What To Know Before Calling 211

The Wheels To Work program is a pilot program that helps panhandlers and homeless access services that help them get their affairs in order to work.  The pilot uncovered some problems and obstacles that face people trying to get back on their feet, and updated processes to help them succeed.  For example, making sure particpants have access to clothing, laundry and hygiene services, and adequate calories to get through the day.  These are things most don’t have to consider, and after many updates the Wheels To Work program adapted to give the best service possible.

Several signs have been put up around the city, directing people to call 211 if they want to help the program.  Test calls to 211 at first revealed no recognition of the program.  Callers were given no way to make sure their money even went to Springfield, which is problematic.

This begs the question: where do calls to 211 actually go?  It turns out they go to the United Way of Missouri and Southern Illinois.  Funds donated go to the general fund, and could be used to help people from St. Louis to Kansas City or anywhere between.

When this was brought to the city’s attention, successful training updates made sure people who answered the phone at 211 knew how to answer the most basic questions about the Wheels To Work program.

After giving the agency a few weeks to train employees, a second round of test calls were made.  Staff who answered the phone now knew what Wheels To Work was, and where it was located.  So how do they help you ensure your dollars go to the Springfield community?

They tell you to call the Springfield United Way.  Any donations made to 211 go to the general area fund, period.  This was stated on multiple calls.

Callers were given the phone number to the Springfield United Way and a text code they could use to make a donation.  If callers don’t specifically state they want the donations to go to the Wheels To Work program, they are put in the general fund to be used at the discretion of the organization.  There is no way to specify this through the text code, so a successful donation to Wheels To Work means knowing beforehand that one must call Springfield’s United Way directly and know to request this program specifically.  Those facts are not made clear or advertised so that benefactors know the steps.  Again, this was confirmed over multiple phone calls in an attempt to make a successful donation.

While the United Way might provide helpful services, it can be a bit misleading to promote this number as a “better way” to help panhandlers or implying that the money is routed to them.  This number is displayed at intersections where panhandlers frequently hang out, and has been touted as the way to help with the issue without directly giving cash to the people on the street. However, if callers do not ask upon calling 211, or think to specify when they are redirected to the Springfield office, the money may not be used for the purpose intended by the donor.



Protesting: A Mother’s Courage

I’m proud to say this is my friend.  She is incredibly active in the community, helps people of all kinds with all types of problems.  She shows up, she gets things done.  It was a tough call for her to take her baby to protest Trump’s recent visit to Springfield, MO.  In her own words, here is how she arrived at her conclusion, and why she feels it is so important to raise her daughter in the activist community.

Given the attacks towards protesters, this was a real risk.  Springfield saw great numbers and suffered no injuries, but she didn’t know that was how it would go.

This morning, I picked up a marker, and inked my emergency contact info on my arm. And when I was done, I picked up my child’s chubby little arm, and inked emergency contact info on her, too.

I am going to protest the policies of the President of the United States. Lately, people have been running cars into crowds of protesters. The threats against the protest here in Springfield have been numerous.

“Then why go?”
“Aren’t you a bad parent for putting your child at risk?”

I have sat and considered this for a long time. My heart aches at the options before me. But I’m going.

Here, in our America, there are African American mothers who send their children out into the world, hoping that they will not end up the victim of police brutality. They live with the fear that their child will be shot and the murderer will go free because they wear a badge. The President’s response to this reality is to encourage police brutality by telling a room full of officers to “rough up” people in custody.

Here, in our America, Latino parents kiss their children goodbye and hope that today isn’t the day that ICE shows up to take them away. They live their lives in the shadows and are vulnerable to criminal and economic exploitation because they cannot go to the police or government for relief. The President’s response to this has been to pardon a man with a history of letting child rape cases go uninvestigated because the victims were Latino children. Who described his jail as a “concentration camp” where many have died without explanation.

Overseas, mothers put their children in boats because the likelihood of drowning is slightly less than the certainty of death in the shell-shocked remnant of what once was their city. Mothers hold their child close while their bellies swell from hunger, or the light from their eyes slowly goes out, dead from a bomb dropped in a war they never wanted any part of. Our President’s response to this has been to attempt to cut off refugee placement and turn his back on these people.

I am a white woman living in America. The privilege that affords me comes with a responsibility to refuse to be silent, to refuse to be intimidated, and to show up.

Yes, I could stay home. Many would say I should. But what does that say? That I will show up when it’s easy. That I will wax eloquent about the trials of black and brown children while carefully insulating my own child in a life of privilege.

To the people who are considering not going due to fear, I would say, “We cannot let them make us afraid.”

And to Trump’s supporters, I would ask you to consider my daughter. She is one year old. She is just learning to walk. She loves to give high fives. Before you threaten or fantasize about how you would love to hit some of those “liberal SJWs” with your car, think about my tiny girl who will be with me in the crowd.

She’ll be the one with emergency contact info written on her arm.

Because of people like you.

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Shared with written permission.

You Don’t Know What It’s Like (Part 1)

When a woman I interviewed made a valid point and piqued my curiosity.

Writers research.  It’s what we do.  I’ve learned over years how to ask people some pretty awkward questions during some pretty traumatic times.  I may not people well in most parts of life, but when it comes to getting strangers to open up I have a gift. I also think people can tell I genuinely care, and try to treat their story with the reverence it deserves.  All this to say  that not long ago I interviewed a mother who recently lost an adult child.  For a variety of reasons, it was a really hard conversation.  She was upset and rightfully so, and there was no making it easy.

A few days after we talked, she contacted me through Facebook and vented.  Most of her anger was not directed at me, but at the situation in general.  However, she did have something to say that I could tell had been bothering her, and it cut me straight down the middle.

“You don’t know what it’s like,” she said.  “You don’t know how it feels to have someone you love raked through the coals like that and they’re just a story.”

My first reaction was to downplay it.  I did know what it was like, I told myself.  My mother died nearly twenty years ago in a murder-suicide that involved some bizarre circumstances, and it got some relatively big coverage due to a slow news week.  But her words nagged at me, and I realized deep down I was avoiding something.  I finally realized that I had avoided almost everything official about that event, and had not had to be associated with it directly.  This woman had not been afforded the same chance to just drop off the radar because social media didn’t exist back in my mother’s day.

I am fortunate to have some pretty terrific friends.  I asked two genealogists and a private investigator to run my life like a standard case.  I gave them the basic info and no hint at all as to what they might find.  As it happens, they found a lot more than I expected.  All of them, sensing a story, found my mother’s death and I expected that.  What I did not expect was that I had gotten so much of it wrong and what else I had missed.

It was strange to see a person I knew reduced to a paper trail and significant life events, and then there was the matter of the rest of my family.  I not only got some insight regarding what is often missed, but I realized how much family testimony and “clan legend” gets people wrong.  One personality quirk or event in their lives tends to be blown out of proportion, and it’s rarely the most complimentary one.  Suddenly a robust and complicated human being becomes “the aunt who did that one thing” and the nuance and context is lost to history.

From a researcher’s perspective I realized how many things I may have missed in my early days, and how many things simply might not be out there to be found.  I also learned a few tricks my friends used, and will be a better overall researcher for it.  Genealogists and investigators have to be creative when they hit a dead end.  I was impressed when they told me how they got stuck and back on track.

I’ll write about what I learned and how it measured up to what I thought I knew in the next installment, due later this week.

Personal Profiles: A Day With The Mayor

Mayor Bob Stephens let us have a look into a day of his life.

bobTuesday he passes the torch to his successor Ken McClure, so this is the last weekend Robert Stephens (often affectionately referred to as Mayor Bob) is mayor of Springfield and he enjoyed it to the fullest.  Most business matters have been wrapped up or handed over, so he set out to enjoy some of the more fun aspects of the job.  Though a day this full isn’t par for the course, in many ways, it sums up the best parts of public office. This is especially for a people person like Stephens, who has said on many occasions that the people are why he works so hard to serve the city.

His first event was the Show-Me Gourd Society Festival, held at the E*Plex.  He was a guest judge and took his duty seriously, expressing many times his admiration for the work that went into every piece of art.  He admired the kid’s table and started wandering the tables, taking notes and choosing his first round favorites.  People would recognize him and smile, and some came over to say hello and shake his hand.  That is pretty common everywhere he goes, but this bright and beautiful morning people were even more social than usual.  After he has made his full run through and is whittling down his list of contenders, a little girl approached him and gave him a shy smile.  “Are you the mayor?” she asked, and her smile grew when he said yes.  “I wanted to let you know I won first place for my bird!”  Later, Bob would meet her parents and learn that he voted for her father’s steampunk piece to win.

While driving to the next stop, Mayor Bob got his jam on and talked about how much he loved seeing Kris Kristofferson in Branson.  With a bittersweet expression, he spoke of how excited he was to have some of his weekends back, because he has made it a point to attend as many marches, events, meetings and rallies as he possibly could during his years in office.  His wife Cindy attended the mid-day event with him, and so we found ourselves driving to rural Polk County so he could judge a wine tasting event that also happened to have chainsaw art. Because what says good old-fashioned fun like booze and chainsaws?  When he arrived, it was business as usual. People drifted over and left with a smile, thanking him for his service and inquiring about his plans after leaving office.

After a glass of wine, he headed down to examine the art.  As an art connoisseur, Stephens has a trained eye for form and texture, and was perfectly qualified to examine the variety of pieces brought for display.  After making his choices and turning them in, he returned to the shade and sat with his wife, enjoyed the music and watched the kids play in the open field.  He tapped his toe to the music, and fell right in with the folks who arrived only to be surprised by seeing him at the first table.

After the chainsaw art festival started to wind down, it was time to head back for the final event of the day.  A nice drive through the country made for a mellow afternoon, and it wasn’t long before he was checking in at the Queen City Sertoma’s Cajun Cookoff.  This time, he couldn’t wander the floor or enter the tents until the food had been tasted and judged. He had barely entered the gate when one fan after another stopped him to make sure he had everything he needed, and knew where to go.  Stephens is an accomplished musician and plays with people all around town, and it was no time before the drummer from Papa Green Shoes had wandered over to say hello.

Once the judges were all seated, dish after dish was presented to be judged.  From shrimp and crawfish etouffe to jumbalaya, he sampled traditional Cajun dishes made by the best local cooks.  All in a day’s work, he smiled and joked with the other judges, and the winners were selected.

In a ten hour day, dozens of people interacted with him, and that is the magic of Mayor Bob.  Every single person came over looking a bit shy, and left with a big smile and a feeling of appreciation.  A people person all the way through, Stephens finds the best in folks and enjoys each as an individual.  That is what made him such a beloved figure in Springfield, and what people will miss most about him.  This journalist has received many comments stating that it won’t be the same without Mayor Bob at the helm, and it won’t. But he will be around, playing his accordion and showing his support for people.  Running the city is the job he is putting aside.  Meeting people and leaving them happier than when he met them is more of a gift, and one that citizens of Springfield will continue to enjoy even after his work as mayor is complete








Ten Things To Know About Kristi Fulnecky

Kristi Fulnecky’s two years on council have been plagued with infighting, difficulty, and controversy. From saying “Springfield gets sued all the time” to defend her stance against a SCOTUS ruling, to blaming city staff for her failure to read emails that were addressed to her, she has ruffled feathers all across Springfield. So much has been written about the issues surrounding her time on council that it has become difficult to keep it all straight. Here is a list of the top ten things to know about mayoral candidate Kristi Fulnecky

Originally posted on April 2, 2017, at 3:18 p.m. on Buzzfeed Community.  Due to a change in the terms and conditions regarding politics as a topic, the post was taken down and moved to WordPress.

1. She was ineligible to run for her council seat

There is no doubt about it, Kristi Fulnecky was not eligible to take office. She sat in a council meeting and pouted like a child, and refused to look at her peers as they spoke candidly about the issue of her conduct. Councilman Mike Schilling, who has a reputation for being calm and contemplative, suggested she apologize to the people of Springfield for her behavior.

2. She complains about costs to the city that her own decisions created


To this day, Fulnecky complains about the cost the city paid to “go after her” when in reality, her decision to get her own counsel forced the need to hire outside counsel, to avoid conflicts of interest. City attorneys cannot represent one Councilmember against another, thus the conflict and need to hire outside counsel.

3. She tried to bully a citizen by threatening legal action


Any attorney should know that none of these scary accusations would hold up in court. However, any professional ethics she might possess did not deter her from trying to bully a citizen into thinking they could be sued. Cheap intimidation tactics don’t work on citizens who understand the law, thank goodness. This was either intimidation, or Fulnecky is an attorney who doesn’t understand the law. Either is scary to contemplate.

4. She threatened the Chief of Police on Facebook


In response to a citizen complaining about Chief Williams and states that Springfield needs new law enforcement leadership, Fulnecky says she just needs four more weeks (an approximate countdown to the election).

These are strange words for someone who claims to support the police.

To establish context, the citizen who complained is a former councilman who chased down citizens in an episode of road rage, held his wife hostage at gunpoint and tampered with evidence at the scene of his DUI arrest. Fulnecky agrees with him wholeheartedly about the direction the police force needs to go.

5. She lied about the city’s budget on the radio

While trying to drum up sympathy among conservatives, Kristi Fulnecky said the budget was not available, and as mayor she would make sure it was published online for the sake of transparency. She blamed city staff for holding back her attempts to get detailed information.

Except that the budget is online, and the detail available is astounding. Anyone can look at the overview, and see exactly what is being spent. Cleverly disguised as “public information” she has been unable to locate this resource after two full years in office.

6. The mayor had to publicly address her lies about city staff.

Though Mayor Bob Stephens was out of town, he felt obligated to correct an accusation made against city staff by Kristi Fulnecky. The complaint was that she had not received emails about Breed Specific Legislation that she should have been copied in on, and that was why she was unprepared. Mayor Stephens looked into this concern the moment it was raised, and discovered that Fulnecky had indeed been copied in on all messages properly. Fulnecky has yet to apologize for this false accusation. Mayor Stephens requested that his comments be read in a meeting, and in doing so made the truth a matter of public record.

7. She vowed to get rid of liberals who work for the city

On a recent radio show, Kristi Fulnecky blamed liberal city staff’s incompetence for holding back her efforts and the council as a whole. Though the mayor’s office is nonpartisan, this has not stopped Fulnecky from bullying and threatening employees whose political or personal beliefs do not align with her own.

In a public debate, when asked how she would work to bridge difficult working relationships (because her tenure has been plagued by them), she implied she would remove staff who did not perform to her expectations. Opponent Ken McClure explained that this could only be done by the city manager. She either didn’t realize that or lied to garner support.

8. She claimed a project that had been in development for months was a ploy to make her look bad

Fulnecky has long been the enemy of the poor. One of her favorite ideas is that panhandlers should be arrested for holding signs or speech that makes people uncomfortable. Perhaps she should have studied the First Amendment a little more thoroughly, as this has been litigated numerous times by the ACLU.

The City of Springfield announced a pilot program designed to help panhandlers get to work, make a wage that would give them necessities and help facilitate the climb out of disaster. Fulnecky was furious and said it was done just to make her look bad. Never mind the fact that she has been free to help the panhandlers for the last two years. Her attempt to smear this program did not sit well with many volunteers, organizations, and people who have been concerned and working on solutions.

9. She has failed to pay taxes and fees correctly at the city, state and federal level

The reason Fulnecky is ineligible for office has to do with her nonpayment of a local business license for seven years. Because City statute says that the City can only collect back three years, that is what Fulnecky ultimately paid. There have also been both state and federal tax liens published publicly, including five years of federal taxes totaling $92,371. She has promised a letter of apology from the IRS but has yet to produce it.

Fulnecky’s explanation is that she actually overpaid her taxes for several years.

She claims that all of these are in error, but has failed to provide any evidence showing that she just didn’t pay them along with late fees when forced to comply. She wants to “take control” of the budget, but she probably should take control of her own finances first.

10. The local newspaper had to correct her publicly

In an especially embarrassing instance, the Springfield News-Leader had to fact check and publicly correct Fulnecky’s claims that she had raised $100,000 for her campaign. She missed by approximately $37,000. No surprise, she blamed a staffer through a representative.

The News-Leader countered with the information that the claim had been made many times over a long period of time. The screen shot on their page shows it was said in August, well before the report was filed with the Missouri Ethics Commission.

A Tale Of Poverty And Donuts

Hurts Donut is well known in Springfield. For those who aren’t local, they are a  trendy specialty donut shop that started downtown and now has a second location.

Many would consider Hurts Donut a small business success story that created jobs. However, while technically successful they are also a perfect example of why so many families are struggling to make ends meet in Springfield, MO.

City-Data shows that Springfield consistently outpaces Missouri’s already dismal poverty numbers. There are several ways to view poverty statistics, and the site goes segment by segment. The entire state of Missouri showed at 19.4% for residents with income below the poverty line. Springfield sat at 32.7%. This calculator shows you the poverty line per family size, to demonstrate how those figures are determined.

This surely has a lot to do with the spiraling homeless and growing panhandling problem. The reality is, compared to working for one of the most successful bakeries in Springfield, panhandling can easily pay more. That’s on us to solve, not the people who are trying to stay off the streets by any means necessary.

Compare 25%  of residents below the poverty line to a 3-5% unemployment rate, and it is clear that working hard is not enough to stay afloat.

Enter Hurts Donut. A trendy business, and one that most would hail as a success. But look at it from the perspective of the people who work there to survive and it changes quickly.

Recently, a relatively routine Facebook thread brought in people familiar with Hurts Donut and they contacted me with their experiences. A story began to emerge, and it wasn’t hard to connect the dots. Crafting a quality product under high demand for a thriving and expanding business that runs  24/7 would surely net a living wage, wouldn’t you think?

According to multiple sources who requested they remain anonymous, they earned approximately $8 an hour. Workers do not have benefits of any kind. I was told by multiple sources that they do not get paid sick time and are pressured to come in with the flu or other contagious illnesses. Workers are so impoverished they cannot afford to lose the pay or risk their jobs. They could be homeless before they could locate another job, even if they found one within a week or two, because they have zero extra money to save for emergencies. Hurts Donut did not reply to a Facebook message requesting more detailed information.

But small businesses need to keep their margins tight, correct? That sounds great until you see the post where the owner gets her dream house, with a washer and dryer in every single bedroom.  Below, you can see they spent $27,000 on a “hobby” purchase. Just once perhaps it would be great to take some of that hobby money and divide it up among the people who make food they couldn’t afford to buy otherwise.


Considering that many employees cannot afford to pay rent on $8 an hour, it’s beyond tacky to brag about luxury that was earned on the backs of workers who churn out this product every day.

But then what is that compared to the day they bought a plane  just as a surprise?


Or is it even worse, as “punishment for buying a plane” she buys “four wheel thing” and jokes about the impulse buy? She doesn’t even know what it is, just that she wants it. Tell you what, I’ll let you read it in her own words.

But before you do: $8 x 40 hours = $320 per week, after taxes approximately $272 per week. $1088 per month. $13,056 per year. Many employees don’t get 40 hours per week and a few said they did not make the full $8, so that means working for Hurts Donut likely drops an employee below the poverty line. According to the Census Bureau, Springfield’s median gross rent is $676, therefore a single person making Hurts Donut kind of money cannot afford to live in the average apartment. The lower cost of living that is hailed so much doesn’t matter if a worker still doesn’t earn enough to eat and keep a roof over their heads.

Two of their employees don’t earn in a year what was spent without thought on a toy.


If they can afford to buy a plane or a $27,000 “thing” on a lark, they can afford to pay a relatively small staff enough to make a significant change in their lives. Their employees could afford their own health insurance, then. This shows exactly how the wealthy continue to exploit the poor to enhance their riches, while refusing to give back. Their people come in with toothaches because they don’t have dental insurance. They come in sick. They live paycheck to paycheck and depend on shady payday loans to get them by when things get really tough.

This is why we have thriving businesses and starving people. It’s why most people have to work two jobs, or sometimes three jobs just to stay afloat. This can be said of hundreds, perhaps thousands of businesses that have worked together and price locked employees into desperation.

If we want to break the cycle of poverty, we must first make it so that working full time is enough to survive.  For example, St. Louis has increased their minimum wage because there is no other answer to the issue but to let workers earn enough to remain independent of services and safety nets. Otherwise, government programs are subsidizing businesses like Hurts Donut, and enables them to rake in profits while workers rely on assistance to make it through the month.

“Today, the Supreme Court justified our rights as a city to make sure the people in our city can make a living wage,” Reed said later in a statement. “The people of St. Louis need to be able to afford groceries for their families and a roof over their heads.”

The people of Springfield deserve the same ability to earn a living.

My Response To Donald Trump’s Presidency

I cannot help that Donald Trump is our president. I did all I could to fight it. But now that he is, I am stuck with this outcome for four years.  In a hellishly ironic twist, Trump now is the best outcome, because Pence is an even bigger threat to women’s rights and minorities of all kinds. We’ll talk about that one later.

I am not going to be dragged down into the mud with those who cannot accept reality. In the end, I am committed to doing what is best for the people at large. After some heavy thinking and a few bitter tears, I have resolved to do the following:

  • I will not even in the deepest part of my heart wish for Trump to fail. Pence is scarier, but that isn’t the worst thing about it. Their failure comes at the expense of millions of people who are just barely getting by. Millions of honest people. Health care, civil liberties, job security and the freedom to pursue their own happiness would pay the price for that shallow satisfaction. I will not be part of it, even in the part of my mind that is just for me.
  • I will not sensationalize his every mistake. I could. Even if I quit my day job and sat here full time, I couldn’t give it justice. What he does is important, but what is the most important thing of all is how it affects people. That is what I will focus on. Not the tweets, or the cheap jabs like the ones he took at Meryl Streep.  Once in a while, a particular one is going to bother me and I will allow myself a rant, that’s only fair. I will pick wisely. So far I think I have done a fair job of that, but I pledge to be vigilant in my efforts. This is probably my greatest temptation and the thing I will work hardest to overcome.
  • I will not make fun of his hair. I don’t even really want to, but we’re all shallow creatures and once in a while I think of a great hair joke. It’s just the kind of thing that happens when you let your creative thoughts flow to see what comes from the mist. Sometimes it’s the best tag line ever or an epic poem, and sometimes it’s a hair joke. But I will not participate in making fun of him. I’m still angry about how he made fun of a person, and I will not do the same to him. It gives him martyrdom at the expense of a loss of credibility on my part, a lose-lose outcome.
  • I will not slut shame the FLOTUS. I will not judge her for any modeling she has done in the past. I wouldn’t complain if she took the same pictures while he is in office. She has the right to do so and my permission or approval is not required. I have defended her many times on this issue, but I want to list it so that anyone who comes along who doesn’t follow me on Facebook will know my stance.
  • I will lead by example. I will challenge preconceived notions about what a liberal or a progressive mind can do. I will work harder and do more than those who complain and offer nothing to the world. We will have to work harder than ever before, but we can do it and we will do it.
  • I have always been a hands on person, and I plan to look for new ways to get right into the thick of the problem. It’s the only way you can see the whole of it. I will be honest and show the whole truth, so that if I ever have to show the unbelievable some people might listen.
  • I will not edit and I will not censor. Recently, the Springfield News-Leader ran a controversial letter from a reader. People reacted angrily and I understand. But the News-Leader did the right thing by keeping the record truthful instead of just tasteful. We need to know what people think. Our grandchildren will want to know when they read about this in history class.  The record isn’t always pretty, and a truly unbiased journalist will not try to make it so. I will uphold these higher standards instead of going for the easy approval.
  • I will help my party heal and regroup.  We have four years to make meaningful change and I want to be part of that. I fear for our safety as a nation and I will not just talk about my feelings on social media, I plan to show up and help my party get its shit together and brace for the next round.
  • I will try to represent America and show we are better than he makes us look. There are going to be moments that I will cringe at the behavior of our new president. There is nothing I can do but show that our nation is made of better stuff than we might appear.
  • I’m going to be kind. Whoever associates kindness with weakness has no idea what they are talking about. It’s hard to be kind when you’re angry, and we are powerful angry. But instead of fulfilling the expectations of those who feel I am the enemy, I am going to do good things to help my neighbors and show that goodness multiplied changes communities. Over the next four years, while Trump lays waste to our reputation and things beyond my reach, I am going to do my best to make change on a local level and resolve local problems.
  • I’m going to stir hope. We need hope more than ever now. Even Trump supporters need hope that it all works out. It’s a universal human need and every chance I get I am going to show things that make us want the high road. That make us want to do the good thing instead of acting like angry children. Every. Chance. I. Get.

I am going to work where I can make a difference, and let the things I cannot change take care of themselves. It is the only logical thing to do, and whining or giving up are not options. Fight the battle you can win, if you are fortunate enough to be given a choice.