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The answer to poverty

Posted: August 20, 2013 - 12:00am

“The answer to poverty is not simply more income. The answer is choice and opportunity. The answer is freedom and dignity.”

Whether you are a poor farmer in India (the subject of the above quote from Jacqueline Novogratz, Director of Acumen), a homeless veteran on the street, or a single parent struggling with few skills and little preparation for parenthood, the answer is the same. Without choices and opportunity, life becomes a daily grind of survival. Without long term goals and dreams it is easy to discard pride, health, and personal responsibility in favor of satisfying one’s most immediate need for relief from suffering.

I like to tell people that after decades of working with the poor, I have learned a great deal. I have learned that poor people are not less intelligent, moral or wise than I. I pray that I have learned to listen.

I have learned that at least 25 percent of our brethren, our fellow citizens, live in a world apart. They do not participate in our democracy, or in any fundamental sense in our economy. I am always surprised that this fact does not seem to bother most of us. For me, it is like an eight cylinder car running on six. Sooner or later, particularly in this competitive global economy, that car will be stalled on the side of the road. Democracy requires a diverse, educated, involved electorate. Our nation’s economic strength is ultimately about the ingenuity of our people. As a society we cannot afford to waste 25 percent of our human resource.

Choice and Opportunity. The St. Vincent de Paul Society of Juneau works to find choice and opportunity for individuals to help them help themselves. We do not assume that we have a “program” that will meet each person’s need. We listen. We try to help in any way we can. Often it is permanent, safe, affordable housing. Sometimes it is a ticket home to family. Sometimes it is a food voucher, a Holiday basket, or help with a medical bill. Sometimes it is summer camp or music lessons to keep the light burning in a child’s eyes.

The Society is blessed because the local community generates the vast majority of its financial support, about 70 percent. Patronage of our Thrift Store and local donations by individuals and businesses are the majority of that, contributions from the people we serve make up the rest.

The annual Walk for the Poor is the one time of the year we ask you directly to support our work. More important, it is a simple demonstration by those of us who enjoy choice and opportunity that we stand with all our brothers and sisters in need—that we will not forget them; that we will not rest until all have access to choice and opportunity. We hope you will walk with us on Saturday, Sept. 14. Registration is at 9 a.m. at St. Paul’s church; 10 a.m. is the walk to Fred Myer and back for hotdogs etc. If you cannot walk with us, we invite you to donate by sending a check to St Vincent De Paul or donating via our website. You can also donate at the St. Vincent de Paul Thrift Store.

Dan Austin is the general manager of the St. Vincent de Paul Society of Juneau.

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