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Profiles in compassion

Charity | Most Americans wouldn't have to travel far to find a group that is remembering the poor and helping them change their lives

Issue: "UN: Kofi's crisis," Dec. 18, 2004

From sea to shining sea, biblical compassion is alive and well in the United States. Here are capsule profiles of eight organizations that help the poor not only during the Christmas season but all through the year.

Boston: Network Savings & Training

Rev. Brian Gearin, a missionary in the Philippines from 1984 to 1997, is putting to use in Boston what he learned from helping Filipinos extricate themselves from poverty. Network Savings & Training operates in cycles, each focused specifically on purchasing a home, starting a business, or gaining higher education.

Individuals in the 50-week business startup and home-buying cycles are required to save $30 each week for a year. The education cycle requires high-school students to save $5 to $15 per week for future education, funds that are matched by a sponsor. Students also have a 26-week class in financial literacy.

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The first two home-buying cycles graduated 121 students and resulted in 20 people purchasing their own homes. Rev. Gearin then launched a micro-enterprise component to assist enrollees to augment incomes by starting small businesses. Businesses launched from the program include a florist, a counseling center, a computer repair shop, and a daycare facility.

"Participants learn the discipline of saving," Rev. Gearin emphasizes, and begin to repair bad credit ratings. They also learn "life skills [and] self-sufficiency tools that they, in turn, pass on to their family and neighbors."

His program recruits and trains facilitators from Boston churches who are required to save along with program participants. A support network of affiliated churches brings to bear spiritual challenge. "Even if enrollees are not churchgoers," Mr. Gearin says, "they find that the church still has an integrity that allows them to follow the tenets of the program. . . . Participants are accountable to each other, to themselves, and to God."

Denver: Providence Homes

"Most people who are homeless don't need housing," says Kevin Grenier. "Most people who come to Providence haven't had a stable home life," and what they need most are life skills that will help them interact with others both in workplaces and residences.

In the six Providence Homes 60 residents and 16 live-in staff members try to build a community; men and women in separate homes often stay for two years. Everyone works at least 20 hours per week in outside jobs or in a home, and tenants must pay $300 per month for their room and board. Tenants also must attend counseling sessions, Bible studies, accountability meetings, and vocational training. Providence Founder Andy Cannon says that one goal is to "get them away from an entitlement mentality."

Addicts must attend Recovery in Christ meetings. Weekly church attendance is also required; a tenant who is already a member of a church may attend services there. "We don't require that people who stay at Providence be Christian," Mr. Grenier says. "There is no unwanted proselytizing, but tenants have to be prepared to work Christian principles into their daily framework. A vast majority have lost everything and burned every bridge, and they wind up becoming believers."

Before homeless individuals become permanent residents, they must go through interviews to see if they are willing to follow Providence house rules. "Many of these people are con artists who are used to lying in order to get what they want," Mr. Grenier says. "Approximately 20 percent of them will either be asked to leave or leave of their own accord after the first three months."

He concludes, "When most people come to us, they have no socialization skills whatsoever. When they leave, they are a member of a community. They know how to ask when they sincerely need help. Conversely, they know how to offer help to others when they see it's needed."

Houston: Casa de Esperanza

In 1982, Kathy Foster, a nun and social worker, and Bill Jones, an infant-development specialist, were tired of hearing about babies being abused or abandoned in phone booths and dumpsters.

They took a small house in Houston's Third Ward that had been gutted in a crack cocaine fire, and with the help of friends, transformed it into Casa de Esperanza de los Ninos (House of Hope for Children). As castaway children materialized on the doorstep, social workers warned them, "You're taking the worst children in the city." Ms. Foster replied, "That's exactly what we hope to do." She later left her religious order to adopt six children while running the organization.

What began with one house has expanded to nine, plus a center focusing on the medical, developmental, and educational needs of children who have been abused or abandoned. In each of the houses, four to six children are placed in a family-like setting with two house parents who provide intensive nurturing. Then most are placed with foster parents. Since its inception, Casa has taken in more than 2,000 children, and 153 have been placed for adoption.

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