Some years ago I took on an assignment in a southern county to work with people on public welfare. What I wanted to do was show that everybody has the capacity to be self-sufficient, and all we have to do is to activate them. I asked the county to pick a group of people who were on public welfare, people from different racial groups and different family constellations. I would then see them as a group for three hours every Friday. I also asked for a little petty cash to work with as I needed it.
The first thing I said after I shook hands with everybody was, "I would like to know what your dreams are." Everyone looked at me as if I were kind of wacky.
"Dreams? We don't have dreams." I said, "Well, when you were a kid what happened? Wasn't there something you wanted to do?"
One woman said to me, "I don't know what you can do with dreams. The rats are eating up my kids."
"Oh," I said.
"That's terrible. No, of course, you are very much involved with the rats and your kids. How can that be helped?"
"Well, I could use a new screen door because there are holes in my screen door."
I asked, "Is there anybody around here who knows how to fix a screen door?"
There was a man in the group, and he said, "A long time ago I used to do things like that, but now I have a terribly bad back, but I'll try."
I told him I had some money if he would go to the store, buy some screening, and go and fix the lady's screen door.
"Do you think you can do that?"
"Yes, I'll try."
The next week, when the group was seated, I said to the woman, "Well is your screen door fixed?"
"Oh, yes," she said. "Then we can start dreaming, can't we?" She sort of smiled at me. I said to the man who did the work,
"How do you feel?"
He said, "Well, you know, it's a very funny thing. I'm beginning to feel a lot better." That helped the group to begin to dream. These seemingly small successes allowed the group to see that dreams were not insane. These small steps began to get people to see and feel that something really could happen.
I began to ask other people about their dreams. One woman shared that she always wanted to be a secretary. I said, "Well, what stands in your way?" (That's always my next question).
She said, "I have six kids, and I don't have anyone to take care of them while I'm away."
"Let's find out," I said.
"Is there anybody in this group who would take care of six kids for a day or two a week while this woman gets some training here at the community college?"
One woman said, "I got kids, too, but I could do that."
"Let's do it," I said. A plan was created and the woman went to school.
Everyone found something. The man who put in the screen door became a handyman. The woman who took in the children became a licensed foster care person. In 12 weeks I had all these people off public welfare. I've not only done that once, I've done it many times.