Friday, May 02, 2008

The capacity is in the community

The goal of inner city ministry is to help a community. "Helping" can be defined differently depending on the organization. Some believe that Christianity is the foundational principle so they focus on Bible studies and Christian principles. Others believe that equipping people with skills is important so they focus on life skills training, job skills, academic preparation, among other things. Some are a combination of the two.

Over the last several months, we have run into some situations that make me wonder if we should begin focusing our efforts differently and how to go about doing that.

Through Sylvia's efforts with our Educational Outreach Center, we have found that people want jobs. Yet, when we have tried to hire people for jobs at our After-School Academy, we continuously run into obstacles. Some can't pass a drug test...some don't have a driver's license...some have outstanding tickets that have turned into warrants for their arrest...some don't communicate well and try to show up to orientation on their own time schedule...some decide what part of the job is important and put in half-hearted effort.

The barriers are often deeper than just finding someone a job.

People can advocate for change in their community, but unless they get help for their drug issues, they won't be able to get...or maybe keep...a job, which affects the economic viability of the community. Sometimes it's financial issues where people may want to make a change but they have made a bad decision or two in the past to ignore a ticket or an outstanding loan because they didn't have the $300 to pay at the time and it continues to exponentially increase. Sometimes people make bad decisions, but then want to change...but because of their past decisions, their obstacles seem insurmountable.

What we're beginning to find is that the real problem is not just helping people find jobs…it’s helping people deal with drug habits so they can maintain a job. It’s not just getting them to a point of making more money, it’s helping them learn how to manage what little money they currently have and begin paying off some of the things that may have accumulated because of past decisions. It’s not just getting them a car, it’s helping them to get a license and work with them to make sure when they get a car, they understand all of the financial costs associated--like insurance and driver's license--so that if/when they do get a ticket, it’s not multiplied by getting extra tickets for no insurance, no license, etc. It’s helping people understand that although they may not feel they have the money now to pay off their ticket, their credit card, their loan, etc., it only multiplies over time so they need to get started now (or don’t take on that expense in the first place) in order to save them money later.

Though it can be extremely frustrating, I continue to tell myself that these things take time. I continue to focus our efforts on hiring people within the community, because I know that there are good people out there who simply need an opportunity. There are others who need an opportunity as well as someone to help them work through their obstacles.

Hiring someone outside of the community who may have better organizational or communication skills and may have a squeaky clean record often seem like it would decrease my work load substantially, but it takes away the opportunity to work with a potential leader in the community. It takes away the hope that the community has the capacity right in front of them.

The quick fix is easier. Problem is, it often leads to long-term dependence.

Though the immediate relief of hiring someone who already possesses all of the skills and iniative needed for the job may seem like a great solution today, I continue to believe that the long-term solution...and belief that the capacity is in the community...is the answer.
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