Relationships are essential for overcoming economic hardship. Social capital provides opportunities for mentorship, resources, networking, and encouragement.
For those experiencing poverty, these opportunities offer comfort and relief while providing tangible pathways to hope for the future.
One ministry in Pennsylvania is working to build connections for sustainable solutions. We spoke with Lee Smedley to learn more.
Tell us about the ministrySupport Connections of Lebanon County (SCLC) seeks to help low-income individuals and families move towards self-sufficiency and to educate low-income families, those assisting them and the communities in which they reside concerning barriers to self-sufficiency and effective actions to reduce or eliminate those barriers.
SCLC works with 8 to 12 low-income families at weekly dinner meetings with childcare. Volunteers (25 to 30 persons) and participants go through a 14-week training course together. Volunteers and low-income individuals are matched into small support teams, each team assisting a family in defining, planning and implementing the goals they have developed for moving forward. Families often continue in the program for 2 years. Several of our “graduates” continue with us as volunteers.
What dream is the ministry pursuing?
Changing how our community thinks about poverty, providing low-income families with the skills, goals and relationships needed to achieve stability in their lives, and building relationships across economic class that will help everyone lead more abundant lives.
Is there a particular moment or memory that stands out for you?
One of our graduates had left an abusive marriage and began to make money cleaning houses, businesses and churches. In the program and with working with her support, she was able to develop a business plan, logo and website for a business. Her goal was to grow her business to the point that she could offer employment for other like herself. She hired her first employee within 2 years of establishing the business.
What have your neighbors (those utilizing services) taught you in doing this work?
Our Team Leaders (the term we use for our program participants) have taught us how resilient and resourceful low-income individuals are. And how, with new skills, encouraging support and connections, they can transform their own lives and the lives of others.
What challenges have you encountered, and how have you adapted?
Moving from receiving assistance (someone helping you stand up) to self-sufficiency (standing on your own) includes changes in attitude and perseverance over a multiple year period. Supportive relationships through disappointments and struggles help our Leaders to succeed.
Developing credibility in our community took several years. Slowly, we established partnerships and mutually beneficial approaches with social service agencies, churches, schools and businesses. Continually stating and exhibiting that we choose not to compete with, but rather to complement and partner with, other non-profits has helped.
What advice would you give to others who are working to be in ministry with?
Find and utilize the knowledge/connections of individuals who have moved out of poverty and have a commitment to help others in their journey toward self-sufficiency. Ask for and use the advice of your program participants. Include them in designing and leading events and create platforms to them to speak about the benefits of the ministry.
How can people contact you if they are inspired by your ministry? Lee Smedley, Volunteer Executive Director, 610-914-3846, firstname.lastname@example.org
Link to article at Church & Society: The United Methodist Church