Thoughts on Haley House

Christina Weiland ‘02
Whats Up Magazine/ Haley House

I remember searching the Tucker files over my sophomore summer for an organization that would allow me to live out my humanitarian sympathies and yet give me experience in a career field that I might pursue after graduation. Because college loans are a worry for me, I could not devote my leave term to fighting a social problem unless I would simulataneously be learning job skills that would make my resumé sparkle, thus aiding with landing a decent paying job upon leaving Dartmouth. As a History major, I do a lot of writing, so I thought that journalism or publishing was worth a try. Searching the domestic files, I happened upon a new Tucker listing for the Boston publication, Whats Up Magazine. Scanning a copy from the file, I devoured an article on Modest Mouse, one of my favorite bands, and another on the housing crisis in Boston. The publication rocked–it was young, hip, and lacked the biases of mainstream media. I had found my placement.

I called Aaron Goldstein, the Tucker contact and founder/program director/editor of Whats Up, asking him if the magazine could use a winter intern. As the only paid member of the staff and part time at that, he gave me an enthusiatic “yes”. I was in. No résumé or cover letter necessary.
For my D.P.C.S. application, I did a little soul searching, asking myself why I wanted to donate my time and questioning the origins of my humanitarian sympathies. As a native of rural West Virginia, I grew up with poverty in my backyard. My county has the highest rate of unemployment in the state, so the poor were my friends, my neighbors, and my family, not an abstract category of misfortunates. My time at Dartmouth has allowed me a glimpse of the more affluent world that I am likely to be a member of in the future because of my parents’ hard work. However, I have yet to truly reconcile the two different cultures. I thought that maybe diving into urban problems would give a third perspective, another cultural glimpse at a different kind of lifestyle that would help me expand my viewpoint and become more comfortable with my cross-cultural background.

I brought these expectations to my first day at Whats Up. I met my boss, Aaron Goldstein, a twenty-five-year-old Boston College graduate who started the magazine after college. I also got a tour of the Haley House, the parent organization of Whats Up. The Haley House was started in the 1960s by Kathy McKenna, an activist who shared campfires with such icons as Stokely Carmicheal during 1960 protests. The Haley House today boasts a bakery that offers job training, several low-cost apartments, and soup kitchen services. In addition to Aaron, I met the live-in Haley House staff, which includes a Harvard Divinity Grad student, several recent college graduates, an older terminally ill man, and a well-traveled French rabbi. Aaron gave me what became known as his “Whats Up spiel”, explaining the origins of Whats Up, its operations, and its demographic. The magazine is part of a network of street magazines, meaning that the homeless and disadvantaged sell it on the streets to help them meet living expenses. A vendor’s first ten copies of the magazine are free; after that, the vendor pays twenty-five cents for each copy which they in turn sell for a dollar, keeping seventy-five cents to help them meet basic living expenses. The magazine at the time of my internship had about six steady vendors and about 20 on-and-off vendors. Most of the steady vendors are formerly homeless and sell the magazine to supplement their income, thus assuring that they will not revert to their former circumstances.

A unique goal of the magazine is to be a publication people want to buy out of interest, not pity. The more widely- distributed Spare Change newspaper in Boston is a street magazine that predates Whats Up. However, despite having similar goals, the two publications have very different content. The articles of Spare Change are mostly written by homeless people, telling the story of how they ended up on the streets. While hearing personal stories of misfortune helps greater society to understand the lives of people with lifestyles very different from the norm, after a few issues, the articles begin to seem the same. Aaron’s vision is to make Whats Up more like The Big Issue, the first street magazine that began in London in the early 1990s. People buy The Big Issue because it appeals to their interests, not their sympathies, and Whats Up tries to appeal to consumers in the same way. Thus, Whats Up is filled with a great variety of articles in an attempt to let people know what is really going on in the city, from the housing crisis to the music scene to the art world.

The evening of my first day was the regular Wednesday volunteer staff meeting. Here I meet the core members of the Whats Up staff. Far from the standard North Face jackets and J. Crew that bedeck the majority of Dartmouth students, these kids were pierced and attired in old school thrift store clothing–sort of stereotypical artist get-up. They were funky people and I was excited to be around a different sort of crowd than I am usually. Most were post-college, around age 25, and committed to social issues. Of couse, there was some variation. Everyone from high school students to 40-year-old former inmates would eventually show their faces at the meetings during my internship. Overall, the Whats Up staff was a fun, interesting, creative group of people. I liked them immediately. They were very welcoming, as I was their first full-time intern and was to be the second full-time staff member ever. Aaron Goldstein had just become full-time beginning January 1st, so January was a big month for Whats Up. I received countless “Thank yous” and “We love yous” from ecstatic, grateful volunteers. I was definitely needed and appreciated.

At the meetings was where the magazine was actually planned. We brainstormed, assigned stories, edited, discussed distribution, everything. My work during the rest of the week was to assist with basic administration of the magazine and to help carry through with ideas or projects that arose during the meeting. I wrote articles, contacted Boston newspapers in public relations efforts, helped with distribution, recruited vendors, created an “Archives” section on the website, sold newspapers to our current vendors, helped out in the soup kitchen once a week, worked the door at our benefit club night, everything. There were few aspects of the magazine in which I was not involved. I stayed until midnight before press deadlines, and served as arts editor for the April/May edition. I was in the thick of things from day one.

In addition, a portion of my time was devoted to helping apply for grants. As a start-up magazine, Whats Up is very much in its early phases. To grow, it needs grant money. Subsequently, one of my tasks was contacting foundations and getting their grant guidelines. I prioritized applications according to how likely we were to get funding and according to their respective deadlines. Aaron and I then would tailor each proposal to each organization. I also sat in on meetings with grant representatives in which Aaron would be drilled on questions about the magazine, its goals, and its prospects. Through these tasks, I learned a lot about the philanthropic world and difficulties nonprofits face when applying for funding.
One of my more colorful, fun tasks was helping Ana Tatas, our formerly homeless Vendor of the Year, learn to use email and surf the web. A big fan of the Kennedy family, especially John Jr., she was in search of John Jr.’s now invalid social security number. I also helped her sell her copies of Whats Up on the streets to supplement her income from her forty hours/week job at a local flower shop. She and I sat outside a Boston grocery store one cold evening and she told me about her two children, her mother, and various tidbits from her life. Being with Ana was always interesting because of the way people would stare at her. She has waist-length slightly dredded black hair, and she always wore bib overall shorts with tights and leg warmers. She definitely stood out in a crowd of typical pea coat-wearing typical Bostonians. The distaste in their faces made me consider the hardships of the homeless in very basic day-to-day interactions. Ana attended nearly every Wednesday night meeting of Whats Up and contributed her poetry for publication. She was part of the staff and an embodiment of the good to come from Whats Up Magazine. Part of the grant money that hopefully Whats Up will receive in the very near future will go towards hiring a full-time outreach worker to find more dedicated disadvantaged people who can benefit both emotionally and financially from the magazine.

One of the biggest benefits and disadvantages of working at Whats Up is that it is in its early stages. I felt the effects of my work quickly and daily knew that I was doing a lot of good for an under-staffed, under-funded organization. I was helping to shape the future operations of Whats Up with every task, whether it seemed important or not. However, while it was great to have no real hierarchy and the freedom to express my opinions and ideas, sometimes I felt the lack of an experienced voice. Aaron was only twenty-five, after all. He had worked at St. Francis house, a day shelter for the homeless in Boston, for several years and thus was very in tune with urban issues. He shared some of his insight with me, getting me more comfortable with working with a segment of the population I had rarely encountered in my years in rural West Virginia and Hanover. However, at times, the organization seemed to call out for an older person with multitudes of experience in the business world. The magazine definitely had a learn-as-you-go flavor, which was often exciting, but many problems could have been circumvented if any of the volunteers had extensive experience in the magazine publishing or business worlds.

I also had concerns at one point about the true understanding behind the activism of my fellow Whats Up staff members. After the U.S. and Great Britain bombing of Iraq this winter, for example, I remember one staff member wanted to rush out and protest that night in downtown Boston. Usually, there is a group protesting the sanctions against Iraq in the downtown area. Interested in the individual’s thoughts about the Iraq issue, I talked to him about the sanctions against Iraq, hoping to learn more on the subject. Surprisingly, he didn’t know anything. He was just going to rush out and join a protest group without really understanding why he was protesting. I was a little shocked to encounter such an example of uninformed activism, of protesting because “protesting is cool”, rather than to make a statement about one of society’s ills.

I saw more rampant uniformed idealism when I was coordinating a feature on the prison system in the U.S. My colleagues were quick to blame the troubles with the Prison Industrial Complex on the corporations profiting from it. I had difficulty getting a word in to explain that bad policy had created a huge demand in the prison system and that corporations were just fulfilling that need. Corporations were a part of the problem, but they were not the root of the problem. I was disillusioned by the staff’s immediately wanting to pin the problems of society on the typical villains, even when the problem actually originated elsewhere. Here again, I think a voice of experience would have kept the magazine on a more pragmatic track.

My disillusionment with the Whats Up staff sparked my biggest reflection on my work in the nonprofit world. I began to see those who worked at nonprofits as wrapped up in their idealism to the extent that they often failed to understand how and why certain conditions came to be. Finding symptoms of problems rather than causes seems futile to my pragmatic mind. Through my reflections, I began to realize that it is easier and more beneficial to cooperate within the system and try to guide it towards the good than it is to just try to fight the system. To me, it seemed that my colleagues were futilely fighting the system, with no real power to truly affect change.

However, this was merely a stage in my thinking during the term. Not all of my colleagues were so disconnected. Kathy McKenna, founder of the Haley House, was living proof that I was wrong about those people involved in the nonprofit world. She is the epitome of a motivated person working within existing structures to help others. Observing and talking with her helped me to reconcile my opinions and once again see the good of Whats Up and admire the staff. My leftist political leaning swerved slightly right during my time at Whats Up as I began to understand the difference between fighting for a cause and fighting effectively for a cause. I remembered myself my freshman suumer break, a potential eniviromental studies major working at an on-line organic store. I ate up green literature and the environmental research that I did. I was on a soapbox that summer, complaining when my roommates wasted even the slightest amount of water or failed to recycle a can. I swallowed propaganda, not really seeing the truth and looking to protest anywhere I went. I was quick to blame without understanding, as many youthful idealists are. By encountering my old self through a few of the Whats Up volunteers, I formulated and defined my thoughts on social issues and the best course of action for one to take when displeased with circumstances.

Overall, my experience at Whats Up was one that made me think. I conquered a bias against idealism, meet amazing volunteers and homeless people, and tried my hand at a great variety of tasks. I did not learn as much about magazine publishing as I wished, as our layout volunteer handled most of putting together the magazine in her spare time, and I definitely did my share of photocopying. However, working at Whats Up was a lesson in both entrepenuerialism and social issues. I was grateful to be able to escape the corporate world for one more term and work at a socially-conscious organization. Perhaps most exciting is that my involvement with Whats Up looks to be long term, as I am going to contribute articles this term and may be back in Boston working at another job this summer and volunteering at the magazine in my spare time.
When I applied for funding to work at Whats Up Magazine, I thought I was applying for funding to learn the ins and outs of magazine publishing, with the added benefit of getting to escape the corporate world for one more term and work at a socially-conscious organization. I cannot say that my time at Whats Up changed my point of view of the world; I cannot say that I learned a great deal about magazine publishing; and I cannot say that I became truly in-tune with urban problems. One of the things I can say is that I learned a lot about the nonprofit world and my beliefs about individuals working for social change.

Basically, I think social realism and real worldism finally grounded me. My leftist political leanings swerved right. Surrounded by young people who were as idealistic, non-pragmatic, and quick to blame and protest without true understanding, I saw my old self and I bid her goodbye. I saw myself that summer in Pittsburgh after my freshman year. I had my first “real” job working at an on-line organic store. A potential environmental studies major, I ate up green literature and the environmental research that I did. I was on a soapbox that summer, complaining when my roommates wasted even the slightest amount of water or failed to recycle a can. I swallowed propaganda, not really seeing the truth and looking to protest anywhere I went. That’s how I saw the kids at Whats Up. The notion that perhaps narrow-mindedness is necessary for youthful idealism flooded into me. As someone who has began to see that maybe the Vietnam War was necessay in a certain sense, I feel as though my hippie sentiments have bled right out of me. The goal of the magazine is an admirable one. It seeks to combine social awareness with entertainment while creating entreperneurial-type jobs for the homeless and disadvantaged. However, the idealism of my fellow Whats Up staff members often left me disillusioned with those dedicated to nonprofit work. Wrapped up in their idealism, many often failed to understand how and why certain conditions came to be. This failure to dig for the root of the problem and lack of understanding often made me wonder why I was not down in the nearby financial district earning more money than God.

More than anything, this internship did make me grow. My last remaining non-reality based idealistic principles fluttered away over the gray, cold winter. I began to realize that you can’t fight the man and win. Instead, you must cooperate with the man and try to guide him towards the good. My colleagues were blaming the man; unfortunately, they had only their image of “cool social hipness” to fight with and no real power. Basically, I think social realism and real worldism finally grounded me. My leftist political leanings swerved right. Surrounded by young people who were as idealistic, non-pragmatic, and quick to blame and protest without true understanding, I saw my old self and I bid her goodbye. I saw myself that summer in Pittsburgh after my freshman year. I had my first “real” job working at an on-line organic store. A potential environmental studies major, I ate up green literature and the environmental research that I did. I was on a soapbox that summer, complaining when my roommates wasted even the slightest amount of water or failed to recycle a can. I swallowed propaganda, not really seeing the truth and looking to protest anywhere I went. That’s how I saw the kids at Whats Up. The notion that perhaps narrow-mindedness is necessary for youthful idealism flooded into me. As someone who has began to see that maybe the Vietnam War was necessay in a certain sense, I feel as though my hippie sentiments have bled right out of me.