Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Value proposition #1

For years now here at Central Dallas Ministries (CDM), we have operated with a number of philosophical principles in mind as we do our work. I think it is a very good exercise to revisit these principles from time to time in a very deliberate and intentional manner. At the request of a team member here, I will be posting on these "corporate values" over the next few weeks.

CDM Value Proposition #1: We believe in the ability of people to solve their own problems when given access to opportunity and resources.

One lesson I've learned well across the years is that low-income people are not stupid, lazy or lacking in creativity or native skills. In fact, I've observed that stupidity, laziness and a lack of creativity or skill are personal characteristics that are spread across the entire socio-economic continuum at about the same depth. To use a familiar term from my neighborhood, no one group of people has a monopoly on being "sorry."

A corollary lesson is equally clear to me: people don't need me as much as I sometimes think they do. What people really need is not help so much as hope. Hope comes with fair access to opportunity and resources for living.

People need to play on a level playing field. People need respect. People need friendship. We all need an occasional round of applause. People need entree and introductions and positive recommendations/references.

So many stories come to mind just here.

I remember years ago a woman came to our Resource Center with an electric bill that needed to be paid. We were out of funds at the time. The volunteer from our community who visited with her informed her that we had no funds available.

But, she made a suggestion to the woman. She told her to go to our little Thrift Store in the back of our building and take advantage of the big sale that was underway. At the time you could buy a large garbage bag of clothing for $1.00--all the clothes you could stuff into a bag! Our volunteer counselor, herself a poor woman, went on to suggest a yard sale to help raise the needed funds.

As I recall, the woman with the utility bill had $4.00. She bought four bags of clothing. She took the used clothes home, washed and ironed them and organized a yard sale at her house. About two weeks later she returned to report the outcome of her venture to the person who gave her the idea. The sale had produced more than enough to cover the $80.00 utility bill. The neighbor with the now paid bill was ecstatic. Before she left, she purchased more clothing!

This woman didn't need us to help her pay the bill really. What she really needed was a plan that she could execute successfully. Our counselor understood that.

Across the years we have employed men and women from our community to work in various positions from Community Health Services to the After School Academy to the Resource Center to the LAW Center to General Administration. Relatively unskilled, heretofore low-income workers fill important positions here at CDM.

Access to opportunity is the key, not being "helped."

We've observed the same phenomenon recently among our Destination Home participants. These are men and women who move from the streets of Dallas directly into decent, high-quality housing that we provide. Certainly, we are providing these great folks a bit of a "hand up," but they in turn are partnering with us to create a workable, healthy community.

We've seen it among the students we train in construction and hazmat remediation skills for the building trades. We've noticed it in our SAT prep classes for high school students, as well as in our scholarship programs.

In short, people don't need me as much as I might like to think. What they need is a chance.



Daniel Gray said...

I'm glad you're putting these out there, and #1 is a great start. I'll look forward to seeing the rest of these values. (Might even be good to provide a bookmark link to these on the side, once the series is finished.)

Anonymous said...

Never do for someone what they can do for themselves. (Restatement or corollary?)

Larry James said...

Anon, the "iron rule" of community organizing!

Anonymous said...

Therein lies the razor's edge of community organizing: determining what people can do for themselves, and when they do need help.