Volunteers urged to ‘reimagine charity’

Staff and volunteers from local service agencies took part in a discussion during the “Reimagine Charity” seminar held at St. Gabriel Church, 5505 Bardstown Road, Nov. 4. (Record Photo by Ruby Thomas)

Staff and volunteers from local service agencies took part in a discussion during the “Reimagine Charity” seminar held at St. Gabriel Church, 5505 Bardstown Road, Nov. 4. (Record Photo by Ruby Thomas)

By Ruby Thomas, Record Staff Writer

Most charities help people in need through “one-way giving,” where nothing is expected of the individuals receiving assistance.

This model eventually hurts both the organization and the client by leading the needy to dependence and the giver to resentment, said Jim Wehner, who spoke to about 80 volunteers and staff members of local service agencies Nov. 4.

Wehner, president of the Atlanta-based Focused Community Strategies, asked his listeners to “reimagine charity” during a seminar he gave at St. Gabriel Church.

The seminar asked participants to consider how they can serve people in need while both honoring the client’s dignity and avoiding dependence.

Three local service groups sponsored the event — Catholic Charities of Louisville, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul and area community ministries. Participants included employees and volunteers of those agencies, members of local parishes and CLOUT (Citizens of Louisville Organized and United Together).

Wehner’s non-profit focuses on building up under-resourced

neighborhoods by forming partnerships with residents.

The key to changing the one-way giving model, he said, is learning to differentiate between two types of needs — crisis need and chronic poverty.

A crisis need requires emergency relief, while chronic poverty requires development — a more sustained intervention, explained Wehner.

When a chronic need is addressed with emergency intervention, “people are harmed,” he said.  “We can’t serve people out of poverty.”

Wehner gave his listeners several principles to help guide their work. Among them were:

n Mutuality — Takes into account how those being served are affected. It reminds those serving to ask clients about their needs.

“We assume because we have the access and means that we have the answers,” said Wehner, adding, those serving should ask the needy how it feels to be served by the program.

n Participation — This principle asks “how are we asking recipients to engage in the program?” Wehner said, noting that everyone has something to give.

n Holistic — Poverty has to be looked at in a holistic manner that resists “simplistic or piecemeal approaches,” he said. Oftentimes, the perception of the needy is based on limited information. Building a relationship with the people that are being served helps to create “strong partnerships” that can have “great impact,” he said.

n Mind — Those serving the needy have to “do more than touch hearts,” Wehner said. “Engaging the mind alongside the heart” can lead to ideas that benefit those being served.

Moving from a model of service that provides relief to one that considers the long-term development of the needy is not easy, noted Wehner. The important thing is to start somewhere, he said.

Ursuline Sister Michelle Intravia of Catholic Charities’ Sister Visitor Center participated in the seminar. She noted that Sister Visitor has been trying to do more to lift its clients out of poverty.

But these efforts aren’t easy and often encounter problems that derail the effort, she said.

For instance, the center partnered with UPS to provide job training for clients. Only about 15 people ended up with jobs at UPS, she said. Finding childcare for their children derailed the opportunity for some participants, said Sister Intravia. 

Sister Visitor Center is now working on a partnership with Dare to Care Food Bank that would allow its clients to purchase meat and frozen vegetables at the center, located at 2235 West Market St., said Sister Intravia.

Lisa DeJaco Crutcher, the chief executive officer of Catholic Charities of Louisville, said the agency is beginning a process to consider “the outcome and not just the output” of its work.

Wehner’s message “will be valuable as we consider how we do what we do,” said DeJaco Crutcher during an interview Nov. 4. Learning better ways of serving the needy should be a community effort, she said. “We need to be involving the Catholic community as a whole. There should be some understanding and buy-in as to how we do what we do.”

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