By SHEILA OJENDYK
CLEMSON — Christians of two faiths and one mission met on Sept. 19 at St. Andrew Church, as a team of Catholic Poverella volunteers in training was visited by a group from Seneca Baptist Church who came to share their experience mentoring an impoverished family.
Poverella, a Catholic multifocused, structured program to mentor families from poverty to independence, was developed by Franciscan Sister Margie Hosch, regional coordinator for Catholic Charities in the Piedmont Deanery. Catholic Charities coordinates efforts between church teams, the Department of Social Services, Putting Families First, and other government and social service agencies.
Poverella is not about spending money to alleviate the immediate needs of the poor; it is about spending time and talent to guide people to independence who may have never known anything but public assistance.
Brenda Parks, volunteer coordinator for Greenville County Department of Social Services, emphasized that the effort to eliminate poverty must be ongoing and not just a one-time push during the holidays.
Each Poverella team makes a one-year commitment to offer guidance and friendship to an impoverished family, most of which are headed by a single mother. Sister Hosch stressed that not all impoverished families are on public assistance.
A Poverella needs to be prepared to advise on issues of employment, housing, childcare, transportation, education, finances, health care, internal family relationships and the likely lack of a telephone for basic communication. There can be a fine line, however, between knowing when to offer advice and when to step back to allow the head of household weigh the options.
Jim Black from Seneca Baptist Church reported that his group was among the first to take a family through Putting Families First, a private foundation commissioned by Gov. and Mrs. David Beasley. Black is part of an adult Sunday School group that decided to mentor a family as a project in putting their faith to work. They are using Putting Family First’s “Plan for Partnering.” The group’s first experience did not turn out the way they had hoped because they were matched with a family looking for short-term assistance. They wanted to try again and asked for another family. They have been working with their present family for about a year. Their group has helped the mother prepare for her GED, assisted her with finding and maintaining employment, advocated for her children at school, worked with her on financial management, and advised her on purchasing an affordable, reliable car. Getting her driver’s license was a major milestone for the mother.
Sam McCall emphasized that a “taste of success — no matter how small — is vital.”
The team from Seneca Baptist Church has reached the one-year mark with its family and is ready to evaluate their progress and changing role as the mother has grown. As she becomes more independent, it is time for the team to start stepping out of the picture as mentors, but to continue as friends. The group hopes that she will choose to help mentor others.
Sister Hosch, Parks, Lisa Van Riper from Putting Families First, and the guests from Seneca Baptist Church all affirmed the importance of both advocating for the poor within the existing political/welfare system and working to make the system better. The system, as it works now, does not always reward personal incentive. Very often a person who demonstrates incentive by taking on additional work often finds that the rent has been raised or a benefit has been reduced or eliminated.
Nine individual parishes in the Piedmont Deanery plus the three-parish duster of St. Andrew/St. Francis/St. Paul the Apostle currently sponsor 23 Poverella teams.
In addition to Seneca Baptist Church, Lee Road United Methodist Church in Taylors is mentoring directly through Putting Families First.
And — the word is spreading. Van Riper has been invited to Washington State to share the Putting Families First model with churches there.