Motivation for the Marketplace

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:

  1. 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 "risk."
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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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