Often when I meet with groups who express an interest in either helping us do our work or in developing their own strategies for responding to the challenges of poverty, someone will say something like, "We want to do more than just 'throw money' at the problems! We really want to get involved. You know, hands on to make a real difference."
Every time I hear this sentiment, I cringe. Sometimes, depending on my mood, I challenge this thinking.
In the first place, let me be clear here, no one that I know of is "throwing money" at poverty or its presenting problems and challenges. If anything, people are extracting their funds, cutting back and trying not to spend money on the urban poor. This is true of both the public and private sectors.
Many thoughtful and committed individuals, groups, foundations, corportations and government bodies are deciding to invest their limited funds in people, groups and initiatives that make a measurable difference.
Second, there are times when hands-on involvement by outside volunteers is very helpful.
But, let's be honest here. Often when people of material means, who live outside the communities where poverty rules, talk about "making a real difference," they are unwittingly referring to the difference such involvement makes in their own lives more than in the life of an impoverished community. At their best, these desires have to do with making an authentic connection with the poor and the forces of poverty. Such connections can be transformative.
More common is the "feel good" experience of a service project--a clearly defined event with a beginning and an end.
Years ago some wag told me, "After all is said and done, more is said than done!"
I've observed the truth of this proverb in the inner city.
So, let the volunteers come. Let the projects move forward. Let's work together on mutually agreeable terms, understanding that at the end of every day much will remain to do.
And, in the mean time, let the money flow! As a matter of fact, I'm hoping someone will step up and throw all the money they can our way!
As Sister Catherine McAuley, founder of the Sisters of Mercy, said, "You can't do much good, or avoid much evil wihtout money."