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  • Jack H. Bender

Jay Van Groningen, Part 2

Jay Van Groningen is a Holland resident who walks the talk and has a great deal of experience in community building and helping others move out of poverty. Today, in Part 2, Jay shares some of the things that he’s learned on his journey:

Seminary training seldom includes an emphasis on social justice. It rarely stresses a model of listening and response to social justice issues.

Since church leaders are often focused on the existential concern of saving souls and may have little training in eliminating poverty as well, partnering with an NGO is a good way for a church to maintain a social justice element.

We are often non-reflective. We don’t ask why we have been giving food to the same family for twenty years.

Churches can change fairly easily, but can they move people out of poverty? While working 1:1 with those experiencing poverty, churches rarely attempt to build a community that can carry its group members out of poverty.

Philanthropists rarely look for groups to support with the above orientation. Even if they do, their distance from and lack of contact with the community deprive them of critical learning.

We sort each other out through housing.

Housing and good jobs go together.

We have to keep the marginalized front and center. Our job is to add our voice to theirs.

Relationships are how you move from charity to justice. You develop a passion for justice because of the relationships, learning about the gifts of others and their needs.

We must encourage people to engage with others where they live. We must help neighbors become problem solvers.

With its strong emphasis on individual freedoms, the missing piece for the elimination of poverty is “working together.” We lack hosts and hostesses in our neighborhoods that can lead change at the local level.

Relief work is important as is 1:1 improvement, but we must ask what conditions do people come from. What are the actual conditions that people live under? Their isolation is a barrier to their development. They have no community to help them dream or encourage the use of their gifts.

An important part of our work is to pull the gifts out of the people. That work contributes to the dignity of every person.

The difference between those experiencing poverty and the middle class is assets. The poor have none. The middle class have assets that help them overcome car repairs, medical bills and other unplanned emergencies. They have assets for college that help insure a good life.

A program such as Circles should be place-based. ***

Working 1:1 is great but we have to change the systems that make and keep people poor.

Policies hold back people. A family that increases their income can lose child care support, leaving them with a net gain of zero or worse. A person coming out of jail cannot live in public housing where their family resides.

Our laws have not been made by people that are affected by them. We must ask ourselves, “Who made this policy?” How many fingers have been on this policy? Were the poor themselves involved? Trickle down doesn’t work.

Another task is to create imagination in your people. Jobs are empowering, but they are not the only benchmark to consider. Are our systems empowering people or disempowering them?

Any changes being considered must include and be substantially influenced by those experiencing poverty. They deserve the opportunity to be self-determinate. Those of us who are comfortable must be “ears up, mouths closed.”

*** Circles is an exemplary program because it addresses isolation and stresses accompaniment. See the March 7 blog post for a refresher.


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