We realized our old methods of helping were not really providing people with the help they truly needed. In fact, some of our solutions were creating problems because they made people dependent on us.
Church: Green Acres Baptist Church, Tyler, TX
Pastor: Dr. David O. Dykes
Initiative: East Texas Cornerstone Assistance Network
What is one thing your church has had success with in the local community?
We have completely revamped our method of helping people in poverty. Instead of operating a clothes closet, a utility payment program and a soup kitchen, we now operate an 8,000 square foot store, a meals program, which provides jobs, as well as food and a jobs program that allows people to pay their bills themselves.
How did you recognize this need?
After our Mission's Committee, led by our Minister of Missions, Dale Pond, read When Helping Hurts by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert and Toxic Charity by Robert Lupton we realized our old methods of helping were not really providing people with the help they truly needed. In fact, some of our solutions were creating problems because they made people dependent on us.
Who is it reaching?
We are reaching people who are ready to transform their lives out of poverty. We are also reaching middle-class families who, without some short-term help, would fall into poverty .
How is it impacting the community and strengthening your church?
The community is being provided with an alternative to the free handout, which develops dependence. They are now being offered the chance to help themselves and embrace independence.
Our church is learning that helping the poor is about empowering those in poverty to do things for themselves, rather than presenting ourselves as the great solution to all their woes.
The handout system leaves the giver feeling good about themselves ("I worked in a soup kitchen at Thanksgiving") and the receiver feeling bad about themselves. As a church, we are growing stronger as we discover it is far better to set up a system, which allows the person in poverty to say, "I provided Thanksgiving dinner for myself and my family."
What did you start out trying to do, and what, if anything changed?
We started out knowing we had to quit enabling people who had grown dependent on us. We were not sure what the new model would look like, but we knew it would involve participation by the person receiving the help.
How does your solution work?
The first thing we transformed was our clothes closet. It was a small, dimly lit part of a church gymnasium where people could come four times a year and receive limited amounts of clothing. Now we operate an 8,000 square foot brightly lit store with more than 13,000 high quality clothes where shirts and blouses are only $2.00, shoes are $5.00, blue jeans and dresses are $4.00.
Switching to The Store model has made two significant changes:
- It has required us to treat the clients as customers. People are no longer greeted with, "Please show us your ID and a Social Security card for any children you claim to have, then have a seat, we will call you when it is your turn." Now they are greeted with, "Welcome to The Store at Cornerstone, how can we help you today?"
- It has become an avenue of restoring dignity to the people in poverty. Previously, when a client left the clothes closet and his little girl said, "Thank you Daddy for my new shoes," a little bit of that dad died inside because he had not provided those shoes for his child. Now when he leaves The Store at Cornerstone and his daughter says, "Thank you Daddy for my new shoes," he smiles and says, "You're welcome." The dignity of the fathers and mothers is being restored as Cornerstone makes it possible for people in poverty to meet their own needs, as opposed to having others step in and meet their needs.
In addition to our store we operate a food ministry, a case management program and a jobs program.
What steps did you take to start it, or how could someone start doing a similar ministry?
The first step is to realize that helping others is not about making the donor feel good about themselves, it is about empowering people to live their own lives independently.
Second, you need to find a need not currently being met by other churches or nonprofits in your area.
Third, you step out on faith with a deep commitment to truly helping others by requiring them to take steps to help themselves.
What did you learn that you'd like to share with others who may try to start something similar?
We learned that, if given a choice, many people in poverty will embrace the chance to change their own lives rather than live a life dependent on the handouts of others .