One late June morning I am sitting at the computer in the kitchen of the farmhouse in south central Indiana, working. I am a teaching artist, managing a photography project with at-risk kids.
I am also approaching the end of my year of service with AmeriCorps SeniorCorps Kentucky. It has been a rough job, at times, but it has also been highly educational. I now know what an executive director does, what an active board is, how to fundraise. In fact I’ve written several grants for the struggling arts organization to help pay for programming. But the only programming that has taken place in the past eleven months has been my community outreach as a teaching artist to underserved by art audiences, like at-risk kids, the elderly, the homeless. And I haven’t gotten any grants – yet.
I take a break from photo editing, refill my cup of tea, look out the back door over my garden, in full summer bloom, and think about the future. This includes thoughts of O – a man I have been making art with at the local homeless shelter for some time. He is a talented artist, a passionate musician. He would love to work with these kids, I whisper to myself.
But O is in jail, has been since March, and there is no telling when he will be released from detention because he refuses to plead out for something he did not do.I admire O for this, but I miss him. I am beginning to forget what his voice really sounds like in person, not on a staticky telephone or muffled behind a smeary, scratched up pane of plexiglass. I am beginning to forget the way his hugs felt, and the smoky smell of his hair.
So I hug myself hard, go back to the computer – and see that I have an email from someone at the Kentucky Foundation For Women, about my grant application. It takes several seconds to remember that I wrote a several thousand dollar grant to support a proposed project that will link the at-risk girls and the elderly women I have been voluntarily working with for almost a year. I eagerly read that I got the grant, and my heart soars.
Then it sinks, because the KFW administrator asks if I’ve done the paperwork yet, as it is two weeks overdue. That is because it was mailed to the arts organization’s storage area – I mean the dentist’s office. The utilities were turned off weeks ago because we could no longer afford to pay them. I haven’t been to the office since. It’s been too hot. A couple weeks ago I fried while trying to use the one and only workroom to tack the story quilt created at the independent living centers where I hope to engage the elder women in the (now!) KFW grant funded project – Life Stories, Life Lessons.
And the fact remains – I am unable to save the arts organization. They don’t know who they are anymore, or what they want to be. The board members seem to be thinking backwards, longing to be what they once were when seems to be the source of their financial meltdown. They can’t afford me along with the utility bill, although I only earn a poverty-level living allowance of about $800 a month.
But I am determined to get this grant, to prove to the arts organization board that I could help them – and prove to my husband (and everyone else who believes I’m crazy because I want to make art with marginal individuals) that I can do this. I have to do this.
I email the board member who empties our PO Box and ask if she has seen anything from the KFW. She says no. So I shut down the computer, shower and dress, drive to the dentist’s office and fish handfuls of damp and crushed pieces of mail out of our rusty mailbox. One of them is my notification from the KFW.
I rush home, fill out the paperwork, sign it, scan it and send a digital copy to the KFW. Just in case, I put the original in an addressed, stamped envelope, and walk it out to our roadside mailbox. Then I take a deep breath and go for a walk in The Jungle, the purposefully undeveloped part of the farmhouse property, on the paths my husband once mowed paths to get to his newly planted trees. Some of them are now ten, twelve, even twenty feet tall.
When I walk in The Jungle, I think. Sometimes I talk aloud. Many times I’ve cried, even sobbed because there is no one nearby to hear.
And then I think of the woman at Redbanks Pleasant Pointe, and wish I’d gotten the grant sooner. Just one month sooner.