Sunday, September 29, 2013
Have you ever imagined “What if?” John Lennon did in his classic song “Imagine” and it propelled a generation to imagine a life that could be better.
Imagine with me if you will, a community where the unemployed gain dutiful employment thereby empowering their children to break the cycle of generational poverty? “What if” there was no poverty in East Cooper, where 48 percent of our rural neighbors are the working poor? “What if” we were able to create opportunities for the 15 percent of our neighbors who live 200 percent below the federal poverty guidelines? And, “what if” the national poverty rate, which has increased by 2.5 percent since the recession began, actually declined because communities all over the country rallied together to find practical solutions to this dilemma?
In the aftermath of Hurricane Hugo, Monsignor James Carter led his parish, Christ Our King Catholic Church, to help victims with food and clothing. He realized there was an underserved population of neighbors who struggled to make ends meet. Under the Monsignor’s leadership, several churches of varying denominations joined hands to provide relief to those in need of assistance. The desire to continue to improve the circumstances of struggling neighbors led these original church leaders to ask “what if” thereby forming an organization to continue the work that had begun in response to a catastrophic event. The answer to their “what if” was the formation of East Cooper Community Outreach (ECCO). A dental clinic was formed to help those who had abscessed teeth, and programs were added to help with prescription assistance, financial literacy, goal setting and GED completion.
The word ‘If’ can conjure up a lot of meanings. In many cases it reflects uncertainty. But in the New Testament, Philippians 2 contains four “if” statements. Those “ifs” do not express doubt but confidence. The Greek wording used here actually expresses a certainty — “If such-and-such is true then I know this will happen with confidence …” The “ifs” of the verse express truths that the Philippians would confidently agree to.
In the spirit of the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Philippians, the ECCO board has asked, “What if?” “What if” we, as a community, dream bigger and form strategic partnerships to strengthen the lives of our neighbors in poverty? ECCO staff, the board, our volunteer team and community supporters believe we are accountable to use the God-given resources we have been granted to empower people to overcome the barriers which keep them from living up to their true potential.
Our vision is to eliminate poverty in the East Cooper region. In keeping with our mission, ECCO launched a community based program called ECCO Works. This program teaches individuals the basics of how to find a job and keep it in order to advance in their careers. A week of classes will teach the expectations of the workplace, conflict resolution, resume writing and conduct mock interviews. After a career assessment, individualized plans are made including addressing the barriers they may face. Upon graduating, ECCO’s job coach will work with graduates for a year in order to monitor their success, enhance their job performance and continually assist them with developing long-term goals. The job coach will help the graduate understand the supervisor’s position. The graduate will continue to be cared for and undergirded with ECCO’s wide array of services and resources. We will not stop asking ourselves “What if…”, and we remain grateful to all of our neighbors who dare to imagine a better, stronger, and healthier community.
Jack Little is the executive director of East Cooper Community Outreach.