Alleviating Poverty… through sharing, engaging and collaborating
by Cynthia E. White
In 2010 in the United States 46.2 million people lived in poverty, the largest number in 52 years. Poverty can be defined as “state of being poor: the state of not having enough money to take care of basic needs such as food, clothing, and housing.” The Presbyterian Church (USA) through Self-Development of People (SDOP) is supporting efforts aimed at alleviating poverty throughout the United States and in countries around the world, by sharing the good news, engaging in partnerships, and working collaboratively with communities.
In Dallas, Texas where the overall rate of poverty is 18.5% with 26.6 percent of children living in poverty, a family of 4 with an income of $22,314 is considered to be living in poverty. The National SDOP Committee met with church leaders and young adults from Grace Presbytery to look at ways to increase the Presbyterian Church’s involvement in economically poor, oppressed and disadvantaged communities in Dallas and Ft.Worth. The concern and willingness to get involved was tremendous. The young adults enthusiastically agreed among themselves to begin forming a SDOP Committee in Grace Presbytery.
At the Stew Pot, an outreach ministry of First Presbyterian Church Dallas, grass root groups came together to share a meal and to learn how together they and SDOP could address the many
issues affecting their community.
In Rocky Mount, NC where 17.9 percent of the population lives in poverty a gathering was planned by a Team from Salem, The James and New Hope Presbyteries; Synod of Mid-Atlantic Women of Color; and national SDOP Committee member and staff to engage Presbyterians and communities of need in conversations on lessening poverty in their area. Joining in the conversation were people from a variety of grass root groups in the region. The gathering began with worship led by The Reverend Dianna Wright from Salem Presbytery at the Bassett Center, a residential transitional center for homeless families. The Presbytery of New Hope and area congregations are very much involved in this Center’s ability to operate. The following are stories of transformation shared by the community partners:
Vanessa a breast cancer survivor as well as a recovering alcoholic and drug addict talked about opening her house to women recovering from many of the ills of society such as addictions, incarceration, and domestic violence.
The Lighthouse currently has 8 residents. Ruth from Iowa moved to Rocky Mount to be closer to family. Things just didn’t work out, she found herself living in her car with her two cats after suffering from a stroke. Ruth has a Master’s Degree in education and sociology. She was a well-established educator in Iowa but could not find work in NC. Being at the Lighthouse has given her the opportunity to go back to school, this time concentrating in the medical field. Kenya, a seamstress, found out her husband was molesting her daughter. This was just one of the many horrible situations she found herself in that pushed her to leave Baltimore. In Rocky Mount she found the Lighthouse. Tina, a member of the Women of Color Committee from the Presbytery of Western North Carolina will be sending Kenya lots of material that she has but is not using so that she can continue to utilize her talents.
All of the women at the Lighthouse pay to maintain the house, if they have no money they contribute in other ways. They do not look at the Lighthouse as a transitional house, for them it is home.
Tillery, North Carolina is located in Halifax County. It is home to 1,200 residents. In North Carolina, Halifax County has the most households with substandard or no in-door plumbing. It is the 4th poorest county in the state. Gary Grant, the Executive Director of Concerned Citizens of Tillery (CCT) shared the difficulties of organizing in a rural community, yet CCT has been doing just that since 1978. Their mission is “to promote and improve the social, economic, and educational welfare of the citizens of Tillery and the surrounding area through the self-development of its members.” On religion they say “We have the understanding that the church is not only for saving souls, but for saving communities. We love the Lord and show it by loving our fellow man.”
Naeema Muhammad from the North Carolina Environmental Justice Network and Steve Wing, from the University of North Carolina’s School of Public Health led a workshop on environmental injustices and its impact in communities of color; Ginger Candelara and Miguel Rodriquez shared how Mano al Hermano is transforming the Outer Banks into a welcoming community for Hispanics. Mano al Hermano (MAH) is a young Latino nonprofit whose roots began as a spinoff organization of the Interfaith Community Outreach (ICO) in November of 2011.
MAH was founded to help eliminate the struggles and fears faced by many of the local Latino families by helping them to navigate the myriad of systems and cultural challenges. Their vision is to overcome prejudice so that all might be judged by character not the color of their skin or where they come from.
Presbyterians across the Synod of Mid-Atlantic were an integral part of the gathering. They included The Reverend Peter A. Bynum from First Presbyterian Church, Rocky Mount; The Reverend George Goodman, Interim Associate Presbyter, Salem, Presbytery; The Reverend Lakesha Bradshaw, Associate Pastor for Christian Education, Silver Spring Presbyterian Church, one of the fastest growing churches in the denomination; and Mr. Lamar Lockhart from Presbytery of The James. West Haven Presbyterian Church hosted the event, with John Etheredge the chairperson of the New Hope SDOP Committee and the National Committee South Task Force Chairperson serving as facilitator.
The coming together of these different communities was inspirational.
In the Synod of the Trinity chairpersons of six SDOP Presbytery Committees (Pittsburg, West Virginia, Kiskiminetas, Donegal, Philadelphia, and Lehigh) and the Synod Committee along with SDOP National Committee members and staff came together to explore ways of reaching out to congregations and Presbyteries; they looked at creative ways of promoting and interpreting the One Great Hour of Sharing offering and the SDOP ministry; and ways of engaging in partnership with communities of economically poor, oppressed and disadvantaged people .
The Committees looked at ways of working collaboratively as they strive to alleviate poverty in the region.
These are two examples of the Presbyterian Committee on the Self-Development of People assisting the Presbyterian Church (USA) in its biblical obligation to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.
Take the ‘Poverty Tour’ (http://bcove.me/vxiauara) and visit the Poverty Map (http://www.povertyusa.org/the-state-of-poverty/poverty-map-state/) to learn more about poverty in the United States. Though these tools are from the Catholic Campaign for Human Development the information is relevant to the work of SDOP and the struggles of our community partners. To learn more about the work of SDOP visit our website at www.pcusa.org/sdop or contact the office at 1-800-728-7228, ex. 5782. To help SDOP in our mission of alleviating poverty donate at http://www.presbyterianmission.org/give/E051602/