same thing – “His name is Jon Stewart, but I call him Stewie. He came off of the streets of West Los Angeles.”   And she always lets the “homeless” people pet me.  She told me once that sometimes that is the only act of kindness they get in a day.

This particular homeless man petted me, and then he stopped and looked at my Mom.  He said to her “Please don’t ever make fun of your dog, or call him names, or treat him badly.”  He went on to say “Cause I know what it is like to have people make fun of you and hurt your feelings.”

My Mom started to get tears in her eyes – like she does when she is watching a sad movie on television.  She turned to the man and said “That’s good advice, and thank you for sharing it with me.  It’s good to be reminded of these things.”

As we started to walk home, the same man yelled at us.  “Mam, you seem like a nice lady.  Would you like to be in a movie we are making?”

My mom stopped and asked what the name of the movie was going to be.  He said “The Outsiders.”  My Mom chuckled and said “You know, sometimes it’s good to be an outsider.”

As we were walking away, my Mom decided to stop and turn back to talk to the men one last time.  She said “Let me know when you start shooting that film – I would fit right in!”  We continued on walking, and I stopped to look back.

The man with the smelly breathe was smiling and crying at the same time.  I think they were “happy” tears.

This encounter made me do some dog-thinking (yes, dogs do think).

I don’t understand a lot of things about humans.

It seems to me that people are not so different from dogs.  It’s pretty simple – everyone wants to be loved and acknowledged.  We need to know that our existence is important, no matter what our circumstances.

I feel like a lucky little guy, yet sometimes I do feel bad that dogs are sometimes treated better than people.

Maybe the world would be a better place if everyone had a taste of homelessness, so they would appreciate what they have, and know what it’s like not to have anything.

But then what do I know.

I’m just a dog!

 

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Inside Out – A Must See Movie!

Filed under: Thoughts — Marion Witte @ 12:12 am

 

Inside Out

As a Court-Appointed Special Advocate, I see a lot of G-rated and PG movies with my foster kids.  Those adventures have become one of the unexpected rewards of this program.

Last week I had the pleasure of seeing “Inside Out” and I can truly say it is one of the most amazing movies I have seen in years.  It is one of those special creations that only Disney/Pixar can produce.  It is billed as appealing to children, and I can truly say, from my personal experience, that it spoke to that little girl still inside of me.

I went with a 10-year old foster girl, and we kept looking at each during the movie.  I think we were trying to see what feelings it was bringing up in each of us.  The movie centers on the issue that we all have a variety of emotions, and it is OK to acknowledge them.  The main characters are Joy, Sadness, Fear, Anger and Disgust.

At the end of the movie, she asked me if I liked it, and I started to gush about it.  I posed the same question to her, and she smiled and replied that she also loved the movie.  I went on to ask which character she liked the best, and she responded “Sadness.”  I felt my own Sadness come up when I heard her words, until she went on to explain why.

She informed me that “I also liked Joy, but how can you know what Joy is, unless you know what Sadness is.”

I became totally speechless, for there is nothing an adult can add to these words of wisdom.

Kudos to the everyone at Disney for creating this educational, inspiring and conscious work of art.  See this movie and you will find out what I am talking about!

 

 

 

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