Dream Chasing [Charitable Foundation]

The Redneck

As a child, Thorn's family had been poor. Very poor. At least, Mother's family had been, Father, well that was another story entirely.

She'd grown up in a small agricultural town in the southern end of Central California. In that town, that place, they'd continued what several people had termed "The Cheese Lines."

Once or twice a month, community centers all over town had opened their doors to hand out food baskets filled with government staples. Bread, cheese, rice, beans, occasionally canned meat, butter, peanut butter, and the rare treat of fresh vegetables or fruit. The lines were long, the wait was longer, and the people who stood in them had been the sort to make do with whatever they got.

Her grandmother had been a relatively organized soul and had marked out a handful of give-aways that they'd always attend. Always. Going from one Center to another, they'd stand in three lines a day for three days. A total of thirty-six hours spent in line for enough of the basics to see them through a month with enough left-over to be broken down and shared out through the family.

The family that was by-and-large, too lazy or thought themselves too good to stand in line, but never too good to take what Gramma offered them. There were a couple who were struggling to make ends meet while working more than full time, but those were the exceptions honestly. And because they were family, and family was something sacred in Gramma's eyes and heart, even when she groused and cursed the lazy ones, she still packed up their share of the modest largesse of her patience.

As hard as it could be, and most often was, for the adults to stand in those lines, it was in some ways worse for the kids. The adults had, for the majority at that time, worked their entire lives for their Social Security checks, for the pittance they received every month. They had their pride true, but they'd been born into, and had grown up during times that'd nearly wiped their country off the face of the planet, or worse, had nearly relegated it to the type of country that had people begging for money to feed the starving children of all over the world.

Prideful they might have been, the Lines were something that they'd been promised, and they were there as much to make sure that promise was kept as to receive some extra help to stretch their grocery money every month.

The kids though, the kids, most of them in hand-me-down clothes and shoes with holes worn through. They'd tried to fit in with the kids at school who sneered at Thrift shop clothes, who wouldn't have had the first clue what it was like in the Lines, and always had pocket money, and it hadn't worked. So they'd created their own hierarchy amongst themselves. Sadly that ranking system was built off the model presented by the same snots that wouldn't let them join.

Even among the poorest, there were those who'd just never fit in. And they couldn't let those odd-ones forget it.

When the drug dealers had started taking up places in the Lines that, by rights, should have gone to the elderly, or mothers trying to feed their kids, there'd been grumbling. When the first of those dealers had been so arrogant as to drive up, and park his shiny new cadillac or bmw at the curb in front of the center, and swagger up to take someone else's place in line loaded down with the thick gold chains and flashing bejeweled rings so popular with his kind at the time, well it'd gotten really ugly.

And it'd stayed ugly until the police arrived. When they'd had to shut down that give-away for the day over the mood in the air, it'd gotten worse. Nearly blown up into a riot right there.

She'd watched, from well off to the side and out of the way. She'd watched and been terrified. Felt that burning, prickling tightness in her throat at the very thought of her Gramma (who was a God in her mind) might be caught up in the middle of that. And more than a little sure that her Gramma would be the first one to throw a punch or squeeze off a round. The neighborhood was rough, Gramma always had her bra-gun on her.

At the end, after the angry crowd had been dispersed, she'd been overjoyed to have her Gramma safe and sound. But she'd remembered.

And in her heart of hearts, her secret whole place inside, she'd vowed that one day, one day.

One day she'd find a way to make it perfect. One day she'd help out in some way that'd make sure the people who really needed it, would get the help they needed. One day she'd figure out how to keep some unknown little girl's heart from seizing at the thought of losing her Gramma like that.

One day, was a long time in coming.

After the end of Thorn's war with the Cult, in a form of penance she'd never be able to fully fulfill, she'd had an accounting of her assets made. When the figures had been put onto paper, she'd been stunned speechless and weak-legged.

And had started building on the vow she'd made fourteen years before. In a big, big way.

She'd started, relatively small, and mostly out of her own pocket on that end of the scale. Rehabbing, and in some cased, rebuilding tenement buildings in the Slums. Building, funding training and day care centers, staffing them and the schools attached with the best that she could find. Distributing meals, food stuffs, clothing, home goods through mobile centers.

When she'd lucked into finding a cluster of large farms (more like full blown ranches in size) whose owners were either in financial trouble, dead, or just looking to enjoy what was left of their lives, she'd jumped in with both feet. And hadn't looked back.

Over the next two years, as her goal and purpose solidified and took hold, pretty much took over, she'd pulled back from socializing almost completely. Isolated herself to make sure she kept moving forward with what she'd stared.

One year ago, every thing had finally fallen into place in the way she'd envisioned as a child watching what almost became a riot.

Dream Chasing was and is a fully self-sustaining foundation. The cluster of six or seven farms supplied produce and products for the store fronts scattered through eight sectors of the Slums.

Prices in the store fronts were on sliding scales with a very sharp curve. The more money a person earned or had, the more they paid at check out time. The converse was true as well. The less a person had, the less they paid out of pocket. Employees were given the choice of a decent discount, or banking a select number of their pay-hours every week toward future purchases. Stock due to be rotated out, while still safe for consumption, went to either the kitchens run by the foundation to feed the most destitute and homeless, or were packed into boxes and set out front on long tables for free-range freebies.

Profits from the store fronts were funneled back into the Foundation. Those profits were split into two halves; the first went to the farms without which there'd be no store fronts in the first place, the second went to the centers to fund all manner of programs.

Day-care programs were not simply babysitting for the community at large. Dream Chasing's day-care included education from day one. Of course, depending on the child's age and abilities. Babes in arms were given just the right mental stimulation to keep their minds healthy and active, toddlers were guided gently both mentally and physically. Slightly older children had a more structured curriculum to give them a jump when it came time for actual school and the highly structured schedules that that entailed. The Foundation's childhood educational system would, and could take a child up through the third grade. After that time, they were often better served by a more traditional school, either public or private depending.

The Centers offered adult education as well, everything from basic reading, writing and figuring, to on the job training for any number of trades, skills, and careers. The neighborhoods around the Centers most often had their own Watch, the majority of them were trained there as well.

Rougher communities often found their neighborhood watch increased by paid security working right alongside them. Moreso since Thorn's war's conclusion.

Spaying and neutering clinics, most all of them mobile, went out every month like clock work to offer free, or greatly discounted services to communities all through the Slums. The same with mobile medical clinics for the bi-pedal denizens of those areas.

The soup kitchens operated with fresh, daily deliveries of comestibles from the farms before dawn. Lunch and dinner were served like clockwork at noon and six. The majority of the staff in the kitchens were or had been trained in the Foundation's schools or centers and were receiving on the job training credits for their time on that end. Employees received decent, though not excellent or above the line pay, on top of their training credits, and beyond the skills they were picking up by doing.

While the people who staffed each and every finger on each and every arm of Dream Chasing's endeavors were just as prone to the "human condition" as the next person, those whose intent was to use the Foundation and their connection to it to harm (in anyway) others, were not tolerated. Not at all.

Nothing was perfect, but between the efforts of the numerous staff members, of all forms, and the redneck's refusal to allow what would, or might, taint her promise to herself and her Gramma, Dream Chasing was as close as possible.

It was something that would last long past the end of her life (which was not coming any time soon). It was something that could, would, and did exist and work without large, or even moderate amounts of advertisement.

Dream Chasing was hers. It was her mark, her gift to a world where she'd finally been able to feel, and be at home.
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