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Posts Tagged ‘charity’

Haiti’s Heroes

In Non Profit on January 15, 2010 at 4:13 pm

“Never stop being courageous.”

These were the last words I wrote to my sponsored child, Anne-Cherley Amilcar, in a letter I composed after hearing about the earthquake in Haiti. Anne-Cherely is Haitian and although she lives nearly 30 miles north of Port-au-Prince, we continue to wait with bated breath for word of her safety. The entire country, already in peril from abject poverty, has been hurled even further into a miserable horror that threatens every human being within its boundaries. Though all are vulnerable to great suffering, the greatest vulnerability belongs to the Haitian children. Prior to the earthquake, the number of orphaned children in Haiti was estimated at nearly 450,000. It is unconscionable to even try to comtemplate an increase in such a number, but the post-quake increase is certain.

Fortunately, there are heroic organizations, such as Compassion International, who have been attempting to assist the needs of Haiti’s impoverished children over the course of many years and have done so with much success. It was through C.I. that we found our Anne-Cherley and it is through them that we will continue to offer our support. They are going to need it. There will be childhood development centers that will need to be rebuilt and sadly, staff and volunteer positions that will need to be refilled. For those who are longing to offer some kind of support to Haiti, this is definitely a trustworthy and nobel organization to consider.

Of equal standing as a highly effective and reputable outreach to Haitian orphans is a non-profit called Danita’s Children. The organization began over ten years ago when Danita Estrella spontaneously traveled to Haiti with nothing more than a strong sense that she was supposed to go there to offer help. She had no idea how to implement her desire but she knew she was purposed to go. After a year of wandering from volunteer position to volunteer position, she was still unsettled. There was a haunting sense that she was not walking out the level of service that was rooted in her heart.

But the ambiguity of her journey vanished on a day emblazened in her memory forever.

As the story goes, she was sitting at a café table eating her food when she suddenly felt the imploring stare of an underfed boy fall upon her. She looked over and lifted her hand to signal that she saw his need and wanted him to wait for her. Her intent was to order him food and then take it to him, however, there was a man who saw this interchange and became enraged at the boy. He took a whip and began to strike the child. Danita, busy ordering the food, heard his screams and instincively shot up from the table and ran to the child’s rescue. She grabbed the brutal man by his collar and shook him with all her might and then ran to the boy, picked him up, comforted him and bought him food to eat. It was then that she knew her purpose. She decided right then and there that she would open an orphanage for abandoned children.

What began with a small plate of food for a hungry frightened child has developed into three homes that house 75 orphans, a school that provides education to nearly 600 children and a meal program that feeds 17,000 each month. As glorious as all that is, Danita has refused to rest. Right now, her organization is in the midst of building their very first children’s medical center. It is without a doubt that when that mission is completed, Danita will continue to create even more paths of provision for Haiti’s children.

Danita is my hero and it is because of people like her, those who have committed themselves to serving the needs of Haiti’s most vulnerable regardless of personal cost, it is because of such people that I was able to write words of strength to Anne-Cherley. Heroes have great courage and I pray for our little girl to hold onto hers.

The courageous will find each other.


Should Trust Be Enforced?

In Non Profit on December 4, 2009 at 8:58 am

I recently saw a documentary called Mr. Schneider Goes to Washington. Filmmaker Jonathan Schneider wanted to take a close look at the money-engine of D.C. to see how it corrupts our political process. From a conservative couch, I fully expected a heavy liberal bias where all the democrats are heroes and republicans are Lex Luthors but Mr. S, although obviously left-leaning, at least made a decent attempt at casting the blame on both sides of the partisan line. Because of this, I listened and listening made me want to do some more reading which lead me to Jack Abramoff which introduced me to a legal term I had never given much thought of until now: Honest Services Fraud.

Honest Services Fraud is defined as a scheme or artifice to deprive another of the intangible right of honest services. Seems vague doesn’t it? Turns out, the nebulous nature of the definition is by design in order to give far reaching powers to prosecutors who use it with regularity as a barbed-wire-broom-of-justice. Consequently, its use is highly controversial as explained in excellent detail by Gary S. Chafetz in his article The Fraud of Honest-Services Fraud.

Chafetz lays out his criticism quite nicely but I confess, I’m happy to know this legal tool exists and regardless of its misty definition, I see it as a way to slap the unethical hand of those who dare to betray our public trust. For those, like Mr. Chafetz, who are disturbed by the lack of coherency provided by the redundant wording, I’d like to offer up a new one to clarify the HSF term. Honest Services Fraud: A scheme or artifice created for personal gain at the expense of a trusting supporter.

If political servants must adhere to ethical practices that maintain the public trust, shouldn’t non-profit organizations also be subject to the same legal sway? As far as I know, HSF is almost exclusively used in the political arena with only a scant track record of force in the private sector. The non-profit sphere, however, seems to remain unaffected. Sure, there are plenty of legal restrictions in place to convict non-profits for misappropriations, but in regards to the establishment of ethical relationships as related to the trust of donor donations, the enforcement mechanism does not exist.

To impress my point, non-profits are permitted to create for-profit entities with the intent of generating a money-making-engine that provides the non-profit with a flow of dependable donated income. That is absolutely legal, and one that I fully support. However, to my knowledge, there are no legal restraints that force consistency between the mission of the non-profit and the activities of their established for-profit-entity. Therefore, it would be perfectly legal for Susan B. Komen, the leading center for cancer research, to set up a for-profit entity that manufactures tobacco. It would be legal, but certainly void of ethics. Not only would they be allowed to formulate such a system, they would not be required to tell their donors that the relationship exists.

Do I think Susan B. Koman would do such a thing? No. Do I think there should be legal ramifications for those who would? I’m definitely leaning toward yes.

I spoke with a friend of mine about this who is a grant writer and he warned me that the implementation of such a suggestion could possibly do more damage than good. He pointed out that the non-profit sector is already burdened by so many regulations that he fears another one like HSF would do more to prohibit great services than ensure them. I definitely see his point and come on, I’m a conservative so I’m supposed to abhor regulations, right? Maybe a better compromise on the issue would be to force full disclosure rather than regulate the relationship between the two separate entities. I don’t know exactly what the solution should be but I do know that if you gain my money by persuading me to support a particular ideological mission only to use my money in a way that contradicts the mission you convinced me to support, I’m not going to be happy about.

The Assault

In Church and State on November 20, 2009 at 6:24 am

The title of this piece sounds exactly like something an angry homophobic religious conservative would write after hearing the news that a religious organization called Catholic Charities is currently at odds with a proposal for gay-marriage legislation in Washington D.C. However, let me be clear about something. I am not a religious zealot nor am I homophobic. I am however, a bit angry. Not at gays, or liberals or Christian conservatives, but rather I am angry at those who have been able to pit our communities against one another and continually strive to fuel those flames. I chose the title because we are all under assault. The D.C. story is just a small example of a greater incursion.

A closer look at the facts may clarify my position.

There is a bill under consideration by the Washington D.C. district council that would legalize same sex marriage in the D.C. area. Under the guise of equality, the legislation would force religious organizations to offer their social services to the gay community with the exception of marriage ceremonies, counseling services and retreats. Catholic Charities currently provide a range of services that reach more than 60,000 people in their capital city. Such programs include efforts like adoption & foster-care services, health care provisions, and vocational training. Catholic Charities insist that the exemption status provided by the bill is far too narrow and that forcing them to extend social services, like adoption, to the gay community will not allow them to conduct themselves in a manner consistent with their doctrine. As such, Catholic Charities have stated that if the bill goes through, they will have to cancel their government contract and discontinue the social services they provide to the city. The ensuing tumult in the media has predictably painted the church as governed by heartless bigotry that would rather abandon the needy than support gay couples. Initially, I bought into that assessment because this protestant conservative happens to have close personal gay friends. However, I discovered upon further reading that Catholic Charities have been strategically put into a Sophie’s Choice position where, based on government legality, they must choose between two tenets they hold dear: the sanctity of marriage and ministry to the poor. To some, it would seem to be an easy solution: uphold social provisions over sentimental semantics. But my point is this… it’s not for people outside of Catholicism to decide which services they should or should not provide. It’s an argument that should take place between fellow Catholics and should not be mandated from any other front, especially from the seat of government.

My conservatism stems from a solid belief in the core principles that compose the structure of our country. Freedom of religion is one of those girders. That freedom, like it or not, allows the religious community to make distinctions about right and wrong as it pertains to the doctrine of their faith. As long as those distinctions are not imposed upon society in a way that threatens the general population, the religious community has liberty to determine their own course of faith-expression. The same-sex marriage legislation, as it currently stands, will place impediments upon that expression thus undermining this constitutionally protected freedom. As such, all of us, including the gay community, should support a broader exemption for Catholic Charities. After all, if political power can be used to undermine one part of the first amendment, then what’s to stop that power from collapsing all of it?

Now I know there will be those who read this and think that equality is king and that government is the strong arm to enforce it. However, if this is true and non-discrimination is at the heart of this particular piece of gay-marriage legislation, then why allow for any religious exemptions to begin with? Perhaps it’s because those exemptions are just weak displays of first amendment security that are actually not strong enough to be enforced but regardless, the fact that they exist undermine a claim for equality. And if discrimination as a general concept is intolerably wrong, then why not come down on other non-profits who operate with selective services? I mean, the American Association of Retired People limit their services to those over the age of 50. So what about retired folks who are struggling at the age of 49? Then there’s the Humane Society. They have a strict selection process in place to determine who is eligible for adopting one of their animals. That sounds like blatant discrimination to me. Why isn’t the hammer of equality coming down on them? Who is the Humane Society to decide whether or not my home is an acceptable environment for raising an animal? I’m sort of being somewhat facetious with these examples but you get my point. Any organization with a mission statement must utilize some form of discrimination to define whom they will or will not serve. But here’s the great thing about our country and what makes it so frigging awesome to live here: If you find that something in society is missing, you have the freedom to bring it into existence! Therefore, if the gay community truly wants access to things like marital services or adoption processes, they have the freedom to use all of their political clout, funding power and activist energy to create charities specifically suited to service their needs as a community. I bet they could even find people within the Catholic congregation to help them do it.

As I write this, these suggestions are so glaringly obvious that again, I come back to the title of this piece. If this legislation is not truly about establishing equality, then what else can it be about other than an excuse for government officials to create legal inroads aimed at controlling religious freedom? Notice I made no mention of homosexuals. This is not a gay agenda. This is just another example of government manipulation. And by government, I don’t mean liberals exclusively. Republicans have had their mitts on the religious community for political advancement long before Obama stepped into the picture. When are the citizens of this country going to stop looking solely at the superficial labels our politicians throw around to distract us and start analyzing the actions they take in light of the constitution we’ve been given? The constitution was created to empower us, not them. As government power increases, individual liberties decrease and that includes everyone.

Right now, without greater legal exemption, Catholic Charities stand at a cross roads of impossibility. Either they undermine their own doctrine regarding marriage in order to provide for the homeless or they abandon their mission to the poor in order to uphold their structure of belief. Being in this position, either way they lose and if they lose… we all do.

Less is More

In Church and State on November 8, 2009 at 6:09 pm

Thursday night, Kim and I were invited to be the guests of an online radio program called Table Talk with host and friend, Bob Soroky. Neither Kim nor I had ever been in such a situation before so we were a bit nervous about how the conversation would flow. When Bob asked us to talk about why we’re collaborating on a blog together, I told him that our intention is to look for peaceable ground upon which to rest our opposing views, but at the same time, we do not claim to be diplomatic experts or spiritual gurus who have figured out exactly how to go about doing that. We’re learning as we go.

It wasn’t too long into the conversation that I was able to prove my own inexperience.

About 10 minutes into the discussion, we had a caller weigh in after I had put forth a suggestion that we, as citizens, should reconsider the meaning behind ‘separation of church and state’ as being an assignment of different responsibilities that work to benefit one another rather than a literal segregation of the two systems. I then said something like “As a conservative Christian, I get frustrated because the church is not fulfilling their duty to the poor in this country. If we were truly committed to serving the poor, we could probably put the government out of business.”

That’s not an exact quote except for the last part about the government. I realized too late that I had spouted a poor grouping of words. Once I had said it, Bob announced we had a caller on the line and I knew the person on hold was probably going to speak against what I had said. I quickly tried to explain that in no way was I suggesting Christians should overtake the government and form a theocracy. However, looking back on the conversation, I don’t feel like I explained myself well enough beyond that simple clarification. So, I decided I would expound upon my thoughts within the sphere of this blog and perhaps garner some thoughtful feedback as a result.

Let the expounding begin!

Our country is composed of complex mechanisms, but if we had to boil it down into its simplest form, I would say we basically have two societal systems in operation: a political system and a religious system that exist for the same overall purpose: societal stabilization. However, although they share this same function, the mandate to separate them indicates that they each possess different responsibilities in order to accomplish that end. I believe the political system is there to provide the entire populous with laws, infrastructure, and protection while the religious system is stationed to offer moral constructs and when needed, tangible aid. Both establishments are vulnerable to faulty execution at best and corruption at worst. Therefore, when these systems fail us, and they often do, the only place for us to turn is to one another.

When I spoke of “the church” last night, I was actually attempting to identify the individual believer rather than the religious system itself. That’s a very important distinction. Without a doubt, no one can argue that our religious system is quite good at collecting money. And I also have to say, that although abuses do take place, statistics show that when it comes to doling out funds for poverty programs, our religious system does a fairly decent job of creating and managing them without going into debt. However, my point last night was to say that relying on our church organizations to combat all of society’s woes is not enough. It’s not enough for us Christians to throw money into the collection plate and call it a day. We, as individual members of the Body, must do more to reach out into our community, find a need and meet it directly. That’s what I meant to say last night. Reportedly, there are 200 million Christians in this country. If that number made a targeted effort to alleviate the burdens within their own communities, I truly believe we wouldn’t need a welfare system, abortion clinics, drug recovery programs or a myriad of other government run programs out there. The reason those programs exist is because we are failing at our task as individuals to take care of those who are struggling around us.

I do not write this to dump shame on anybody’s head. I too live a life where my resources of time, money and energy seem to be stressed to the max. This is not meant to be a finger-wagging opinion piece but rather it is a call for both conservatives and liberals to rely less on their man-made-systems and more on one another.

I can’t help but wonder what kind of amazing transformations we would witness firsthand, not only in the lives of others but also within ourselves.