April 29, 2020
The COVID-19 pandemic has affected us all, including our Ladder Project families. Here is an update about them, and how we are helping during this stressful time.
David Corn was let go from his job at Studio Movie Grill in early March after the virus forced the closure of movie theaters nationwide. David and his fellow employees were encouraged to apply for unemployment from the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC), but the process was confusing and customer service help was non-existent. Ladder Project Executive Committee member Jeff Hoppenstein helped David file his application, and David received his first check on April 11.
In the meantime, the Ladder Project Executive Committee put out feelers for jobs, and on April 14, David began a new, full-time position at Tom Thumb Preston Forest. David is a member of the Drive Up and Go team, filling online orders and delivering them to customers curbside. Although David is wearing a mask, please say hello to him if you see him. He very much enjoys the job, most especially spotting our congregants shopping in the store -- most recently Cantor Zhrebker!
To help David through this period, we spent $250 in Ladder Project donations toward his April rent; we also purchased new work pants for him. But he will pay all his own bills in May. (After almost a year of financial self-sufficiency, David had also requested help from us in February, due to an unprecedented six days of missing work at SMG.) As always, your donations go directly to our families and serve as the ultimate safety net for them in times of emergency. This is a great comfort to our families, and a satisfying mitzvah for us.
Petrina Johnson also lost her job due to the virus. Petrina and her 13-year-old daughter Jacelyn had moved in February from a downtown homeless shelter to an apartment in Mesquite. They were sleeping on the floor in an empty apartment until our congregants filled it with furniture and purchased all 28 household items on an Amazon registry we created for them. The Ladder Project also paid for Petrina and Jacelyn to take the bus to Houston to empty a $83/month storage unit and bring their belongings back to Dallas in a UHaul. We also paid off a $60/month liability for a saxophone Petrina had purchased for her daughter several years ago. Petrina, who has a BA in journalism from Georgia State University and an MBA from the University of Phoenix, had aggressively applied for jobs and was delighted to start a $13/hour job at the Dallas Housing Authority in February, doing telephone screening of new clients, but she was almost immediately let go when the virus hit.
Since Jacelyn's middle school is closed, Petrina is looking for a job that she can do remotely. She is an excellent writer (she worked three years as a reporter at a suburban Houston newspaper), owns a laptop, and has wi-fi in her apartment. If any congregants have administrative work that she can do from home please email Laura Miller at email@example.com.
Petrina's rent is covered through August by Shared Housing Center, the homeless shelter where Petrina and her daughter lived, through a Rapid Rehousing Program that pays six months of rent for departing clients. The Ladder Project is giving Petrina cash in increments of $60 for food purchases until she finds a job; Ladder Project Executive Committee member Sally Wolfish stays in regular touch with Petrina to make sure she and Jacelyn are doing well.
Patrice Bryson also lost her job to the virus. She had been working since November as a $17/hour clerk at the Frank Crowley Criminal Courthouse. Her two boys—Chase and Caeden, both 9—are not able to go to school while DISD is closed, so Patrice has not been looking for work. She is helping the boys complete their online school work, and Caeden is receiving extra help via Skype from a DISD dyslexia specialist. Like Petrina, Patrice's rent is being paid through August by Shared Housing Center, but she also had no furniture when she moved into her East Dallas apartment in February. Shearith Israel congregants fully furnished it and purchased 27 items on a Bed, Bath and Beyond registry. Earlier this month, we gave them $200 for food and their monthly phone bill. Ladder Project Executive Committee member Mindy Fagin, who lives just east of Patrice in Lakewood, has been especially involved with the family—last week, for Chase's birthday, she dropped off a homemade birthday cake and Mattel's UNO card game; she gave them face masks for virus protection, and before the pandemic, had taken the boys to Half Price Books, where she gave them each $15 gift cards.
Both women just received their one-time stimulus checks from the federal government, which should tide them over for the time being. (David did not get a check; he presumes it was sent instead to his ex-girlfriend's mother, who gets court-ordered child support from David for his 21-year-old son who still lives with his grandmother.) We will continue to monitor the women's financial situations, but we do not anticipate giving them cash for the foreseeable future. In the meantime, if any congregant has experience helping elementary school children with dyslexia, it would be a great mitzvah to augment what DISD is doing for Caeden. Please email Laura Miller if you can help at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Patrice Mackey is the third single mom the Ladder Project was helping before the virus struck. We had enrolled her in GED classes four days a week and we were paying for after-school care at the South Dallas YMCA for her two children while she attended classes. The plan was for Patrice to get her GED, in preparation for finding a job, and then we would move her and the children into an apartment (which the Ladder Project would pay for initially) as early as May 1. Shared Housing Center had agreed to let the family stay in the homeless shelter in the interim.
The virus changed everything: Patrice's GED classes were cancelled, and the children stopped going to school due to DISD 's closure. With no job lined up, no full-time child care available, and no way for our congregants to donate their furniture for an apartment during the stay-at-home order, we told Patrice it would be some months before we could move her from the shelter into an apartment. Again, Shared Housing Center was willing to allow the Mackey's to continue to stay with them until we were able to act.
Unfortunately, Patrice was not willing to wait. She decided to move back to an Oak Cliff apartment complex where she had been evicted for non-payment of rent last year and that we believe she cannot afford without income from a job. We again asked her to wait in place until stay-at-home orders expire. She was not willing to do that. We have told Shared Housing Center that we are interested in helping another of their families when it is safe to do so.
What we have learned over the past 18 months is that for the Ladder Project to be successful, we must strictly adhere to our mission: help the people who are also motivated to help themselves, through employment and a sense (even if it is newly acquired) of fiscal responsibility. We cannot be all things to all people. We don't have the resources or experience to become permanent lifelines for people. Instead, we seek to be that firm, critical lift that people need to get out of homelessness to be able to return to financial and emotional self-sufficiency.
Shearith Israel has largely fulfilled that goal in its work with David Corn, although we have come to learn that self-sufficiency can be a long process, as opposed to a quick fix, and that disaster is often one paycheck away for the people we help. We wanted the challenge of working with a family before publicly introducing our model to the local faith community, and we look forward to doing that later this year. In the meantime, please know that all of you who have contributed to the Ladder Project in any way over these past 19 months have performed the ultimate mitzvah in Judaism of saving a life.
If you'd like to support the work of The Ladder Project, you can make a donation HERE
To mark the year anniversary of The Ladder Project our first participant, David Corn, joined us for Rosh Hashanah services, which he greatly enjoyed.
David has reached many milestones this year. He moved out of The Bridge homeless shelter to his own studio apartment, which our congregation furnished, outfitted and subsidized for several months. He got a job at Studio Movie Grill, thanks to congregant Joe Harberg. He's now certified as a tactical team leader, overseeing theater prep operations and training new employees. Since April, he's been totally financially self-sufficient—paying all his bills, including food, phone, DART passes, rent, renter's insurance, and utilities. (The recent tornado hit David's apartment complex, and the Ladder Project paid for David to go to a motel near his job for several nights until power could be restored; we also replaced the food that was spoiled in David's refrigerator and freezer.) David also became noticeably more handsome this year—thanks to Dr. Rowan Buskin, who volunteered his labor to give David dentures (the Ladder Project paid the out-of-pocket expenses). David is also extremely fortunate to have CSI congregant, Dr. Lawrie Friedman, serving as his pro bono general practitioner.
"I don't have words to express how grateful I am for all of the support," David said recently. "I'm growing up again in a way—by rebuilding my life, reconnecting with family, and gaining new family. It's my honor to know you all. Thank you. I couldn't have done it without your support. We continue with the journey."
As David's self-esteem and self-confidence grew this year, he reached out to his 35-year-old son, who he hadn't communicated with in years. He also went to Houston for a poignant reunion with his sister, who he'd been estranged from during his homeless years.
David reunited with his sister, Patricia Gonzalez.
We are now ready to help David get to a new level of independence. Although David enjoys his job, he only makes $12 an hour, the top of the pay scale. David struggles to cover his bills. When emergencies happen—like the tornado—David can't make ends meet without help. And, unfortunately when the theater is slow, David is sometimes let off work early, without pay. AND a significant portion of David's wages are deducted by the state for court-ordered child support for a 20-year-old son, who was raised by his grandmother.
We are actively looking for a job for David that pays at least $15 per hour. Our rabbis made this appeal to the congregation on Yom Kippur Day, but we have yet to be contacted by anyone with a job offer. However, one congregant, who wishes to remain anonymous, has agreed to pay David the difference between his current wage and his dream wage (a difference of $3 per hour) until he finds a new job. David will use this money for emergencies, and will also put it aside for future expenses, particularly car insurance, gas and repairs.
Used Car so David can get to a better paying job
Which brings us to the second ask the rabbis made on Yom Kippur: we are looking for a used car for David so that he can stop relying solely on public transportation. The flexibility that comes with a car will create more opportunities for a better job. David turned down one good job last year that would have required a 2-hour trip on three different DART buses. David just signed a new, year lease at his apartment, which is owned by congregant Michael Ochstein, who made a $5,000 donation to the Ladder Project. We prefer the car be donated to the synagogue but have some Ladder Project funds that could be allocated for this. thanks in large part to David's personal commitment to his job, and the many in-kind donations of furniture, household items and medical care.
We have been interviewing candidates to be our next participant family, and we will have an update about that in the next issue of The Shofar.
Thank you for all you have done to save a life. David certainly feels we have saved his, and we look forward to celebrating his future successes and enjoying his friendship.
Ladder Project Executive Committee: Chair Laura Miller; Mindy Fagin, Glenn Geller, Jeff Hoppenstein, Larry Krasner, Marsha Lev, Andrea Solka, Sally Wolfish
by Rabbi Ari Sunshine
One of the most oft-cited passages from the Talmud is the text from Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:5 which focuses on the significance of God creating all humanity from Adam, a single human being. According to the text, this teaches us that all people have a common ancestor, that no one can claim “my ancestor was greater than yours,” and that destroying a single life is akin to destroying the entire world, while saving even one single life is as if we have saved a whole world. This profound message, that every person matters equally, is one that, even today, close to 2000 years after the Mishnah was compiled, we still often struggle with putting into practice.
David just reached a huge milestone -- he paid all his rent and utility bills himself for the month of January! It's a big step forward, and we congratulate him. He's a bit nervous about his ability to keep this going, but we assured him we are here to help. On January 8, The Ladder Project executive committee met with David (on his day off from work!) at the synagogue to review his monthly income and expenses. Laura Miller's daughter, Lily Wolens, created an easy budget template for David to use each month to record his living expenses. Additionally, we gave David several tips on how to save money, including: bring your lunch to work at least four days a week, and don't buy any clothing -- let our congregants help with that!
David loves all the garments he has received to date, both donated and new items. When we pressed him for another wish list, he asked if it would be possible to get two pairs of his favorite jeans, Levi 505s, and some white undershirts. Please click on the link below if you'd like to purchase one of those items for him from an Amazon registry we have set up. Everyone did so well on the apartment items that he needs for NOTHING in that respect. Thank you everyone!
UPDATE! EVERYTHING ON DAVID'S AMAZON LIST HAS BEEN PURCHASED! THANK YOU!
by Laura Miller
We encourage every congregant to do an easy mitzvah this Christmas Day by doing what you do best on this holiday: Go to the movies!
David Corn is working at Studio Movie Grill now (thanks to congregant Joe Harberg), and his shift on Christmas Day starts at 10 am. Since the only family he will see that day is US, we are asking congregants to go see a film at Studio Movie Grill, 13933 N. Central Expwy. (at Spring Valley) to show support for David.
Please ask for the manager and tell him you only came to Studio Movie Grill because David Corn works there. This will be a big help to David since he is working hard to show SMG that he is an invaluable addition to the team. If you see David (he is currently one of the food servers in the theaters) be sure to tell him you are from Shearith Israel and came to support him.
It's hard for people who celebrate Christmas to be alone on that day. The holiday blues are a real thing, as we all know. You can personally make a HUGE difference -- in David's spirits and how he can be perceived as a rainmaker at work -- if we go to his theater that day to support him. This is such an easy way to show we care.
One more bit of good news for The Ladder Project: Congregant Arnie Stokol got in touch this past week to offer his free optometrist services to David. Thank you Arnie for your generosity! (And thank you for, coincidentally, officing just down the street from our other doctor donors: David's dentist, Dr. Rowan Buskin, and David's internist, Dr. Lawrie Friedman!) David will make an appointment soon.
Thank you to Sally Wolfish who recently hosted a Shabbat dinner for David with some fellow members of The Ladder Project Executive Committee. David appreciated the warm hospitality of Sally and her husband Larry. After dinner, the group helped David fill out a long, online application for a new job since David does not have wi-fi in his apartment. Good job team - he got the job!
The highest level of the ladder of charity is to provide an individual with the means to support himself, to become self-sufficient, so that never again will he need to rely on the generosity of others to maintain his independence.
Three ways you can help
$36 from every Shearith family
1. Our goal is to have 100% of all Shearith Israel families make a donation of $36 or more to a Housing/Transportation Fund set up specifically for The Ladder Project. This money will go to help David and other homeless people who we will help in the future. All donations are charitable and tax-exempt. You can donate HERE or mail a personal check to the synagogue, 9401 Douglas Avenue, Dallas, Texas 75225 and write The Ladder Project on the memo line.
David, 58, was a resident of The Bridge, Dallas’ 24-hour, downtown homeless facility for 17 months, until he moved into his own studio apartment, thanks to you – the members of Congregation Shearith Israel.
David was born in Oak Cliff. His father worked at the local box factory for thirty-eight years. His mother, a homemaker, was the only true constant in David’s life, supporting him with unconditional love
This sermon was given on Erev Yom Kippur by Rabbis Sunshine, Roffman & Wallach
On Erev Yom Kippur, our prayers begin to slip the earthly bonds of gravity. By the conclusion of this most sacred day, they are propelled straight through the gates of heaven. And what guides their way? A ladder.
Ya’ale tachanuneinu me’erv, v’yavo shavatenu mi’boker, v’yera’eh rinuneinu ad e’rev.
Shearith Israel clergy, staff and congregants share