Archive for the ‘Poverty’ Category
In 1972, Jesuit Father John Baumann started a small training institute with the goal of supporting neighborhood organizations in California. What eventually came from this idea was the Pacific Institute for Community Organizations, now known as the PICO National Network. And, his desire to help local organizations has grown to a national outreach program, which has helped more than a million families and 1,000 congregations from 40 religious denominations. PICO has successfully worked to increase access to healthcare, improve public schools, make neighborhoods safer, build affordable housing and redevelop communities. Because of his work on problems facing urban, suburban and rural communities, Fr. Baumann sat down with the National Catholic Reporter to share his perspective on the U.S. economy today.
NCR: From your long-term perspective, what do you make of all that’s going on in the U.S. today regarding economic disparity, Occupy movements, etc.?
Baumann: I’d say that many Americans believe that the American Dream, also known as “America is the land of opportunity,” was once true, but it doesn’t hold anymore. Every previous generation has really known America as the land of opportunity, where children were expected to do as well or better than their parents. Yet, today we find our nation in a crisis, with record levels of poverty, the rising inequality and worsening predictions for our children’s future.
What is really troubling to me is this whole gap between the rich and the poor that has been growing over the past 20 years or more. It’s not an aberration; it’s a result of deliberate choices. It seems like that over the last 40 years, a series of economic choices have really redistributed the income upwards and as a result of that, it provided less and less opportunities to everyone else. All this has led to the financial stress on our families, and really it’s something that hasn’t been seen since the Great Depression.
With the motto, “nothing stops a bullet like a job,” Homeboy Industries in Los Angeles works to help gang members leave their lives formed on the streets and in prisons and instead learn skills to improve their lives. Offering tattoo removal, counseling former “homies” in drug rehabilitation and mental health, and even providing jobs in its bakery, café and t-shirt store, Homeboy Industries is a haven for former gang members looking to turn their lives around. The ministry helps approximately 12,000 individuals each year learn life skills to lead them away from the streets.
Founded in 1992 by charismatic Jesuit Father Greg Boyle during the height of the city’s gang wars, Homeboy Industries has become a model program that other cities, like Chattanooga, are trying to replicate.
Fr. Boyle’s innovative program was featured recently in a piece by The Economist. An excerpt appears below and you can read the full story on The Economist’s website.
It can take between three and 40 treatments to remove a prison tattoo, says Troy, a volunteer doctor at Homeboy Industries in central Los Angeles, as another former gang member takes a seat. Troy zaps the tattoos with a laser, breaking up the ink so that the immune system can destroy it. This is painful, and the laser’s sharp cracking sound reminds some patients of shooting or of the prison yard, explains Andre, who is 27, spent seven years in prison, and got his first tattoo when he was 11. But it is still good to get rid of tattoos. “We focus on the visible ones,” says Troy, “the ones that make you a target when you’re walking decades later with your son and somebody shoots you, or the ones that prevent you from getting a job.”
“We’re a trauma-informed family here,” says Jesuit Father Greg Boyle. Eventually, they experience an unfamiliar feeling that he calls the “no-matter-whatness”. They realize that the staff do not judge their past but are ready to help them build a better future.
Homeboy Industries also recently opened a new diner in Los Angeles’ City Hall. You can find out more about Homeboy Diner in this Ignatian News Network video:
It is often said that the Holy Spirit works in mysterious ways which we are unable to predict or sometimes to even understand. For Jesuit Father Don Vettese what should have been an impediment, a traffic accident, instead opened up the possibility of an even greater calling — to serve the poorest of the poor.
It was 1994 and Fr. Vettese was then president of St. John’s Jesuit High School in Toledo, Ohio. One day, after his talk with the school’s senior class about the Christian calling to have a preferential option for service to the poor, the students approached Vettese with an idea.
“A few of the students came to my office to explain the difficulty of feeling compassion for the poor without experience,” says Vettese, “and they challenged me to help them educate their hearts.”
It was from that conversation Vettese planned a student service trip to an orphanage he’d founded a few years earlier in Guatemala City.
What Vettese did not know was that this trip would turn into something much greater. One morning, as Vettese and the students were driving to the orphanage to work , there was a traffic jam resulting from a car accident. When their van was diverted from the main road they suddenly found themselves in the Guatemala City garbage dump. Here they witnessed a sight that was almost unreal to them: a community of people living, quite literally, in garbage.
“The scene,” Vettese recalls, “was hell. There were acres of mounded garbage burning. There were hundreds of people milling around, looking for food and recyclables, while animals fed on the garbage. Vultures with eight-foot wing spans were swooping down for food and at the recyclers. We saw infants being stuffed into the trash and covered with cardboard to prevent the vultures from hurting them, and later discovered that their mothers felt the dangers from the vulture attacks were more serious than the rat bites that would occur from stuffing them into the garbage.”
Vettese’s talk about Christian leadership came back to the group full-force; that evening, he and the students reflected on the experience of the day, and the students wanted to know what could be done about the plight of the families they’d seen living in the dump. It was that fundamental question which led to the formation of International Samaritan.
The first step to aiding the poor is to stand with them, Jesuit Father Fred Kammer said in a lecture to Urban Plunge participants at the University of Notre Dame.
The Urban Plunge is a credit course offered to any student at Notre Dame by the Social Concerns Department. Its purpose is to demonstrate the problems of homelessness and poverty in the inner city. The core of the program is a 48 hour “urban plunge” during the Christmas vacation at a city near the student’s home. This plunge is preceded by several class periods and readings, and followed by another class period and a final paper.
Fr. Kammer’s lecture to the students, titled “Building Justice in the Cities,” addressed breaking the cycle of urban poverty. Kammer is currently is the executive director of the Jesuit Social Research Institute and has worked as the president of Catholic Charities USA.
“Making the invisible visible is the first step to compassion,” Kammer said. “Standing with the poor is a touchstone that gives us a wisdom that comes from the poor themselves and leads us to make judgments in favor of the poor.”
Kammer said taking a stand with the poor challenges our society’s dominant views.
“Standing with those who are poor introduces us to a new way of seeing the world around us,” he said. “This insistence on personal contact runs against our culture’s proclivity to see the poor as invisible or faceless.”
Kammer said once people make an initial commitment to stand with the poor, they might change the way they live their own lives.
“One of the first reactions that people have is to adopt a simpler lifestyle,” he said. “This choice is a stance appropriate to students. Individuals who stand with the poor also stand with them in their career choices whether by choosing to teach in inner-city schools instead of the suburbs or doing social work in place of commercial law.
You can read more about Kammer’s lecture and the Urban Plunge program via this article in the university’s Observer newspaper. Kammer’s lecture can be found on video at Notre Dame’s Center for Social Concern’s website here.
Two years after an earthquake struck Haiti the community of Los Cacaos has demonstrated what happens when neighbors work together to solve a problem. Fresh, clean water is now available to 700 families thanks to the community’s commitment to build a positive foundation for long-term improvements.
Catholic nuns based across the Artibonite river in San Francisco of Banica Parish in the Dominican Republic organized the project in consultation with community leaders. Jesuit Refugee Service/USA provided $113,000 to fund the project, and members of the community supplied the labor to build roads, construct cisterns and lay miles of plastic pipe and tubing.
“We had 11 brigades of 25 to 32 people each working on the project. They carried sand and cement to places where trucks could not reach. They carried these things over the hills to the source of the water,” said Wilens Thomas, of Los Cacaos.
Previously, obtaining clean water meant a hike of several miles — one way — over rugged hills and through valleys to collect the water in buckets and jerrycans. The arduous trip took four hours or more, and often had to be done twice a day.
“Before the project I would send the kids to get water, it would sometimes take them half a day or more. Sometimes the water would spill on the return trip and they’d have to go back,” said community resident Olise, a father of five. Olise’s comment highlighted an additional benefit of the cisterns: children who were before engaged in trekking for hours to water sources now can concentrate on attending school within the safety of their communities.
“This project proclaims a bright future because all different age groups are involved. And I don’t want to leave out the work the women have done, they have done a great deal of work for this project,” said Sr. Refugio Chavez.
This community-based participative model for humanitarian aid delivery and development has had the dual role of providing necessary resources for the health of the community while strengthening the role of women in the decision-making processes and empowering them to take an active role in the development projects. In light of the prevalence of gender-based violence in Haiti, the full integration of local women in the planning and implementation of this life-saving water and reforestation project will have an enduring effect on the status of women in the region.
To read the full article and learn more about this ongoing project, please visit Jesuit Refugee Service/USA.