Saturday, December 8, 2012

Why I love Arise; why we work for social justice Part One

Excuse this more personal post as a way to talking about Arise's recent work and what lies ahead.  I've been a little teary today, but only once from sadness; mostly I've been moved by the remarkable number of people who have given so much of their lives to making things right with the world.

This past week didn't start out very well.  We'd signed up for Toys for Tots for some of our members and close contacts, and, when we were called to pick up our order, we discovered we had less than half the toys we needed!  We put a call for help to the folks in our network, and folks are starting to make commitment to help.  (Still need more help, though; email, leave a comment or call us at 734-4948).

This was all my fault-- I'll tell you why-- so I'm determined to make it right.  Here's what happened.  Way back at the beginning of Arise, when our office was next door to an infamous "welfare motel,"  we decided we were going to do a Christmas Party for all the homeless children in Springfield.  We'd find out the names and ages of all the kids in shelters, plus our motel folks, spend months recruiting toys from every agency and church we we could think of, and then throw a huge party, with Santa and presents and lots of food.  It was lots of fun and utterly exhausting.

We did this every year for four years and every year we had to start earlier and work harder.  On the fifth year, after much discussion and soul-searching, we sent a letter to everyone who had ever donated a toy.  We said that after thinking it through, we'd decided that these parties were not really what Arise was all about.   We wanted to be about social change, not charity, and that we felt our parties were diverting our time and energy from our real mission.  We asked people if they would be willing to contribute the money they would have spent on toys directly to Arise instead.  To our joyful surprise, a number of people did so.  And that was the birth of our base of donors which has helped sustain us ever since.
These days, there's absolutely no way we could take care of all the homeless children in Springfield.  And besides, who's to say which child is homeless and which is not?  70% of homeless or about to be homeless families who apply for shelter from the Dept. of Housing and Community Development   Keep that in mind when you look at this chart.

But we know that this year, families are hurting more than ever before, and when  I realized we were eligible to apply for Toys for Tots, I gave in to temptation and asked other staff and board what they thought-- and we did it.

Maybe it's because it's the holiday season, or the sun is in Sagittarius, my sign, but I believe this is going to work out.

More about everything tomorrow.

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