Lawrence Nonprofits

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Through the Looking Glass

IMPORTANT UPDATE AS OF JULY 29, 2016: Taking a look back at my mental health hurdles and accomplishments during the short duration of this mini-documentary is astounding. I made much progress in a few months; however, I would like to present where I am at now versus two years ago. Approximately two months ago, after about 10 sessions of EMDR (Eye Movement Disorientation and Reprocessing) Therapy, I am officially no longer diagnosed with Complex-PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). While I still have lingering complications that come along with PTSD, I am ecstatic to say I have started my first on-air position directly after graduating from the University of Kansas in December of 2015. I’ve been working as a morning show host and as a DJ for three stations at Great Plains Media, for about two months! I’ve been able to reduce and even entirely rid myself of many medications I previously needed. To put it concisely–I am better than I ever conceived would be possible. I hope that my struggle, along with my success to overcome it, helps even one individual who sees this story and/or documentary. Thank you for visiting, and I would love to hear your feedback!

-Terran Smith

PSTD IN THE PRESS:

The United States Census Bureau recorded the population number at 316.1 million as of 2013. Of more than 2.3 million veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, approximately 460,000, (20 percent), have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Findings from the National Vietnam Veterans’ Readjustment Study confirms one out of every five is the astonishing prevalence of PTSD in said military officials and troops.

Experiencing trauma doesn’t automatically give someone PTSD. In fact, more than half of the nation’s population will experience trauma at some point. Of the entirety of the US population, about seven to eight percent have or will have PTSD at some point in their lives, according to the National Center for PTSD.

Mass media and the consistent coverage of PTSD increased awareness in recent years, specifically with regards to war veterans. It is true, as found in the National Center for PTSD, that intentional traumas, including combat, are more likely to cause this disorder; however, it is imperative to remember the infinite intentional trauma scenarios, (i.e. kidnapping, domestic violence, childhood abuse, etc.), unrelated to war veterans in order to prevent further stigmatization of said population and to stop overlooking the individuals that make up more than 93% of the population of persons with PTSD.

LIFE BEFORE MY DISABILITY:

The first thing I ever remember was the jar of translucent, red marbles. Each piece of glass had an intricate shape, and clouds passing in the sky, watching them kept my undivided attention. My mom used this fascination as an opportunity to see just how much she could teach her tiny toddler about numbers and mathematics.

The marbles, used as a visual aid, each represented one of my friends, as my mom explained. After a few problems of addition and subtraction, I remember the moment I understood what my mother meant by “two times two.” In that sitting, the hunch that I was different from most children my age was confirmed by my mother’s face; it contorted with complete astonishment as I grasped the concept of multiplication and division at the ridiculous age of two.

I attended school a year early, skipped second grade, participated in the gifted programs, yet I still wasn’t being challenged enough as a child. As I neared age 10 in late 2001, already overwhelmed by my parents’ recent divorce, the immense boredom from lack of stimulation became too much to take any longer.

THE STORY OF MY TRAUMATIC EXPERIENCE:

My parents decided to find a school that would better accommodate my needs for my fifth grade year of elementary school. After a series of academic testing sessions, I was accepted to attend a private school designed specifically to educate individuals who are either gifted learners, or are simply unable to learn in a traditional classroom setting.

Accelerated Schools, located in Olathe, Kan., included grades four through nine in the same classroom. One of the students who rode the same bus as myself was named Tyler, and even though I was barely in the double digits, my age didn’t stop his 14-year-old mind from creating a delusion of a relationship between us. This delusion would start with vulgar harassment, and unfortunately resulted in my rape as an innocent child, as well as the diagnosis of PTSD more than four years later.

DEALING WITH MY DIAGNOSIS:

Although I happen to be one of the lucky 50 percent of the individuals who have this disorder to actually be diagnosed with it, I treated the symptoms the only way I knew how for a very long time–by masking them with medicine. During the past five years, I lost the presence of myself as an individual as prescription drugs and the side effects they had on my behavior replaced my identity one part at a a time.

It was a little more than a year ago when I came to the realization I needed to decide whether to allow this disability to take complete control over my existence, or to take back the reins on my own life. On December 1st, 2013, I quit smoking cigarettes, lost 40 lbs. by February 1st, 2014, trained my dog, Tootsie, last spring to be my service animal, and even moved into an apartment without an roommate for the first time.

The steps I took before Fall semester of this school year were undoubtedly positive; however, PTSD itself is not treated with medication, only the symptoms it causes are. Because of this, when the condition is left untreated, it greatly worsens over time. I felt my self as a whole slip through my fingers as I hit rock bottom early in August of this year. It took me until the beginning of October to see beyond my pride and into the hypocrisy of my behavior versus my beliefs.

PRACTICE WHAT YOU PREACH:

I’ve represented myself as an advocacy journalist throughout college and the two years and counting that I’ve had this website because I truly do love to tell the public informative stories that give something back to help others and the community overall. It was the moment I thought about my audience that I realized how phony I was being, not only to myself, but to every individual I claim to represent on this blog.

With my career, credibility, and conscience all hanging in the balance, I decided to make a change for the better, seek improvement through self-exposure treatment to the things I have been avoiding for so many years, and to document the struggle along my path to happiness for all friends, family, acquaintances and audiences to see. Additionally, I made the difficult decision to withdraw from almost all of my courses for the semester in order to fully dedicate myself to the healing process.

THE LONG AND WINDING ROAD:

Since I began progressing through treatment a little over two months ago, I’ve lowered my prescription medication dosages greatly, am returning to school next semester with about 15 credit hours left to graduate and have honestly accomplished improvements more vast than I could ever have imagined. However, the amount of work and struggle it took along the way were just as frequent.

Exposing myself to situations I would normally avoid is the most successful, long-term treatment, but in most all cases causes symptoms like flashbacks and anxiety attacks to become more likely and more extreme. Other than the uncomfortable symptoms that intensified from exposure treatment, the reduction of my medication, namely Xanax, had adverse physical consequences I can only be thankful didn’t hurt me.

Whilst lowering my prescription of the highly addictive, controlled substance called Xanax, I experienced withdrawal from my body’s built-up dependence to the drug, and actually went into convulsions whilst experiencing a seizure less than a month ago. Thankfully my boyfriend, Joel, was around at the time; it goes without saying that incident scared the hell out of the both of us.

ONE DAY AT A TIME:

The challenges I’ve faced were mental, emotional and physical. I may never be completely free of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, but what’s important is the constant effort I make to become a healthier, happier and more helpful person.

Many people believe that we never truly stop growing as individuals. This milestone in my life’s journey taught me it is, in fact, true that we never stop growing if we try, but it’s also true that if we stop trying, we never grow.

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Non-profits and the trickle-down effect

Where are your donations really going?

We’ve all seen the Sarah McLachlan commercial for ASPCA with B-roll of helpless and homeless animals as her tear-jerking song, “In the arms of an angel,” plays in the background. I’ve personally seen grown men cry from this commercial, and it is notoriously known by anyone who watches television. The point here is–the advertisement works. It appeals to the audiences’ emotions and tears so hard at their heart strings, they want to give their money to the Humane Society of the United States.

Of course no one wants to see animals in pain and suffering, which makes the strong reaction to the commercial very sensible. But at what emotional cost will it take for the HSUS to reach their goal? The HSUS annual report of 2007 reported, “$120 million in revenue, including $5.4 million just from online donors.” This emotional solicitation is undoubtedly succeeding for the organization; however, the money donated to this national organization does not necessarily go where the donor may have intended.

HSUS does initiate puppy mill rescues; however, they profit in multiple ways from the process, and the puppies are taken to local shelters. HSUS benefits from ceasing puppy mills through publicity, which leads to donations. Not only is the organization simply moving helpless animals to local shelters, but they are also gaining donations in doing so. It is a harsh reality, but without this media coverage and consequential funding, HSUS wouldn’t be the organization, financially or publicly, it is today.

There is good and bad in these facts about HSUS. In large events such as hurricane Katrina, HSUS had the funds to help out significantly with the natural disaster that shook the lives of so many in New Orleans. In organizing this help; however, HSUS profited greatly from the mass amount of publicity. In the end, it’s positive that HSUS has the funding to help out in times of struggle, but it is definitely negative that the organization takes advantage of disaster situations to increase profit.

On top of the shady, to say the least, lobbying and campaigning HSUS funds, it is a common misunderstanding that there is a certain percentage of donations to the HSUS that trickle down to local shelters. However, local animal shelters see no profit or resources of any kind from the national organization. Once again, HSUS takes advantage of economic opportunity and allows the confusion to continue by failing to mention this bit of information to the audience. A strong economic tactic, certainly, but obviously not something one would anticipate from a non-profit organization.

The overall point here is not that HSUS is evil; it is simply a non-profit organization with a successful, profit-driven mentality. What’s important to understand is where your money is going when you donate to non-profit organizations. In all likelihood–donating five dollars to a local animal shelter would make a much bigger difference than donating to HSUS or another national organization.

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Health Hazards Challenge the Lawrence Humane Society

Clogged drains, mold and cracked floors compromise more than disease control for the animals and staff at the Lawrence Humane Society. Lack of funding is both the cause and effect of health hazards at the non-profit organization. Dori Villalon, Executive Director of LHS, says the health hazards result in increased risk of illness, extra work for employees, slows adoption processes and costs the facility money.

The building, parts of which are more than 50 years old, runs a 24-hour emergency rescue service and currently houses nearly 300 animals. The facility hopes for help from the county to repair the aged flooring.

“They are cracked, old and are a hazard primarily because viruses and bacteria live in the cracks and it’s very hard to clean,” Villalon said. “When [disease control is compromised], if a dog comes in and gets sick, they have to stay in our TLC unit for medical care, which causes more expenses,” Villalon said.

Lawrence Humane Society receives funding from three sources: a contract with the city and county to provide service, adopt and surrender animal fees, and contributions to the facility.

“Despite what many think, we don’t get any funding from the National Humane Society. We raise all of our money locally,” Villalon said. “The shelter needs to raise $700,000 through donations and adoption fees in order to meet our $1.1 million budget,” Villalon said.

The LHS asked for a $15,000 grant from the county for multiple reasons. “I’m asking the government to pay for that because it’s part of the law to have stray animals taken in for at least three days,” Villalon said.

According to the Code of the City of Lawrence 2011 Edition, “The officer shall make a record of all dogs or cats so impounded with their description, date of impoundment and rabies vaccination number. If, within seventy-two (72) hours from the date any dog or cat is impounded and the owner of such dog or cat shall appear and claim his or her dog or cat, said dog or cat may be released upon payment…”

The second reason LHS reached out to the county is focused on the purpose of the facility itself.

“Our ultimate goal is to save as many lives as we can by moving animals quickly from the shelter to homes,” Villalon said. “If the $15,000 isn’t funded the facility will go to its donor base to raise the money, and I’d rather spend money raised to do things that could directly save animal lives than fixing the floors,” Villalon said.

The volunteer work includes walking, playing with, and taking animals to adoption events. Volunteers are not allowed to clean cages or handle sick animals.

“The fact that we can’t help with certain aspects does impact the staff because if enough volunteers aren’t here, they not only have to take care of cleaning, adoptions and sick animals, but also the work that we do,” volunteer Samara Rehfeld, 18, said.

The LHS staff is affected but not defeated by the extra work from ongoing hazards.

“It’s definitely made my job more difficult with animals getting upper respiratory infections and kennel cough,” Amelia Mallett-Kass Lead Animal Care Associate said. “The more sick animals we have, the more likely the germs are to spread. We have to keep on top of hazardous areas so bacteria doesn’t come into contact with animals,” Mallett-Kass said.

Employees continue work with the facility despite tedious tasks the hazards create.

“Considering that the facility is not ideal, we’re doing really amazing work inside of it,” Villalon said. “We have a 76% live release rate, which is up from 52% this time last year,” Villalon said.

The LHS relies on help from the community to make ends meet. The facility uses donations of basic necessities such as laundry detergent, bleach and soap.

“Without help from the government, the hazards cannot currently be eliminated,” Villalon Said.

“We work really hard to keep our animals happy and healthy, but there’s only so much that we can do. This issue is a big project, and we are going to need help from the public to fix it,” Mallett-Kass said.

Click here to visit the Lawrence Humane Society’s website

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