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Friday, March 5, 2010

Dear Miss Social Worker

So this is a letter that I hand delivered to the intake worker at the Dutchess Country  social services building following my application for social assistance.  I also emailed it to 20 representatives in the area that covered this office and my local officials.  I got two email responses and one phone call.  One was genuine, one was canned, and one was a boot-strap motivational speech.  Democracy at work, and our prejudices and social services programs at hardly working.

Dear Miss Social Worker,

On Tuesday I applied for Temporary Assistance with Dutchess County Social Services and was rejected. I understand that I do not meet the criteria and accept that judgment whole-heartedly. Any issue with this should surely rather be taken up with my congress person and legislative bodies. However, what I have a tremendously difficult time accepting is the way that you seemed to approach both me and my application. Yet still, I do not write this for me, but for everyone else that comes in your door looking for help and that you will probably approach the same way.

I thought that you were rude, inconsiderate, assumptive, and downright judgmental, without bothering to know me or anything of my situation. Yet you presumed to, and treated me as if I was automatically trying to take advantage of the system just by walking in your door.

Upon being told that I was not eligible, I asked: “so what other services are offered for people in my situation?” Your response was: “So you are asking me what we can do for you?” I was a bit taken aback, as it seemed kind of accusatory, and responded “I... guess so.” To which you responded in what I took as a very unhelpful and almost aggressive tone “What you should be asking is what you can do for yourself.” Wow!  Let me tell you what I've done for myself and why you shouldn't treat people that are exactly what the programs you provide, and tax payers give you a salary to provide, are supposed to help.

For over ten years I have been working, gaining business experience in management, marketing, fundraising, writing, research, and development all over the world. Educationally, I am at the end of a second masters degree.  The first of which is from the 30th ranked university in the world, and the second is in Sociology and Anthropology – of which poverty is one of my main focuses. Since I returned to the US in late spring/early summer, I have applied for many jobs I feel that am well qualified for, only to not even be given an interview. All my study abroad/educational experience, and I couldn't get an interview as a study abroad adviser with SUNY New Paltz even with connections at the school.   In my last job I was the lead employee in obtaining a 2.2 million dollar private investment, and as a former Division I and professional athlete with dyslexia, I thought I would at least get an interview for a fundraising position with the Special Olympics in Wappingers Falls, yet I didn't.  All that academics and athletics background, yet still no interview with Marist as an academic adviser for athletes. This last position received 152 applications in 7 days – the position was accepting apps for 2 months.   I have been applying for work, both in the area and the city, and not even getting interviews.   In my last position I was 'Senior Analyst, and Head of Research and Development' for a company trying to provide medical evacuation services to wounded people in Iraq and Afghanistan.  For all intents and purposes I was the number two person in the company and running day-today operations – all of the jobs I am looking at here are good options, but it is not like I am holding out, waiting for a similar job to my last.

I picked up part-time work (all the hours they'll give me) selling running shoes in a specialty store in New Paltz (a forty minute drive for a ten dollar an hour job).  I worked on finishing this second degree in my spare time, looked for work, even started trying to write a book.  Yet I realized that in the world we live in, and especially in this type of global economy, that if I want to be able to guarantee employment for myself and my future that I can't sit around and wait for others to 'give' me a job – I will have to provide it for myself.  Thus I have added starting a business to my work load, and am trying to learn websites, find a designer that will work for free, and continue to research and write content for the site. To make ends meet I am adding officiating of Women's Lacrosse (a sport I have never played), but this won't show much income for a few more months.   I am volunteering in local government doing organizational and administrative work, and tried to volunteer with non-profits and specifically with the Dutchess Community Action Program.  I almost got a job with them when I went in to apply for food stamps.  Funny how it was the only interview I've had since I've been back in the US and it was because they randomly liked me enough as I applied to ask me in for a job interview!! With luck this may work out if the position will actually get funding and exist.

So you ask me what am I doing to help myself?  Well, even being learning disabled I almost have two masters degrees, I've worked hard for over ten years, and am putting in seven day weeks and many 12 hour days balancing work for pay, volunteer work that may network me into a job or community, and entrepreneurial work that may allow me to never ask for assistance again.  Yes, I could probably take a High School kid's job working fast food, but if I did that, when would I be able to apply for work and get out of the 'cycle of poverty'?

Social services, are designed specifically to help people like me.  People that have come on tough times and just need a little help to get 'over the hump'.   Your assertions offended me.   My whole goal is to try to make a difference in the world, and I've been pushing and driving myself to do this for almost two decades.   I am working at 8 am and usually at 8 at night, every day – just ask my girlfriend how much time I have to spend with her.  I should be exactly the person that both you and the system want to help.  I will be a success story. Yet even with all this, I am not upset about me not getting temporary assistance.  I am upset for all the other people that won't get it and for how they will likely be treated by you – like criminals trying to take advantage of the system.

In 1996 we decided to 'end welfare as we know it', and as a result there aren't the support services that the rest of the industrialized world offers.  We leave people in need to largely fend for themselves.  And the worst part about it – and I was sad to confirm all the studies I had read that cited this – is that people are treated in a way that makes them not want to come back and ask for help again no matter how desperate things may get.  The whole goal of Social Services in this county, and maybe even country, is not to 'help' people, rather to try to have as few people as possible on the roles.   I was treated like that by you on Tuesday.   You did not want to help, you did not want to care, you did not even want to show me the respect that any human being deserved.  Perhaps you feel no empathy for people in need, maybe you think you are above the people that you are supposed to be helping.  Perhaps, the job itself has put this presumptive toll on you.  But if any of these are the case, then you should leave your position.  If you believe that everyone there is there to cheat the system, and you then treat them as 'criminally' minded, then find new work.  Because you are not only not helping people, but you are both hurting them and humiliating them.  And some – this must seem so hard to believe – but some, are actually working their tails off just to try to stay afloat in bad times.  Hoping that this hard work will pay off and leed to good times.


Timothy D. Weldon

PS. If you do decide this isn't the job for you, I've enclosed my resume. If you could please pass it on to the appropriate people I'd appreciate it.

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