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Community worker urges United Way crowd to change outlook about poor
Helping hand rather than handouts is goal, Lupton insists
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Focused Communities Strategies founder Bob Lupton speaks Sept. 7 during the annual United Way of Hall County campaign kickoff at the First Baptist Church banquet hall in Gainesville. - photo by Scott Rogers

Helping to give the less fortunate a leg up rather than a handout was a Christian community developer’s message to a Gainesville audience Thursday morning.

“If you want to change a community, the very best way of doing that is to become a part of that community, to work from the inside out,” Bob Lupton, author of “Toxic Charity,” said at the United Way of Hall County’s annual campaign kickoff.

He talked about how traditional ways of helping the poor through such efforts as a food pantry or Christmas gift giveaways, could be doing more harm than good.

Recipients initially may respond with gratitude, but as they return for handouts, their attitude may turn to entitlement and eventually dependency, he said.

He cited the response to Hurricane Katrina in August 2005 as an example.

“There are whole communities of people who are recipients of convoys of caring people from all over the country who go in loaded down with emergency supplies to minister to the victims of Katrina,” Lupton told the crowd at the First Baptist Church on Green Street.

The hurricane “created a whole victim class of people whose whole livelihood is dependent on the outpouring of compassion,” he added. “That should have stopped within six months after Katrina.”

“We have start to change our outlook about our low-income neighbors. Instead of seeing them as people in need, we need to start seeing them as people with resources, people with capacity and potential.

“We have to keep telling ourselves there is no one so poor in our community that they have nothing to contribute. Everybody has something to bring to the table.”

Lupton, founder of Focused Community Strategies in Atlanta, said his organization has dropped its “Adopt a Family” effort during Christmas in favor of “Pride for Parents.”

It’s “a program designed to provide the families in our neighborhood the opportunity to shop for their families at greatly reduced cost,” according to the FCS website.

“On Christmas morning, the parents in our community have the same joy as most parents in our culture of seeing their kids open the gifts they have purchased through the efforts of their own hands,” Lupton said.

Kay Blackstock, executive director of Georgia Mountain Food Bank, applauded Lupton’s efforts afterward but said such characterizations of the poor aren’t always cut-and-dried.

“My personal belief is there will always be people who need help,” she said. “We don’t have that high percentage cycle of dependency going on. It exists — I’m not denying that — but most of what we see is not that case.”

And for those returnees, “we have relationships with those people to know what their story is,” Blackstock said.

Also, Lupton also called for humility on the behalf of those helping the impoverished.

That requires “putting the interests of the poor above my own self-interests and that of my organization, even when it means setting aside my own agenda,” Lupton said.

Joy Griffin, United Way’s president and chief professional officer, said such “developmental work … is harder than a handout.”

“It moves us out of comfort zone,” she said. “It makes us think a little differently.”

The organization at 527 Oak St., Gainesville, emphasized poverty as part of last year’s campaign kickoff. Griffin reinforced that theme this year, talking of numbers — 32,000 Hall residents live in poverty — and United Way efforts to combat poverty.

The organization’s One Hall initiative addresses the issue from several perspectives, including affordable housing, access to health care and wellness, and accessible education.

One other key addition is the Compass Center, a clearinghouse for nonprofit resources that those in need can access for the right help.

“We’re … looking from the client’s perspective,” Griffin said. “We’re putting the client in that conversation. We’re listening.”

United Way of Hall County

Address: 527 Oak Street, Gainesville, GA 30501, P.O. Box 2656, Gainesville, GA 30503

Phone: 770-536-1121

“We have start to change our outlook about our low-income neighbors. Instead of seeing them as people in need, we need to start seeing them as people with resources, people with capacity and potential."
Bob Lupton, founder of Focused Community Strategies in Atlanta
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