United Way of Hall County
Where: 527 Oak St., Gainesville, P.O. Box 2656
Most of us can’t fully imagine what it’s like to be poor — not just in debt or behind on your bills, but really poor, as in lacking shelter, food, a job or a way to care for your children.
It’s often easy for those who are doing well to look past those who aren’t and blame them for their own bad decisions. And that’s sometimes the case, particularly when substance abuse is at the root of the problem. But whatever the reason, shouldn’t it be our collective goal to help them overcome it?
Though the poor have always been among us and likely always will be, we can’t give up trying to lift as many as possible into better lives, for everyone’s sake.
Local nonprofit, church and government leaders gathered Thursday at the United Way of Hall County’s annual fundraising kickoff banquet to strategize on how to put a dent in the 32,000 in Gainesville and Hall County who live below the poverty line. Like many communities, this one has many agencies and services that help the poor. The problem identified at last week’s meeting is linking those in need with the services available.
The United Way’s “One Community, One Goal” initiative begins with educating residents on how poverty that affects our neighbors has an impact on everyone. The agency looks to expand its efforts in taking on affordable housing, education, health care, economic opportunities and easing hunger.
One key part of that is a proposed resource site called the Compass Center, a one-stop shop to offer information on the help available to those who don’t know where to turn. The North Georgia Community Foundation will provide a site on Oak Street in downtown Gainesville.
“In terms of human service programs in Gainesville-Hall County, I always say the good news is that we are resource rich,” said Phillippa Lewis Moss, director of the Gainesville-Hall County Community Service Center. “But the bad news is that we also coordination poor.
“The Compass Center will make us coordination rich.”
While the United Way still will focus on its annual fundraising effort to support its partner agencies, it is looking beyond that to recruit volunteers and human power to fill and staff the center and coordinate services more effectively.
“Throwing money at something is not always the solution,” United Way President and CPO Joy Griffin said. “It takes all of us pulling together and truly collaborating.”
This push is worthwhile and needed. During the economic upheaval of the last decade, many middle-class residents lost jobs and faced foreclosures. It became clear poverty doesn’t always strike those who drop out of school or make bad decisions; it also can affect those with an education or skills that suddenly aren’t in demand. That sudden loss of income and the lack of an effective safety net put many behind and unable to catch up.
The cycle of poverty is hard to break. Parents struggling to feed their children can’t fully support their efforts in school. Some who have jobs can’t find or afford child care. The challenge is helping those who can’t get a foothold work their way out of poverty with the specific resources they need, be it housing, food, job training, substance abuse treatment, health care or child care.
Many agree dealing with poverty is best handled at the local level. Massive federal programs like the Great Society of the 1960s began with good intentions and had some effect, but also created huge bureaucracies and budget deficits that were impossible to maintain. And in some cases, the pipeline of federal handouts created a dependency from which many struggled to wean themselves.
The goal of local nonprofits is to give people food, shelter and basic human needs that can again turn them into productive neighbors. When they aren’t, there’s a price for all to pay. When everyone who seeks a job can find one, the local economy will be more productive and the negative influences of crime and substance abuse won’t overtax public safety efforts. When children are well-fed and succeeding in school, they are likely to avoid the quagmire of social horrors that derail so many young people without an education.
Thus, donations of money and time given to the United Way and its nonprofits are an investment toward getting people into schools and jobs, out of jails and off the streets.
“I think this community has needed a catalyst to draw very productive and sincere agencies together,” said Doug Hanson, a Gainesville resident helping to create a transitional housing and workforce training program. “That’s a beautiful objective.”
No society can never eradicate poverty. And there never will be enough resources to provide for every need. But every individual who can be helped by a meal and a bed at Good News at Noon, a house from Habitat for Humanity, health care needs at a free clinic or a basket of groceries from the Georgia Mountain Food Bank’s network of pantries is a success story. And many of those who manage to get their lives on track can then return the favor and offer the same hand up for others left behind.
This should never be a political or ideological issue and should unite people from across the partisan spectrum. No one is advocating spending buckets of tax money but rather using the strength of human capital to better coordinate government, religious and private organizations to better serve those with dire needs.
That effort can fill every heart and make us even prouder of the community we continue to mold.
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