Shred the net, a little personal responsibility and some churches and charities

I apologize in advance for this rant, especially since I am trying to squeeze it into my work day but I really just need to get this off my chest.

I run a small but rapidly growing faith based community center, when I took over as the chief executive in 2008 we had a total client list of maybe 100 totals. Our work was primarily concentrated with very low income youth and their families in a specific area. In the past 4 years we have grown, last year we served over 400 individuals and our clients are no longer the usual very poor folks. Nope in the past two years we have seen families from neighboring towns and counties seeking assistance and while we strive to assist all, the reality is we are stretched.

So much so that a few months ago, I had to put my foot down despite the tightness of our organizational budget and demand that my salary be adjusted as well as that of my assistant. I was working  40 hours a week for 25 hours of pay with no benefits, I still have no benefits but I am actually now paid for all my time worked.  Now I spend most of my time looking for money to keep the doors open. The plight of my agency is that of thousands of other small and mid-size agencies in the US especially  those of us outside of major urban hubs where the social services agencies are asked to do as much as our counterparts in bigger cities on a fraction of the budget that most large  urban social service agencies have.

I was thinking about this last night as I turned on the TV and stumbled on to the Ed Show where I learned that Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan thinks that the social safety net in the US is too much. Instead of federal programs such as SNAP benefits, etc., Mr. Ryan thinks that churches and charities should pick up the slack.

You may not understand how absolutely comical that is to those of us in the social services sector. In my case as a faith based agency, it is doubly comical as we have seen church ministries reduce their giving to agencies like ours because frankly churches especially those of the non-mega church status simply don’t have the money to give.

At my agency for years, the bulk of our support came from area churches and their auxiliaries but in recent years, most of our church partners don’t have it to give. Instead we have turned to private foundations and even some government support to keep our doors open. Now even that money is harder to come by at a time when the need is greater than ever so we are now looking to the business community.

This brings up a conversation I had today with a local businessman about my agency. He told he thought that while the work my agency does is good, it seems a lot of the work is what used to be done in families and essentially he is a big believer in people taking personal responsibility. Needless to say, I think we won’t be receiving any support from his organization. Granted I have heard that argument before and I am sure I will hear it again and lucky for me my first career was in sales so hearing no is something I can live with.

The problem I have is how does a child take personal responsibility when they are born into a tough financial situation? A family takes responsibility by utilizing agencies such as mine but if no one gives money, eventually places like mine shut the doors. Thankfully my agency is in no danger of shutting down but our money pressures are real and as the chief executive, it’s my duty along with my board of directors to keep that money flowing by any means necessary.

In 2012, churches and charities cannot take care of all those in need, the money is simply not there and if the government says sorry we are cutting the net, are we simply saying some people are not entitled to having a meaningful life? Sorry it sucks to be you? Are we even prepared as a nation to see the fallout if all nets were suddenly removed? Let me tell you this is the shit that keeps me up at night and as I see Romney’s poll numbers shoot up, it frightens me to think where we could be in a few short years.

Anyway back to work, I gotta do the rain dance.

Note: I usually add links when referring to articles, etc. but I am writing this while on a lunch break, so I will add the links to the Ed show later tonight.



Whose responsibility is it?

Due to the fact that I am no longer an anonymous blogger, after all in Maine it’s not as if there is a plethora of Black women working as Executive Directors of small non-profit agencies. I am about to share a story but won’t be able to fill in the back story since while I like to talk much shit, I am rather fond of the paycheck I collect a couple times a month. So I apologize that I can not get too juicy with this story but it’s a story that needs to be shared.

I run a small agency that works primarily with low income youth and their families through a variety of services that we offer. The economic downturn has increased our workload at a time when frankly the money to fund such operations especially in smaller communities is drying up. I spend my days plotting to keep the doors open so not only do the area youth have a safe space to come to but so that I can make sure that the college boy will be able to attend college in the fall and that rice and beans don’t become a staple in our house. (Nothing wrong with them, I’d just rather eat them a couple times a week and not daily)

To be honest it’s a hard time to be in the non-profit sector, it’s never been a cakewalk but in the past several years it’s gotten even harder. Which is why I was stunned to find myself in a conversation with someone who is very knowledgeable about the field tell me point blank, they just don’t understand why people cannot provide for themselves. In a nutshell this person told me they think that most poor folks are lazy bums who are coddled. Furthermore that while the work that folks like me do is good; it bugs them how much bureaucratic waste goes on at agencies. To further elaborate this person felt that too many times folks like me (but not me) get hooked on good salaries and don’t do jack. ….Ummmm, wow! I could go on but the takeaway is that there is too much governmental waste supporting bums and maybe if we stopped helping folks they would pick up their own slack.

Like I said, I’d love to give you more details but I can’t. On the other hand this conversation made me wonder what would happen if social services simply did not exist? I wish I had faith that people would suddenly do the right thing and provide for their own families but in many cases, I see people daily who lack the means to do that. Of course there are scammers, over the years I have met many people who burn out of the helping professions because frankly it gets hard to do your job when you see people work the system. But I truly feel that at the end of the day the folks who do that are in the minority, most folks who use government and social services would probably rather not use them.

In a society such as ours whose responsibility is it to take care of the less fortunate among us? Once upon a time family connections were tighter and people could rely on family for help but as our connections to family have shifted often the help is not there. Either people physically are not able to assist or in these tight times cannot afford the monetary assistance.

Should we even have safety nets (are they really that safe) in place to catch our less fortunate?

Let’s talk about it. I am not even going to discuss the assumption that folks in social services are paid too much. I can count the number of coworkers I have had in almost 15 years in this field who were only a hair above the clients financially speaking. I am convinced that no one does direct social services without it being a calling, low pay, paltry benefits for jobs that require a certain level of experience and suck the life out of you. Yeah that’s the high life baby!