Opinion: Give back to make Tahoe better
Tribune Guest Columnist
I count myself very lucky to have recently celebrated my one-year anniversary of living in Tahoe. My wife and I settled on Tahoe as a honeymoon destination last summer, and once here we decided not to leave. We are part of that millennial movement that has the technology to pick where we want to live first and then decide on a career. So we stayed. The word that comes to my mind when I think about our lives here is lucky. My wife and I struggled for a very long time before moving to Tahoe, so when we look at where we are and where we have come from, we know that being successful in Tahoe is a razor’s edge from poverty. Maybe this is why I work in social services. We are keenly aware that living the Tahoe lifestyle is for many a dream vacation life hiding a tremendous amount of hardship just underneath the surface.
A friend of mine is fond of saying, “Forget New York, if you can make it in Tahoe you can make it anywhere.” A seasonal service industry economy means you have to be extremely lucky to land a job that can sustain you year-round. Perhaps this is why more than 60 percent of school children here qualify for free and reduced school lunches, a staggering statistic. There are approximately 210 children in the Lake Tahoe Unified School District that are classified as homeless and that is just the number we know about. There are a lot of politics surrounding how we should deal with the homeless: e.g. should we build a homeless shelter in South Lake Tahoe? But I give these numbers about homeless children because I believe that is where politics stops. These numbers aren’t meant to depress; they are meant to launch. Let’s launch a dialogue about where we are as a community and where we are going.
There are some fantastic people doing incredible work in this community. There is a domestic-violence shelter in town. There are foster care and adoption services. There is low-cost substance-abuse counseling services. There are after-school mentoring programs. There is a drop-in center where homeless youth can take a shower and look for a job. There is a coalition for the homeless working on creating a warm room for the winter so homeless people don’t freeze to death on extremely cold nights. So during this season of giving, if you are able, please find one of these nonprofits right here at home and donate. There is so much good work that needs to be done and we need good people to do it; however, I work for a charity, and I can say categorically that charity cannot solve this problem on its own. It takes sustainable, local careers to lift people out of poverty. Because I am one of the lucky ones, I wake up every morning thinking about how I can give back. I encourage you do to do the same.
Troy Matthews is a grant writer for Tahoe Youth & Family Services, and he also gets to be on the board of the Tahoe Regional Young Professionals. He has a master’s degree in political science from George Washington University, but still can’t ski. Please don’t laugh at him this winter. You can email him at TMatthews@tahoeyouth.org.