The Ladder project updateRead Now
December 17, 2021
There is a woman currently living at the city's homeless shelter, The Bridge, in downtown Dallas who needs your immediate help. This email is long, but it is important. It's the holidays, and we are in a position to literally take a woman off the streets of Dallas and get her into a warm, safe place to live by month's end. With your help.
It has been awhile since the eight of us who oversee The Ladder Project have reached out to you with any appeals. The COVID crisis kept us from taking on new project participants since our model is to work intensely one-on-one with people to find them jobs and apartments and furnish them through your donations.
In the past few months, we have rekindled our efforts. We partnered with two new homeless organizations -- Catholic Charities and OurCalling -- both of which help thousands of homeless people in crisis, often referring them to other non-profits for additional services and shelter. OurCalling is especially impressed with our model -- a caseworker recently told us that while only 10 percent of the homeless who come to her for help fit our model (no alcohol or drug addictions, no serious mental illness, must be willing to work) she knows of no other program that creates a total safety net for someone short term, giving that person housing, work, transportation and medical help all in one fell swoop, thus affording them a real chance of fundamentally restarting his or her life.
Although we have received several referrals recently, one appears to be a good fit, and we would like to introduce her to you.
Denise is a 55-year-old single woman, who grew up in McKinney as one of 10 children, and has been living at The Bridge since she lost her job in home health care at the start of the pandemic. She lost her older son in a motorcycle accident three years ago, and her younger son has struggled and remains largely out of touch with her. When she lost her job, she was living in an apartment in South Oak Cliff with her disabled brother and a friend, splitting the rent three ways. The friend moved out, her brother moved to a men's rooming house in South Dallas, and Denise found herself living alone in the apartment with no income to pay for it. Although laws passed during COVID prevented her from being evicted, Denise chose to move out when crime escalated at her complex, and she realized her rent debt was mounting. She moved in May 2020 to The Bridge as a temporary measure -- she had never been homeless for more than one night before -- but with no car and no money could not find a way out.
What impresses us most about Denise is her optimistic, sunny demeanor and her ability to motivate herself, despite her circumstances.
This past August, she got a job as a crossing guard at John Quincy Adams Elementary School in Pleasant Grove. Every week day, rain or shine, she rode the bus from the shelter in downtown Dallas to the school in Pleasant Grove for her two shifts -- 7 to 9 am and 2:30 to 4:30 pm. She loves her job, especially her relationships with the children who she shepherds across a busy intersection every day. Determined to better herself, and get transportation that would enable her to find a second job, she saved money to put a down payment on a used car, which she purchased in October. And she applied to the Dallas Housing Authority for a housing voucher to subsidize her $687/month income so she could get an apartment.
But life's challenges overwhelmed her again.
The DHA housing voucher was set to expire on December 19, and she had not secured an apartment due to application fees and red tape. The 2010 Mazda3 that she had purchased at a used car lot in South Dallas with 178,000 miles on it was in such disrepair that the day she bought it she was unable to get a state inspection because the mechanic said the car had too many engine and brake problems to pass. Denise spent several hundred dollars in repairs trying to get the car qualified for inspection, but to no avail. The dashboard is still lit up with warning lights, the brakes are still not working properly, and Denise has been afraid to drive it. The car's registration expires this week. She was badly taken advantage of: she paid $850 down, and was required to pay $200 every other week until May 2023 ($9,056 total). The car insurance is $75/month, her phone bill is $50/month, and last month (before she met us) when bills overwhelmed her, she went to a payday loan shop in Oak Cliff and borrowed $300. (The terms were incredible: $84 every other week for 12 weeks, with a balloon payment of $398.63 in May 2022 -- $1,406.63 for a $300 loan.)
We have been working daily with Denise for the past 10 days, racing against the clock to unwind her blatantly usurious financial obligations. We paid off the remainder of her payday loan ($385). We got a 30-day extension on her DHA housing voucher and toured a 55-and-older apartment complex in Casa Linda, six miles from Denise's school and currently under renovation. We picked the best available apartment, put down a $135 application fee and security deposit, and we are working with DHA administrators directly to get expedited approval and hopefully move Denise into her apartment by the end of the month. We are actively engaged with DISD administrators about getting additional work at DISD -- they feel the best fit is a $13.50/hour school bus monitor position (where she can train to become a $22.50/hour bus driver) or a $13.50/hour cafeteria worker (we have spoken to the school where she works as a crossing guard, and there is currently a vacant cafeteria position).
NOW WE NEED YOU.
We need a car for Denise. We are hoping that someone in the congregation has a car that he or she is willing to donate to the shul as a tax write-off. Perhaps you have a mother-in-law car, or a teenager's car, or a car that you were thinking of trading in for a new car -- but would be willing to donate instead as a great mitzvah. If you currently have a car for sale, perhaps we could negotiate! (If no congregant has an available car, we will be pursuing buying a small, used car with Ladder Project funds that you all have generously donated in the past.)
This request has become URGENT.
Last week we began negotiations with the owner of the car dealership, Michael Laney of Credit Auto Sales, 1211 S. Barry Avenue. Although he initially refused to answer any of our calls or emails, we obtained his cellphone number through Whitepages.com ($9.99 for one report). We told him that the car was unsafe and should not have been sold, especially at an exorbitant price, in its current condition. He was dismissive, stating that complaints come to him all the time. He refused to refund the $1,250 Denise has paid so far (even knowing she was homeless), but did agree after 10 calls to take back the car and void her Contract of Sale. Although we had hoped to return the car to him earlier this week, when the next $200 was due, Denise underwent emergency surgery to remove two broken teeth after multiple visits to Parkland Hospital for severe pain and infection. (Dr. Howard Kessner has generously offered to provide Denise's dental care pro bono going forward.)
Despite our best efforts and with no warning, the car dealer repossessed the car late last night at The Bridge. We have purchased Denise a monthly DART bus pass to get to work, but we need to get her a car to put all the other pieces of our plan for her together.
We will also be reaching out to the congregation in a few weeks when Denise moves into her apartment. We will need to fully furnish her one-bedroom apartment, including all household and kitchen items. She has no belongings.
Please email firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any leads on a car. If you have good, used furniture or household items you know you will be able to donate later this month (not until then because we have no storage), please include that information also.
Thanks everyone for your continued support of The Ladder Project.
Help Our Ladder Project Families as We Usher in the New Year
Our Ladder Project families have faced unprecedented challenges in this time of COVID, and while our Shearith Israel family has helped them emotionally and financially throughout, they are at a critical juncture. In order to establish housing security for their children, these single moms must have jobs. We are looking for three things from our congregants right now: two jobs and one laptop.
"We need two jobs and one laptop."
This is the challenge: If our nearly 1,000-member congregation cannot help find employment for two smart, motivated women, how can the community at large ever hope to significantly reduce homelessness in Dallas?
Jane lost her $17/hour clerk's job at the Frank Crowley Criminal Courthouse in March when DISD shut down and her children could no longer go to school. She has been home caring for her children since then, including home-schooling so they don't fall behind in their academics (which suffered when school went virtual last spring). Ladder Project Executive Committee member Mindy Fagin has taken the family on several outings during COVID—including an animal preserve, an ice cream store, and Mindy's backyard pool—all while practicing safe distancing.
Jane, 42, had been receiving a monthly rent subsidy from the Shared Housing Center, where she and the children lived while homeless, but that ended July 31. The Ladder Project had fully furnished her apartment pre-COVID and has intermittently helped with phone, internet, and food bills. But by August, she was unable to pay her rent. In order to prevent Jane from being evicted, the Executive Committee struck an arrangement with her landlord to pay the $1,150 monthly rent going forward until the children can be cared for during the day and Jane can resume working, on the condition that the landlord forgive the August rent. Which the landlord agreed to do.
Now we need to help Jane find work.
In the short term, until her children have a place to go during the day, we are looking for hourly remote work. (We are also looking for a gently used or new laptop donation—Jane's tablet cannot download Microsoft or other office products.)
Jane completed 86 credits at Central Michigan University and is handy with a computer—she entered criminal cases into the Dallas County Clerk's computer system—and she has excellent phone and customer service skills. She boasts a wonderful, engaging personality. Any remote work you can give Jane no matter how small or short-lived, would be a mitzvah and her only income at the moment.
If you have an in-person, part-time or full-time receptionist or administrative job available for her please let us know that too. The Boys and Girls Club near her apartment will soon allow students to work remotely at its facility, and perhaps other child care arrangements can be found.
Petrina is another single mom we are helping. She lost her $15/hour job doing intake for Dallas Housing Authority clients when COVID shut down the agency in March. Petrina's daughter Jacelyn is 13 years old and can stay at home by herself during the day, so Petrina has more work flexibility. She is looking for a full-time job—remote or in-person—and would ideally like to find a job in the non-profit sector so she can help people.
Petrina, also 42, has a BA from Georgia State University and an MBA from the University of Phoenix. She is an excellent writer, having worked at a Houston area newspaper as a reporter for several years. Unlike Jane, Petrina owns a car. Petrina's monthly apartment rent was subsidized by the Shared Housing Center until recently; the Ladder Project fully furnished her apartment and paid off two revolving expenses in order to free her from debt. But Petrina receives only $688/month in child support and disability payments from her daughter's father, and if she does not find work soon, she too could be facing eviction.
There is no greater mitzvah as we start the Jewish New Year in the middle of a pandemic than helping these two single mothers keep a roof over the heads of their children. They want to work, which is a requirement of our program. Please let us know if you can help by contacting Executive Committee Chair Laura Miller at email@example.com
David Corn's Success Story
In case you question whether our efforts actually change lives, we'll end on a positive note by bringing you news about our first Ladder Project participant David Corn, who we recruited two years ago from the city's downtown homeless shelter The Bridge.
David was furloughed in March, due to the virus, from his $12/hour job at Studio Movie Grill, where congregant Joe Harberg had originally found him a job. With the help of the Ladder Project Executive Committee, David applied for unemployment in April and also worked briefly for $12/hour at Tom Thumb Preston Forest. The extra $600-per-week in unemployment benefits provided by the federal government in response to COVID kept David afloat for several months. In August, with $26 left in his bank account and a September deadline to renew his apartment lease, David had applied to Costco, his dream employer, but he began to worry that the job applications he had submitted via his phone, had not gone through. He made copies of his resume and spent a day on DART buses and light rail traveling to three of Costco's stores in Dallas and Plano. At the last store, on Churchill Way and Coit, a manager told David he was impressed with his assertiveness and introduced him to his management team. David started at the Churchill Way store on August 6—at $15/hour, which is a significant increase for him.
This past week, in a phone call on one of his days off work, David teared up on the phone when talking about his two years in our program, the lifelong friends he has made at Shearith Israel, and the progress he's made professionally since he first met us. "At Costco, no one knew the manager, or had a special friend who agreed to talk to me about a job. I do feel good that I went to get this job. I did. I went and got that job."
The Ladder Project and Shearith Israel are extremely grateful to everyone for their previous in-kind and cash donations, which continue to help our Ladder Project recipients. Please email Laura at firstname.lastname@example.org with any job leads or if you have a laptop to donate.
L'shana tova tikateyvu
The Ladder Project Executive Committee
Ladder Project UpdateRead Now
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
Everybody CountsRead Now
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.
Ladder UpdateRead Now
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!
Ladder UPDATERead Now
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!
Thank you to Dr. Rowan Buskin who donated his dental services to David to give him a set of beautiful dentures this past week. We are truly grateful to Dr. Buskin for both his heart and his expertise.
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.
Meet David CornRead Now
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
Shearith Israel clergy, staff and congregants share