ECCO unites to overcome poverty

  • Tuesday, May 13, 2014

It takes a united community to solve community problems. In “The Solution Revolution,” authors William Eggers and Paul Macmillan state that a “community problem can be solved when multiple organizations come together and unravel the answers which address the obstacles which prevent the problem's solution.” It's interesting their statement did not include the government in helping solve issues. In East Cooper, a lot of progress has been made towards the fight against poverty. Over the last several years, churches and nonprofit organizations, individuals, neighborhoods and businesses, have improved collaborative efforts to address the root causes of poverty.

In 2008, East Cooper Community Outreach (ECCO) established a vision of eliminating generational poverty in our surrounding areas. The next year, ECCO met with leaders of Mount Pleasant's settlement communities and conducted a survey to discover the needs and the opportunities of these neighborhoods. The results included access to healthcare, affordable housing, mentoring for children, and home repairs. Today, these are being addressed by churches, schools, businesses and other organizations.

After hearing these results, Al Jenkins led his church, Mount Pleasant Presbyterian, to pioneer a mentoring program for children in the second through third grades. It was learned through Karen Felder, principal at Jennie Moore Elementary, that if a child cannot read by the end of the third grade, he or she will never catch up with reading skills and will most likely drop out of school before graduating high school. In three years, some mentors are following the first group of children into middle school. The East Cooper Ecumenical Network (ECEN) promoted the mentoring idea to their member churches. The churches who responded include Hibben Methodist, Christ our King, Christ Church, Seacoast, Mount Pleasant Presbyterian, St. Paul's, Greater Goodwill AME, Point Hope United Methodist and First United Methodist (IOP). Currently, the more than 200 mentors are volunteering at four Mount Pleasant elementary schools, Jennie Moore, James B. Edwards, Whitesides and Belle Hall, for 160 students. Results show the majority of the students improved their reading skills, self-esteem and even increased the student's enthusiasm for learning.

Another big breakthrough has been that churches in the ECEN, led by David McNair, began a united effort to repair housing and add wheelchair ramps for our most venerable residents. This continues to be a significant need for our low-income neighbors. There are so many homes occupied by families lacking the resources required to make these major and minor repairs, which undoubtedly lessens their quality of living.

ECCO is currently working with leaders of Awendaw-McClellanville and Cainhoy/Wando/Huger. Both areas have longstanding neighborhood associations. Neighborhood groups are being involved in solving issues to advance the residents of their communities. Food and clothing are not at the top of their needs list. Medical, dental, computer literacy and career readiness are their most urgent needs. They recognize their community will progress when their neighbors pursue education and careers relevant to today's world.

Our community corporations and businesses are getting involved through volunteering and providing financial support. These include Trident United Way, BlueCross BlueShield, Boeing, Nucor, Roper St. Francis Healthcare, BI-LO, Bank of America, CMMC, Daniel Island Community Fund, MUSC, Lexus of Charleston, Royall Hardware, First Federal, BB and T Wealth, TD Bank and so many more. ECCO relies on these funders and the generosity from individuals in the community to provide financial support for each resident's pilgrimage to self-sufficiency.

Churches plus schools plus individuals plus businesses and other organizations. It's been said, “It takes a village to raise a child.” In a much larger viewpoint, it takes a community, not the government, to solve community issues. This is accomplished when community members unite and offer their unique resources. East Cooper is a prime example of how this is working.

Jack Little is executive director of East Cooper Community Outreach.

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