Beyond Charity to Community-Building
Congress and the President continue their battle over
welfare reform. Regardless of which side wins, life for poor
people in America will change dramatically during the next
decade. States likely will receive "Block grants" to
develop their own, locally-mandated programs of social uplift.
Local leaders will be expected to step up to the challenge of
solving problems associated with unemployment, poverty, drug
abuse, and fatherless children.
Interestingly, as Congress tightens the national belt in an
effort to balance the federal budget, church members tighten
their grip on contributions to locally-controlled efforts to
assist people in need. Recently, D Magazine painted a rather
dismal portrait of the giving habits of the wealthiest churches
in Dallas to help the needy (December 1995). Ed Housewright,
staff writer with the Dallas Morning News, followed with an
equally discouraging analysis of charitable giving among churches
nationwide, "Less than a penny. That's how much of each
dollar the average churchgoer gives to church
benevolence..." Housewright noted, quoting from a study
conducted by empty tomb, a research organization headquartered in
Champaign, Illinois (December 23, 1995).
Placing blame, railing against greedy, hypocritical
Christians or continuing business as usual in the face of the
truth about the poor and the current national mood regarding
their plight seems counter-productive. The nation longs for a
fresh, creative vision for tackling a persistent problem.
What can honest, community-minded, compassionate citizens do
to make a difference in the lives of economically disadvantaged
men, women and children? Here's a beginning list of what the
inner-city is teaching me about this pressing challenge:
- Get to know, really know, a poor person. Stereotypes
vanish in the face of personal knowledge and experience.
Fear Flees. Of course, this first step will cost you
time, effort and some inconvenience. You'll need to find
a venue for involvement-an inner-city church, a service
center, a labor hall or shelter. Some affluent people
actually move into poorer neighborhoods. Take the
- Hire a poor person. Business owners hold the key to
unlocking a brand new world in this nation for the
unemployed poor. As your new friendship develops, you
will discover most poor people want to work. Be prepared
and willing to put up with the unique problems associated
with employing the urban poor. Transportation, illness,
children, clothing...these issues will present challenges
to you as an employer. Open your mind for the sake of
allowing someone to grow, change and move up.
- Support non-profits that focus on community-building,
empowerment, and work rather than charity alone. Charity
traps everyone in an old paradigm of dependence and low
self-esteem. Community-building means we grow together as
partners and friends while working to solve common
problems in our neighborhoods. Find a group interested in
training people for work in an exciting and threatening
technological world. Volunteer in a tutoring program for
children. Work in an emergency shelter or food
distribution program that includes the involvement of
poor people in leadership and service.
- See the problem as your problem rather than "their
problem". Recognize as community members, we're all
in this together. What happens to a poor, African
American second grader in South Dallas affects you and
your children in Richardson or Plano. Solutions will
follow when we view a growing social threat as our common
challenge. Local solutions mean local involvement.
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