Sunday, January 02, 2000

Keeping score on last year's resolutions

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        I am proud to report that I kept all my 1999 New Year's resolutions. Every one. It was a snap. I just didn't set my sights too high.

        I did not, for instance, promise myself — or anybody else — that I would lose weight. Although I was very tempted because the latest fad diet, as I understand it, prescribes bacon and eggs and pork rinds and cheese and hamburger with a lard chaser. You are not allowed to eat fruits or vegetables. I think it's called the Cardiovascular Surgeon's Retirement Fund Diet.

        This year, for the first time since 1971, I did not resolve to sort all the photographs jammed in shoe boxes and put them in photo albums. But I did paw through some of the boxes, throwing away all the photographs that made me look fat. (Curiously, that was virtually all of them.)

        I didn't say I'd reread all the classics. Instead I promised I would not wear a thong to the office or write poetry. I promised to nag Delta about their outrageously high fares out of Cincinnati and carp about the outrageous investment we are making in professional sports.

        Easy stuff.

A squeaker
        Meanwhile, I asked some people with clout to be a little harder on themselves. And they obliged.

        John Pepper, former Procter & Gamble chief, said he'd help the Cincinnati Youth Collaborative find 2,000 mentors by the Year 2000. They nearly made it. The count by year's end was 1,900.

        Don Hoffman, president of the Health Foundation of Greater Cincinnati, promised to fund eight new school-based health clinics and a $10 million investment in the health of all Tristate residents.

        “It'll be a stretch.”

        Which was the idea.

        He says he'll be reporting a $10.6 million giveaway to the IRS, including $2.5 million to eight clinics.

        Rabbi Abie Ingber's Hillel House students passed out 600 bags of food and clothing to the needy in 1998. He resolved to scrounge up another 400 for 1999 distribution. “Listen, guys,” he told his students — from the University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati State Technical and Community College, Xavier University and Hebrew Union College — “I went out on a limb.”

        He must have scared them. On Feb. 14, more than 1,200 bags were passed out to anybody who needed one, mostly the homeless.

From welfare to work
        YWCA Director Charlene Ventura promised “to help the mothers of 42 children make better lives by providing day care.” Renovation of the Y's Walnut Street building took longer than planned and state licensing allowed four fewer spaces than the Y wanted, but by Jan. 5, there will be 38 children in the beautifully appointed second-floor center.

        These are the children of women moving from welfare to work or studying to get GED certificates. So, one might suppose, that helping these women to help themselves will eventually — and measurably — benefit us all.

        “Most people are willing to give a helping hand,” Hamilton County's Department of Human Services director, Don Thomas, said last year. “But they want to know that everybody works for their money.” He pledged to get at least half the people on welfare “doing something to work off benefits.”

        At the end of 1999, the state of Ohio calculated a “work participation rate” of 69 percent.

        Another impressive score. A promise kept.

        But I am thinking of the people who made no promises to me. The 1,900 mentors. Rabbi Abie's students trolling cold streets. Little kids with asthma and diabetes who have never had regular health care.

        Sometimes it must be as hard to accept help as it is to offer it. Women surrendering their children for a few hours to make a better life for them. Men getting up every day and going to work — for the first time. The people reaching out for a bag of groceries from a stranger, acknowledging that they need it.

        Despite the evidence in all those boxes of photos — I feel very small.

        E-mail Laura Pulfer at or call 768-8393. Her column appears in the Enquirer on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. She can be heard Monday mornings on WVXU radio (91.7 FM), and as a regular commentator on National Public Radio's Morning Edition.