Sunday, November 3, 2013
The Thanksgiving season is just around the corner. The sacred hymn, “We Gather Together,” is treasured by many. It is about gathering together to ask the Lord’s blessing. Gathering together with family is a cherished time for all. Gathering together provides a time to reunite, renew our love for one another and strengthen the commitment for what the future holds. And for us at East Cooper Community Outreach, we gather together to give thanks to our many partners throughout the year.
Our vision at ECCO is to bring the East Cooper community together to eliminate poverty in our area. Our challenge is to gather the community together to address the root causes of poverty and the barriers that shackle people living below the poverty line. However, ECCO cannot do it alone. It is inspiring to report that individuals, churches and other organizations are becoming more and more engaged to join in this battle. We are very thankful for these many partners who stand beside us in this difficult mission.
One of the many barriers that our clients face is a lack of education. A high school education or GED is essential to succeed in our world today. For three years, we have been the sole location in East Cooper for GED preparation classes and testing for residents aged 21 and up. Unfortunately, our growing education and empowerment programs have caused a space problem, so we are now conducting GED classes at Trident Tech in Mount Pleasant. Dean Mike Patterson, of Trident Technical College, has entered an agreement with ECCO and Charleston County Adult Education and has opened the arms of their campus to house our GED classes. “Gathering together” has been illustrated by the new partnership we have with both of these fine institutions and we are thankful to them for their important efforts.
Another great example of our community gathering together is through the Out of Poverty Initiative we began five years ago. After completing surveys in the settlement communities, our study committee comprised of both community residents and ECCO staff, learned that the five most common needs in these areas are access to health care, affordable housing, neighborhood preservation, mentoring for young children and home repairs.
When committee member, Al Jenkins, heard these results, he went to his church, Mount Pleasant Presbyterian, and rallied them to address the opportunity of mentoring young children. The church invited Greater Goodwill AME Church and together created a ministry called “I-Beam.” Today, through East Cooper Ecumenical Network (ECEN), eight churches are involved in mentoring more than 150 elementary aged children.
And now we embark on our annual Thanksgiving meal distribution. Many of our neighbors unite to provide full Thanksgiving meals, pumpkin pie and all. As our shelves begin filling up with all the fixings needed for a traditional Thanksgiving meal, we find that we are the thankful ones. Last year, ECCO was able to provide more than 450 meals to families who would not have had one. And this was all because of the community gathering together to donate groceries. Our clients were so thrilled that many of these neighbors even gave a small donation back to ECCO to help others. This community effort enables these families in need to gather together in celebration of this special holiday. And the circle of giving thanks gathers strength.
Individuals, churches, schools and non-profits. It takes unselfish motives and community pride to gather together and address the needs of a community. As we enter into the Thanksgiving season, let us all gather together…
Jack Little is the executive director of East Cooper Community Outreach.