Social Change the World Needs

This Century’s Great Moral Problem

Sheryl WuDunn calls attention to the powerful positive impact helping a girl get educated can have on a village.  She shares stories of triumph and struggle.  She highlights the injustices that are perpetrated on women and girls. Then she offers opportunities for improvement.

In this blog, I want to focus on the social problems right here at home. While I am writing from the state of Louisiana, in this post I am considering home to be anywhere in the United States of America. Lest we forget, most of the issues we face are minimal as compared to much of the world.  We definitely want to pay attention to the least of these in this whole world.

Here at Home

In our own towns and states, it is in our own best interest to help the people who struggle. Excessive prisons and mass incarceration are a drain on the economy, even though they provide employment in the communities that house them.  Addiction and the underground economy of drug dealing create more violent communities. The stresses from violence ripple throughout our structure, law enforcement gets stretched, trauma units in hospitals are expensive, and the unrelenting stress of feeling unsafe is a health risk for humans. Underemployed single mothers not only do not have enough discretionary income to add to the economic well-being of your town, their teenagers are often up to no good.  Family dysfunction, loneliness and a sense of hopelessness all contribute to mental health issues.

The Common Thread

The common thread of these issues is that they impact women and children disproportionately.  Imprisoned parents mean lonely children. Drug addiction contributes to violence in many ways, including domestic violence.  Dysfunctional families are a factor in mental and behavioral health issues. Unsupervised young people are often detrimental to the community.

What’s That Got to Do With Me?

Everything.

We are our society. We are our government. Remember the Gettysburg address, “of the people for the people and by the people”? It means all of us. Sheryl WuDunn ends this TED talk with two primary reasons we should take on these issues.

Paraphrased, she says, “Once we have our material needs taken care of, one of the only things that can make us happier is contributing to a cause greater than ourselves.”

Call to Action

Privilege and responsibility are Siamese twins.

In addition to contributing to international causes (e.g. Heifer International,  Kiva, Samaritan’s Purse, UMCOR, etc.) how can you find a way to reach out in your own community?

 

Grandma Love

Imagine with me that you are a grandmother. That role is one of overwhelming love. One of the most difficult aspects of being grandma is standing back when you think your child (your grandchild’s parent) is about to make a mistake.  It is heartbreaking to anticipate the problems that you can see looming on the horizon. Your may interfere, you may not. But, whatever you do it is  pure love. Now, imagine with me that your grandson has done something reprehensible and has been incarcerated. Your grandma love might be tainted with dismay or disapproval, but love is still your default for with this beautiful amazing creature. When this child is released, the greatest need is for a place to stay. Simply a place to sleep while trying to put together a new and free life.

Well, Grandma, if you live in public housing, you can’t help your grandchild. Not that way.  Because you are specifically prohibited from harboring a person on probation or parole.

What an awful place to be.

This system is in place to protect the property of public housing and to protect the residents from being taken advantage of by predatory people. Because society’s assumption is that if a person has committed a crime, that person is a criminal. What a horrible label for someone to have to live into. Sad that some people do what’s expected.

What are our options as citizens? How can we help grandma, and this former prisoner, and still protect the property and well-being of our neighbors? One of our options is to provide housing. A halfway house is a wonderful thing. Unfortunately, there are not enough beds for everyone who is released. The rules can be difficult for some people. But, often newly released people are so accustomed to having others make their decisions that it is more difficult to be without external structure than with it.

Hope Restored in Monroe, LA has one house that is available for former prisoners who want their lives to change. Rev. Marcelle Crow conducts bible studies in the local jail and the nearby state prison. She became frustrated that she saw the same people that she had met behind bars when she went with Hope Street Ministries to feed the people living on the streets. With a small amount of money and a congregation with a huge heart, they founded a home for a few of these people.

The house has some rules, but according to one resident, “they are the sort of thing a decent person would just do.” This house only holds a few people. The need Is much greater. The requirement to actually want a life change and be willing to learn keeps some people from even trying. It can be so difficult to envision a different life!

What can we do to make homes like this more available for former prisoners?

How can we come together and support those who are doing this work?

Wrong About Addiction?

 

My experience in counseling people who have problems because of using alcohol and other drugs is that healthy social connections are incompatible with continued use.  This Ted talk shifts my personal observation.  His conclusion is that the lack of healthy social connections is the root cause of these issues. I find it a compelling idea.

What would happen if we shifted the enormous amounts of money that we spend on incarceration and law enforcement to job creation, addiction counseling, and housing support?  What if the people who have addiction issues had help with their relationships to keep families together?  Not all people who are chemically or behaviorally dependent are unemployed and homeless.  Yet, we know that continued addictive behaviors are difficult for families. Sometimes the pressures split the family down the middle. What support can we offer to those families?

But to do that, we would need to shift our attitude toward the people who are caught up in negative cycles of substance use, joblessness, and despair.  We would have to see them as people who deserve our help.

What would it take to shift these attitudes?

Top Ten Issues in our Society

    1.  Child welfare systems: Chronic underfunding, overwhelming caseloads and a crying need for services  interfere with our ability to really help those who desperately need intervention and support.  Our system damages the very families it tries to help.
    2.  Addiction recovery: Much of the excessive imprisonment in our country is related to addictions to alcohol and other drugs. Our punitive system doesn’t fund the way out of this cycle.  Do we want it to continue? Or do we deeply believe that some people who are addicted to substances don’t really deserve to be helped?
    3. Homelessness–affordable housing:  When we have many citizens living on the streets, it is an indication of a lack of care in our world.  There are as many reasons for homelessness as there are people who are suffering.  Sometimes the people who are without a roof over their head are working. However, wages can be very low, and inexpensive housing is rare.
    4. Job readiness training:  Many times people do not learn basic job skills in their formal education. Without a caring person to teach the basics, young people falter and have difficulty holding a job.  A cycle of unemployment, disenchantment, and negative behavior will ensue.  We have to find a way for people caught in that negative spiral to find a way out.
    5. Healthcare access: Our current system has made some impact. However, a large segment of people cannot afford to pay the premiums for the insurances that are available. They have no recourse for consistent health care.
    6. Mental health recovery: There are many things that can help people who experience life in a way that does not serve them.  Depression, bipolar disorder, addictions, and schizophrenia all are treatable conditions. Access to help is lacking.  We need to let go of the stigma that surrounds mental health issues and create ways to surround people with the healing power of love.
    7. Immigration issues: How can we address the practical negative impact of people crossing borders and working without documentation?  The impact is not just on our economy, it is that these people often work with none of the protection of legal safety practices.  They are vulnerable to unscrupulous employers who take advantage of the fear associated with their legal status.  This issue is negative all the way around.  The narrative that undocumented aliens must be sent back to the home country is too simplistic.
    8. Educational deficits:  There are schools that are failing to teach people to read and compute basic math.  What can we do to support the school and the students to make absolutely certain that each child becomes literate to the basic skills of survival in the 21st century?
    9. Drug dealing-using culture:  Criminalization of drugs has created a culture of predatory dealers, people wrapped up in addiction and a violent response to life.  How can we enter in and address the factors that contribute to this ongoing issues.
    10. Massive incarceration of people.  Our system of mandatory sentencing, get tough on crime, and zero tolerance coupled with the “War on Drugs” have increased the number of prisoners in our country.  The result is massive expenditure on imprisonment, cutting funding on recovery issues, cutting other programs.  Not to mention that we have put a large portion of a generation of parents behind bars. The price paid by the children and families and communities is tremendous.

It’s disheartening to list all of these huge, interconnected problems. Ugh. Closing my eyes and pretending that these issues have nothing to do with me is so tempting. It would be easy to think that my most pressing concern is the interest rate on my Visa. What I experience day to day in working with the population whom I serve is that these issues are present and have a tremendous impact on the lives of real people in our communities. And I know that what touches your life touches my life. We are all connected.

These issues can be impacted by policy decisions in the government offices. However, the government cannot mandate the heart to love people who experience these challenges. The government cannot meet the soulful needs for respect and hope and the belief that things can change. The greatest need we have in our communities is for people who are not experiencing these issues to stop looking down on people who need help.

What do you think? Are these the biggest domestic problems we face? What direction do you think we need to take?

Do Something! Theme Song

Do Something!

Wow! I found the theme song for this movement. Matthew West’s song illustrates exactly what I am jumping up and down about.

httpa://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b_RjndG0IX8

My mother told me that when she was a child in the middle of the great depression, people reached out and were supportive. Of course, at the time most people were struggling. The people who had “some” were so much better off than others that sharing with their neighbor seemed to be the only answer.

But, now, some of the rhetoric around poverty, homelessness, and addictions is incredibly dismissive of the real human circumstances  and societal structures that contribute to these conditions.

Did we start looking to Big Government to take care of our neighbors while we look the other way? Did we just get weary of trying to change something that we didn’t have the force to make a big difference? Did the implementation of social programs take away our desire to help? Or, has it always been a part of human nature?

In the Bible, Jesus told about interpersonal reactions that mirrored societal attitudes. The parable of the “Good Samaritan” (Luke 10:29-36) is where Jesus answers the question, “and who is our neighbor?” by showing a disdained stranger caring for an injured Israelite. That makes me wonder if ignoring the plight of the other has been part of our makeup for a long time.

I also love the little Vacation Bible School song that I learned as a child, “They will know we are Christians by our love”. I’d really like to live into that; wouldn’t you?

Hope Street Ministry

Marcelle says that when she was appointed to Reveille she prayed, “Lord, send the people that nobody else wants here to Reveille.” Her congregation is largely poor, often struggling, and wide open to sharing the love of Christ with each other. In addition, they actively seek to love their neighbor. On Sundays they go out to feed people who live with no roof and share a community meal. It may be something simple, but it is always flavored with love and grace.  The greatest thing that is offered is hope.  Hope that people care; hope that God’s love is real; hope that they are worthy. It’s a powerful ministry.

Feeding the hungry and listening to their needs planted seeds for the ministries which have blossomed from their roots in simple service.

Hope Restored

Hope Restored is a community center originally established by the congregation of Revielle United Methodist Church in Monroe, Louisiana. The church is served by Rev. Marcelle Crow, a dynamic leader with a heart for people.

Marcelle says that when she was appointed to Reveille she prayed, “Lord, send the people that nobody else wants here to Reveille.” Her congregation is largely poor, often struggling, and wide open to sharing the love of Christ with each other. In addition, they actively seek to love their neighbor. On Sundays they go out to feed people who live with no roof and share a community meal. It may be something simple, but it is always flavored with love and grace.  The greatest thing that is offered is hope.  Hope that people care; hope that God’s love is real; hope that they are worthy. It’s a powerful ministry.

Feeding the hungry and listening to their needs planted seeds for the ministries which have blossomed from their roots in simple service.

ADDRESSING THE NEEDS

The Hope Restored Community Center provides classes which people who are struggling need. Things like financial management, parenting skills, and anger management are offered in a series.  In addition, AA meets there. Recently they have partnered with another agency, Family Plus, to provide free or low-cost counseling to people who need it. They have set aside space for offices

Hope Restored has expanded its services. Now housing, job training, and support are provided for women who have been in prison before. Addictions, educational deficits and simple life management skills are all addressed. It is a loving environment that offers acceptance, love and true hope to women who truly need it. They are seeking to expand and provide a men’s shelter also.

CHALLENGES FOR REVEILLE UMC

In the floods in early March, Reveille UMC was under water. It was sad to help muck out this building which had such life in it. The annual conference of The United Methodist Church had another facility available, and the congregation simply moved there. However, it is not as close to the neighborhood where many of the participants live. It will be interesting to see and participate in the congregational renewal and enhanced purposefulness that are likely to be the fruits of this disaster.

Agencies like this are the ones we like to feature in this project.  People are pooling their resources in order to offer genuine assistance to people who are suffering. This is exactly what we would like to encourage and support.  Please let us know of other ministries, agencies or entities in North Louisiana that we might share a story about.

What’s Your Purpose?

Finding purpose

Finding purpose in our lives is an on-going quest. “Man’s Search for Meaning” by Viktor Frankl is a tiny book which has a big lesson. His description of a day in the life of a Jewish prisoner in an internment camp in Nazi Germany is visceral. The take away from the book is that a “why” is the most important element in life. People who lost their sense of purpose and meaning to their lives did not have the internal grit to survive.

Social Entrepreneurship

Social entrepreneurship is a current movement in commerce. The idea that our businesses need to have a purpose beyond financial profit has taken hold of our imaginations. The people who have begun their careers within the most recent ten years often seem to strive for making a difference in the lives of others. Pencils of Promise and Tom’s Shoes each have a mission far beyond the bottom line. Pencils of Promise is seeking to build schools in developing countries. Tom’s shoes provides simple, sturdy shoes in South America. There are numerous other organizations which have a purpose far beyond themselves. This is a powerful understanding and I celebrate it!

What about us?

But what about those of us who are just starting in our entrepreneurial journey? Do we have to travel to the developing world to get fired up about helping in another country? Is giving money the only way we can help the broken and impoverished of this world?

I believe that our purpose can be much simpler and closer to home. There are many things we can do to help in our own backyard. When we live in urban areas, there can be places which we rarely visit; the poor side of town, the ‘hood, the ghetto, call it what we may. There are pockets of the developing world right in our own backyards. In rural areas, it’s harder to sniff out those who are in dire straits, but when we pause in our striving we know they are there.

My experience is that people who are struggling for survival have many reasons for the challenges they face. Whether their reasons are internal or through systems within our society, reasons exist. If it is internal, then we are the best ones to offer assistance. We can lead and guide in shaping the thoughts and attitudes which get into a person’s way to block their path to success. Because, often we have found our own way over, around, under or through the same boulder on the road.

What do you think?

Politics: Poverty, child welfare, addiction, education, oh my!

Why Politics Can’t Do It

It’s an election year. Woo hoo. We have a bunch of people telling us what we want to hear. Whether it is a message that poor people really need to just pull themselves up by their bootstraps or that rich folks need to kick in more money, the problems are never really ours.

The Problems are Ours.

We are on this planet to help each other out. Our neighbor, whether in our community or on the other side of the world, deserves our help. As much as we deserve theirs.

If you think you don’t take help from the government, think again. You drive on paved roads. Your food is affordable because of subsidies to farmers. Did you or your children ever have a student loan? Government subsidy. Police and fire departments are operated by government entities. National, state and local parks are all government run. That’s what keeps them accessible to you and me. Because we know that if private people own these beautiful sanctuaries, they don’t necessarily want to share them with the rabble, you and me. Our mortgages are often government subsidized. The list goes on and on. We utterly depend on the government in so many ways that we are blind to it.

Responsibility

Somewhere along the line, we the people decided to abdicate our responsibility to our neighbor. It may have begun during the depression, when people were simply unable to help each other. We put government systems in place to keep people from falling through the cracks. Then, since the systems were there we thought that we had no more responsibility. It was no longer us who needed to go alongside the unwed mother and help her with the million and one decisions that must be made in raising a child. We failed to recognize that the elderly and the young are vulnerable populations and if their biological family can’t help them, then we need to step up. It became simpler to just arrest people who turn to drugs and alcohol in the despair of their lives.

The Truth

The truth is, the government makes a really lousy parent. The system doesn’t work for the human beings that it is meant to serve. Foster care truly does help some youth. However, there are plenty that are damaged again and again through moving from placement to placement. What our society needs is strong family units. How can we go alongside families and help them to be stronger? Especially when they don’t seem to want our help? How do we protect children from neglectful and abusive parents PLUS help the family get stronger? How do we support foster families? How do we intervene in the drug culture? How do we turn around the high imprisonment rate in this country? What about education? Is there a way we can help young people learn to read and to do simple math?

The Solutions

This is just the slightest glimpse at the magnitude of our societal woes. The truth is, overwhelm is the only appropriate initial response. None of us can do everything. All of us can do something. What’s your passion? Literacy? How about finding one four year old and help them to learn to love books. Is it hunger? Help a poor neighborhood find a spot and plant a community garden. Maybe you have a passion for abused and neglected teenagers. What about becoming a foster parent? Too much commitment? How about a mentor at a Boys and Girls Club? Tell me, what’s your passion? How would you like to add meaning to your one precious life that you’ve been given?

The Roots of Child Welfare Issues

THE ISSUES

In order to know who to talk to and what to look for, I have begun reading more about the issues. The Child Welfare system, Foster Care, and other state agencies and efforts are in response to an even more awful reality. The roots of the problems with families are buried deeply in poverty and violence. Political oppression, lack of opportunity, sex trade, the drug culture and communities blanketed with hopelessness all play a part in this weight pulling down our communities.

HOPE
Yet, there is hope!
“A Path Appears: Transforming Lives, Creating Opportunity” is written by Nicholos D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn.

This book details non-profit efforts in agencies throughout the world. But, it is not just about a feel good, let’s see what is possible. The authors also detail efforts to measure the impact that the projects have on the future of the people served. One project is led by an MIT professor, Dr. Esther Duflo. She experiments on different initiatives and helps us to know what actually helps (P. 35-41). The danger in feel good projects is that they can cost a lot of money and have limited effect on actually helping people.

Overall the book is optimistic that our drive to make a difference in the lives of others is a powerful force for good in our world. The problems of our society are challenging. Yet, the human desire to make a difference for others is a spark of hope in this world.