Fighting poverty can change lives in Haywood

Mar 21, 2014

The large turnout at a meeting held last week to chart a course to combat poverty in Haywood County was encouraging.

Nearly every seat was filled in the large meeting room in the Haywood County Senior Resources Center. Even more significant than the large number of people in attendance was their enthusiasm for the issue.

Presentations from seven key nonprofits outlining the number of people who have received help for things like food, rent, heat and shelter took up less than an hour of the scheduled two-hour meeting.

The rest of the time that was left open for questions went quickly as person after person told what their church or organization was doing to help and suggested next steps for making a dent in the problems faced by many in the county. Even after the the meeting, small groups lingered to discuss the next steps.

One presenter, Jason Ledford, summed up the strategy well. “I think the church has let us down a little bit,” he said. “In the book of Acts, the church steps up and meets the need of people. We put a lot of emphasis on government help. It is time for the church to take care of the needs as we were called to do.”

Ledford is working with Next Step Ministries to provide transitional housing in Haywood for those released from prison. His philosphy of the faith community stepping forward to meet societal needs is one whose time has come. Government funds that began in the 1960s with President Lyndon Johnson’s war on poverty have diminished, and will likely become even more scarce.

With the 50th anniversary of the infamous poverty war now being marked, a thoughtful reflection of the effort shows much progress has been made, but there is still a long way to go.  Whether the path being charted for the next phase will be more effective is unknown.

But one thing is for certain.  In the transition, there will be individuals in our midst who will be unable to survive, let alone thrive, without our help.

The faith and nonprofit community in Haywood, with plenty of support from county and local governments, has recognized this. The subcommittees being formed as a result of last week’s meeting are structuring their efforts to provide a hand-up as opposed to a hand-out.

There are plenty of opportunities for more people to become involved. To find out more about the effort, send an email to nhonerkamp@gmail.com or pdowling@mountainprojects.org.

Those emails will go to Nick Honerkamp, the pastor at New Covenant Church in Clyde, who is currently the chairman of the board governing the Haywood Emergency Christian Shelter, and Patsy Dowling, the executive director of Mountain Projects.

Both have a real heart for people, especially those who are suffering. They have stepped up to coordinate a new approach to tackling issues underlying poverty in our midst and are to be congratulated for their leadership.

But the true measure of how well the effort will succeed depends on the 100 or so enthusiastic individuals who heeded the call for help and show all signs of stepping up to battle.

It is a battle worth fighting and one that can certainly use more help. For those with a few extra hours a week in their schedule, joining the effort is an action that promises to be fulfilling.

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