Help Multiplied

You can help homeless and other low income people learn how to earn an income even if they can’t find a job.  If you want to skip all the background stuff in the blog, go to

http://tinyurl.com/TOPwerxCampaign

If we reach our funding goal, we have cool rewards for everyone who pledges.  It’s a win-win-win situation.

We return you to the not-so-regularly-scheduled blog.

About ten years ago I had a conversation with a homeless man named John who told me he had just been turned down for another job.  He had been job hunting for two years after he finished serving his time on a felony charge.  It turns out that conviction was a life sentence that was keeping him from landing a job.  I remember he threw his hands up in the air and said, “Man, I can’t even get a job at McDonalds!”

John’s predicament is not unique.  My friend Kevin faces the same situation.  He served 5 years in prison on a bank robbery charge.  His prospects are bleak to say the least.  And so I developed a passion for finding a way to help people like John and Kevin earn an income even if they can’t find a job. It had to meet the following criteria:

  • It must be something that a person without much education can do
  • It must be something that is simple and can produce reliable income without a long learning curve.
  • It must be supported by a community of people who are already working the business successfully
  • It must pass the “Quick Test” of successfully producing income within 30 days.

It took over a decade of discovering what didn’t work, but I finally found it.  We call it TOPwerx.  It meets all of the criteria and passed the “Quick Test” with flying colors.

The business model is based on buying products to sell through online channels such as Amazon, eBay and Etsy.  We sold scores of products in 7 different market niches through 9 months of research and turned a healthy profit on everything we sold.

Now, we are seeking support to begin our training program with up to 5 students in the first year. We hope to expand the training in Washington, DC and throughout Virginia. TOPwerx is designed to be completely self-sustaining within two years.

 Project Details – Curriculum

The curriculum will be video-based and replicable. It will be divided into five phases.

Phase I: Get Your Head in the Game – students will have to demonstrate the right mindset in order to progress in the curriculum.  We focus on eliminating entitlement mentality, developing a can-do attitude and teaching our students to think like business owners, not employees.

Phase II: Your Tool Box – Students will receive basic training in computers and thorough training in the use of the smart phones and apps they will need to be successful.  In this phase, we plan to utilize youth volunteers as mentors to help students master the technology. Since this is all hands-on training, there will be no real development costs for it.

Phase III: Getting Started – Here we begin with the nuts and bolts of the business.  Students will learn what to sell, where to sell it, how to list their products, how to ship inventory and how to track sales and profits.

Phase IV: Advanced Sourcing and Selling Techniques – There are lots of ways to get products to sell profitably. Sorry, but these are trade secrets that will give our students an edge in the marketplace.  I think we’ll just keep them a secret

Phase V: Mind Your Own Business – The final phase will teach students how to manage their cash flow, keep accurate records, taxes, licenses, insurance and other paperwork related to their business.

We have obtained a license for a powerful, existing curriculum we will use for Phases III and IV.  Our students will also become part of a community of other people involved in this business, which will be critical for their success.

By the time they finish the course, they will have a successful business.  TOPwerx staff will provide support for students after they graduate to ensure their long-term success.

How You Can Help

Just click the above link to the TOPwerx Funding Campaign on StartSomeGood.com for details on how you can be a part of this movement.  We have a long way to go!  We can use all the pledges, prayers and shares we can get.

God’s grace to you,

Steve Jennings, Executive Director

 

When My Heart Stops Breaking, It’s Time to Leave

For nearly 26 years I have worked with people who have pushed their own self-destruct buttons, fought without success to break the fetters of addiction and suffered from the callousness of a society that prefers to keep its distance from them.

For nearly 26 years my heart has been broken over and over again. With each new crisis in the life of a person we serve, I re-live the heartbreaks of the past.

As I prepare to visit yet another friend going through a tragedy of monumental proportions (sorry, but I can’t tell you about it right now) a part of me can’t help but pray for a healthy dose of “professional detachment”. That part of me yearns to be able to seal this sad situation in a box that I open only when necessary. The rest of the time I can go on my merry way oblivious to the anguish as I perform the more mundane tasks of ministry.

But is that what I really want?

Is it better to keep that emotional distance, or is it better to feel the pain?  I confess that sometimes I “grow weary in well-doing” and even dream of days without a phone call or vision of someone’s suffering or desperate need,  but over the years I have made a discovery:

Walking with people through their pain, sharing grief in their defeats and joy in their victories is the fuel for my passion.

God’s vision for this ministry is the engine and the Holy Spirit is the spark that gets things started every day. But it’s my passion for the people we serve, our staff, volunteers and donors that keeps the engine running on what has become a very long trip.  And I think I have enough fuel to go just a little farther.

God help me if I lose that passion.  God help me if my heart stops breaking.  When that happens it will be time to leave.

God’s grace to you,

Steve Jennings, Executive Director

http://www.TeensOpposingPoverty.org

 

Emotional Gas

Two churches were sharing the duties of the ministry trip for Teens Opposing Poverty on a cool Sunday afternoon.  One brought the hot dogs. The other brought the chili.

We served about 30-40 homeless people in McPherson Square, just a few blocks from the White House. There were no long lines, no rush.  They just kind of trickled in for food.  The atmosphere was relaxed. Our volunteers had lots of opportunities to connect with the people they served..

As we transitioned from mostly serving to mostly talking and visiting, David, Oliver and I stood between the chili and hot dog stations.  Oliver was bringing us up to date on his decision to propose to his girlfriend and told us how good he was feeling right now.  He suffers from a number of chronic health problems.

After some unrelated small talk, the discussion turned to household bills.  David shared the recent break he had gotten on his gas bill.  Oliver was lamenting that the gas company estimates his bill every other month and they always overcharge him. One month he will have a huge bill, the next month he will have a huge credit.

As they continued their conversation, a wave of emotion swept over me.

I have known both of these men for over 10 years. They both used to be homeless, trapped in the prisons of their addictions.  I watched how God used our friendship, relationships they formed with our volunteers and other influences to get their heads and hearts in the right place so they could endure the rigors of overcoming their homelessness.  It wasn’t an easy road for either of them.  There were setbacks too numerous to mention, but they persevered. They beat the streets.

And now they were talking about their gas bills.

I put my hands on their shoulders, looked at them, smiled and asked, “Ten years ago, could you have ever imagined you would be having this conversation right now?”

They they looked at me and at each other. In nearly perfect unison they smiled and said, “Never.”

Who would have ever thought someone could be grateful for a gas bill?

God’s grace to you,

Steve Jennings, Executive Director

http://www.TeensOpposingPoverty.org

 

Win-Win

By Dina Thompson

[Dina’s church, Providence Chapel Church in Frogtown, Virginia, had their first day of ministry for seniors at a subsidized housing project in their home county.  She was so moved by the experience that she wrote down her impressions the day after. It’s easy to see that when we give we often receive more in return] – Steve Jennings

We  were  greeted  with  smiles  and  hellos  as  we  carried  in  the  boxes  of  canned  food  and  fresh  fruit  to  the  common  area.  Some  had  already  gathered.  They  knew  we  were  coming  and  they  were  waiting  for  us.  We  fixed  small  packages  for  those  who  were  bound  to  their  rooms  to  be  delivered.

 “Mr.”,  we  called  from  the  hall,  “we  have  some  things  for  you”.  We  could  hear  that  he  was  trying  to  get  the  door,  10  feet  away  dragging oxygen tubes and  using a cane.  It  took  several  minutes  for  him  to  eagerly  let  us  in.  We  put  the  food  away  in  his  cabinets  and  invited  him  to  the  common  area.  We  told  him  of  the  people  that  gathered  to  meet  him,  small  children,  and  music.  His face lit up.  We  could  see  and  feel  the  excitement as  he  tried  to  hurry  his  pace.  He  could  leave  his  oxygen  behind  for  just  a  little  while,  he  insisted…..  we  placed  a  chair  close  to  his  door  so  it  would  not  be  so  far for  him  to  walk.

We could barely hear her  call  to  come  in.  As  we  entered  the  room,  filled  with  cigarette  smoke,  all  her  necessities  surrounded  her  so  she  could  reach  them  easily.   An  older  woman,  she  seemed  to  be  confined  to  her  chair.  We  could  not  stay,  as  the  cigarette  smoke  overwhelmed  us,  but  she  thanked  us  gratefully.

A  pink  heart  shaped  welcome  sign  and  angel  wings  decorated  her  door.  As  we  waited  in  the  hallway  at  her  door,  I  thought  the  music  playing  loudly  inside  the  apartment  was  unusual  for  an  elderly  person.  Only  meeting  elderly  so far,  the  sight  of  the  young  woman  with  her  feet  and  body  strapped  to  the  wheel  chair,  instantly  grabbed  at  my  heart  and  put  a  lump  in  my  throat.  I  consciously  held  my  breath  a  moment   so  not  to  gasp  out  loud.  Like  the  angel  wings  on  her  door  foreshadowed,  she  was  beautiful.  She  had  the  face  of  an  angel,  a  vibrant  smile,  and  beautiful  blue  eyes  that  lit  up  with  tears.  “Yes!!”  She  nodded  eagerly.  She  would  like  to  go  upstairs  to  listen  to  the  music. Her  speech  was  difficult  but  the  brightness  in  her  eyes  and  the  yes  and  no  movements  from  her  head  allowed  us  to  understand.  Known  to  love  sitting  in  the  sun,  a  calendar  with  beach  scenes  was  found  for  her.  She  nodded  eagerly  and  marveled  at  the  beauty  of  the  beaches  as  I  read  about  each  on  the  back  cover.  A  small,  stuffed  puppy  was  so  soft that  she  enthusiastically  managed  to  turn  her  hands  slightly  and  her  eyes  sparkled,  when  I  placed  the  toy  in  her  hands.

Song  requests  were  called  out –  “Jesus  Loves  Me”,  “Amazing  Grace”,  “How  Great  Thou  Art”,  turning  the  afternoon  into  a  grand  hymn  sing,  party  atmosphere.

The  elderly  man  sitting  next  to  me  explained  that  he  was  the  victim  of  a  stroke  which  took  his  left  side.  He  used  to  love  to  sing  in  the  church  choir  and  cook  chicken  and  dumplings.  As  Providence  church  members  and  others  sang,  his  beautiful  baritone  voice  would  come  through  in  brief  spurts  of  energy  and  highlight  the  music.

“When can  you  all  come  back?”,  a  woman  asked.  “Yes!”,  the  rest  joined  in.  Another  said  she  would  have  sing  along  books  printed  for  next  time.  Good  times!  A  good  time  was  had  by  all.

Make a joyful noise unto the LORD, all the earth: make a loud noise, and rejoice, and sing praise. Psalm 98:4

http://www.teensopposingpoverty.org

An Exercise in Thanksgiving

In 25 years of ministry with homeless people, one of the greatest lessons I have learned is gratitude for the little things.  I thought I would share with you what I’m thankful for first thing in the morning. But instead of just being thankful, I thought it might be a more fulfilling exercise to pray for others who don’t share my blessings.

 I’m thankful I woke up this morning in a warm house.

  • I pray for the families of those who recently lost a loved one.
  • I pray for those who have to work long hours or who are going through trials and got no sleep.
  • I pray for those who have no home and for those who can’t afford to heat their homes.

 

I’m thankful for my wife, who is sleeping beside me, and my daughter, still asleep in her room.

  • I pray for people who are lonely.

 

I’m thankful I got out of bed.

  • I pray for those who sleep on the streets and have no bed
  • I pray for those who are bedridden. Lord grant them peace and strength.

 

I’m thankful for going to the bathroom (no, I’m not kidding)

  • I pray for those who can’t walk to their bathrooms or anywhere.
  • I pray for those who call a stream or a hole in the ground their bathroom.
  • I pray for those who suffer from infirmities that take away life’s most basic functions.

 

 I’m thankful for hot coffee and a tall glass of clean water.

  • I pray for those who have little in this world to give them comfort or pleasure.
  • I pray for those who must drink contaminated water and suffer the diseases that it gives them.

 

 I’m thankful for the Bible I get to read every day.

  • I pray for those who have never read this love letter from God
  • I pray for those who have read the Bible and have rejected its wonderful message.
  • I pray for those who earnestly desire a Bible but can’t get one.

 

I’m thankful for my relationship with Jesus and the opportunity to spend time with Him each day.

  • I pray for those who have never heard the Good News.
  • I pray for missionaries and evangelists who spread the Gospel around the world.
  • I pray for those who have turned their backs on the most beautiful relationship a human can experience.
  • I pray for people who do not have the freedom to worship God.

 

I’m thankful for the Holy Spirit, who leads me, guides me and strengthens me.

  • I pray for those who are wandering aimlessly through life.  Lord, grant them purpose.
  • I pray for people who try to live their lives without following the Lord’s leading.

 

 I’m thankful for my brief workout in the morning.

  • I pray for those who have lost the use of their limbs and who suffer from other conditions that prevent them from doing even the most basic things in life.

 

 I’m thankful for eggs and fruit for breakfast.

  • I pray for people who might go through this day with no food.

 

That covers the first couple of hours of my day.  I think the full day would be a rather lengthy blog, but you get the idea.

Take time to be thankful for the little things and say a prayer for those who can’t share your blessings.

God’s grace to you,

Steve Jennings, Executive Director

http://www.TeensOpposingPoverty.org

And Now for Something a Little Different

The sunlight was as cold and barren as the naked trees in Franklin Square, just a few blocks from the White House. It seemed to offer no respite from the chilly breeze that blew through the park.  John and Walter stood with cups of hot chili in their hands and their collars turned up to keep their necks warm.

 We engaged in small talk for a while.  Both men answered questions and offered opinions between bites of chili and a never-ceasing stream of thank-yous.  Walter talked excitedly about starting a new job after more than two years of searching. 

 John fell silent as Walter spoke.  He cast his eyes into his cup of chili like he was looking for a bit of cracker floating in it.  After a few minutes, John began to share his struggle to find a job.  As the frustration in his voice grew, he stopped eating the chili and spread his arms in a gesture of desperation.

 “No matter where I go, no matter where I apply, I can’t get a job! I’ve filled in over 200 applications and still nothing,” he lamented.  “Because I have a prison record, I can’t even get a job at McDonalds! I served my time.  I paid my debt to society.  Why can’t I get a break?”

 That conversation took place in 1999 during a strong economy.  Jobs were plentiful, but not for John.  His words have haunted me ever since.

 How many people languish in poverty because, no matter how hard they try, they can’t get a job?  Prison record, lack of education, lack of job skills, mental illness and other obstacles create dim prospects for tens of thousands of poor people. Many have marketable skills and talents, but a job is still out of reach for them. 

 That conversation spurred me to look for a way that someone in John’s shoes can learn how to earn an income regardless of their background or mental state.

 Recently, I discovered eBay Giving Works, the nonprofit arm of the giant online auction.  I also began researching Etsy, a marketing system for arts and crafts, the Amazon Marketplace, Fulfillment by Amazon, and other Internet-based commerce platforms.  I believe these methods can provide additional support for TOP and help homeless and other poor people we serve step up the ladder to a better life.  

 We have named this effort TOPwerx. We are launching it right now.  In the first stage, our staff will learn the techniques of selling online. Our initial approach will be sort of an online thrift store, except we won’t sell everything through one site.  We’ll use whatever platform best suits a product. 

As we learn the ins-and-outs of online commerce, we will develop a training program.  Once a core curriculum is in place, we plan to help 2 – 3 clients through a pilot program.  During this stage we will fine tune the system and make careful notes on outcomes.  We plan to bring in youth volunteers wherever we can during the process, especially when we teach computer skills. Finally, we will seek grants to expand so we can serve more people and increase support for TOP at the same time.

 How You Can Help

We are looking for donated items to sell.  Games, toys, tools, horse supplies, electronics, textbooks, reference books, shoes, clothing and anything else you can imagine selling on eBay.  We can arrange pickup in Northern Virginia, the Northern Shenandoah Valley and DC.  If you are somewhere else in the region contact us.  Our goal is to find a repository for donated items in every city where we work.

We are also looking for people who have experience selling on eBay, Half.com, Etsy.com, Amazon Marketplace or Fulfillment by Amazon to help shorten the learning curve for us.

 Please pray that TOPwerx will become an opportunity for those who have little hope in the job market and that it will help TOP expand its ministry with “the least of these.”

God’s grace to you,

Steve Jennings, Executive Director

http://www.teensopposingpoverty.org

A Lesson in Thankfulness

I’ll never forget the blizzard of 1996.  At least I think it was ’96.  Anyway, the snow was approaching and I had to get to Washington, D.C.  to keep a promise to my homeless friend Jakob.  He said his gout was acting up and asked for some aspirin.

I arrived at dusk. The street lights from Pennsylvania Avenue and the White House cast an eerie glow on the bench at Lafayette Square where he planned to sleep during the blizzard.

“Are you going to be OK?  This is supposed to be a big storm, you know.”  I tried to make my tone of voice sound ominous and urgent.

“I’ll be fine,” he assured me.

I guess my ominous tone wasn’t very ominous.

“I have been blessed with a stack of blankets and two tarps, I have lots of warm clothes on and I just had dinner.  I have everything I need.”

We stood for a while in the glare of lights from the home of the President of the United States. The air felt like the snow would start any second. After a few more words, I said goodbye, got into my truck, turned the heater on and drove home. That night and all the next day I sat in front of a warm fire, sipped hot chocolate and looked out the window as 40 inches of snow piled up outside.

As I was leaving, Jakob crawled under his tarp and between his many layers of blankets on the bench.  He awoke the next morning thinking somebody was sitting on him.  It was just the snow.  He had been warm and slept soundly through the night.

The homeless people we work with through TOP are a grateful bunch.  For many of them, if they have clothes on their backs, food in their bellies and some way to stay warm through the night they have enough. Everything else is a treat and a blessing.  You can’t believe the “thank you’s” we get just for handing out underwear!

So the next time you are tempted to complain about the hassles and aggravations of life, think about Jakob (he’s still on the streets) and give thanks for your underwear.

God’s grace to you,

Steve Jennings, Executive Director

www.TeensOpposingPoverty.org

Heart, Mind and Soul Part 3: William’s Story From Served to Servant

This is the third in a series of posts about where the solutions to homelessness truly begin.  They are not in the opportunities, training or services offered to homeless people.  They are in the hearts, minds and souls of the homeless themselves. The longer I spend in ministry with these amazing people, the more I learn of the importance of attitude and that nothing else we do to address their challenges will work if their hearts, minds and souls are not in the right place.

To read the first two installments, click on the links:

http://teensopposingpoverty.wordpress.com/2012/09/17/heart-mind-and-soul-part-1-jeffs-story/

http://teensopposingpoverty.wordpress.com/2012/09/24/heart-mind-and-soul-part-2-davids-story-believe/

His street name was “Black”.  He was homeless for over 12 years.  Drugs and alcohol were his life, but on Sunday afternoons when the youth volunteers from Teens Opposing Poverty (TOP) came to serve, he was always straight and sober.  For years, I just made small talk with him.  He spent most of his time talking with the teens.  Several of them became friends with him.  It was a few years before I found out his real name was William.

Then in 1995 something terrible happened.  William almost lost his life in a fire.  As he lay half-conscious on a hospital gurney, he watched his cousin die.  That horror was followed by 6 months of skin grafts and the loss of his left leg. He had a breathing tube stuck down his throat for so long that it paralyzed half his vocal cords.

After he got out of the hospital, William spent nearly three more years on the street until he was able to secure Social Security Disability.  It was during these three years that he went from being someone we served to one of my best friends.  He was, and still is, one of the most humble people I know, but he also began speaking with the deserved authority of someone who daily had to live with pain that most of us could not imagine.

When he spoke to our volunteers, William wielded his testimony like a knife cutting into our complacent hearts. He helped us to see his struggles and shared with us his belief that God saved him for a reason. In telling his story, he let the youth know that they were here for a reason, too, and that God can use even the bad things in our lives for good.

I’ll never forget the day we helped him get into his first apartment.  He stepped inside and closed the door, turning the lock several times.  Then he flipped the light switch on and off and finally looked up at the ceiling.  “Look,” he said, “No stars.” He hasn’t been homeless in more than 13 years since then.  But unlike many who get off the street, William kept going back and keeping in touch with the people he used to live with.  Little did I know what a valuable asset he would become to TOP because of that.

In the weeks and months that followed, William met us on every homeless ministry trip we took.  He was great with the teens, taking the shy ones under his wing until they were comfortable enough to start talking to the people we served.

As his confidence grew, he offered suggestions on things we could do differently, other sites where we could serve and better ways to connect with our homeless friends.  I wasn’t the only one who recognized William’s growth and willingness to assume responsibility and assert authority.  The teens did, too, and started turning to him when they had questions.

When TOP was able to hire staff, William became the coordinator of our homeless ministry in Washington, DC.  Now he develops new Street Ministry Outreaches and shares his powerful testimony with churches and other groups.  He went from being one of the homeless guys to a ministry professional.

I haven’t just seen this scenario play out in William’s case.  Giving those we serve a chance to become servants is a crucial part of our ministry.  Everyone has gifts to give, talents to use and faith to share.   When people have an opportunity to contribute, they hold their heads a little higher.  They remember that they can make a difference.

We must remember that we are in ministry WITH the poor, not to them.   Let’s not get so wrapped up in giving to others that we fail to give ourselves a chance to receive.  Understanding this one simple principle can bring out the best in all of us.

God’s grace to you,

Steve Jennings, Executive Director

www.TeensOpposingPoverty.org

Heart, Mind and Soul Part 2: David’s Story – Believe

This is the second in a series of posts about where the solutions to homelessness truly begin.  They are not in the opportunities, training or services offered to homeless people.  They are in the hearts, minds and souls of the homeless themselves. The longer I spend in ministry with these amazing people, the more I learn of the importance of attitude and that nothing else we do to address their challenges will work if their hearts, minds and souls are not in the right place.

To read the first installment, click on the link: http://teensopposingpoverty.wordpress.com/2012/09/17/heart-mind-and-soul-part-1-jeffs-story/

The small group of middle-school girls laughed as they stood next to the imposing statue of Commodore John Barry in Franklin Square.  They had come to Washington, DC to serve homeless people, not expecting the entertaining encounter with David.  He was funny, engaging and held them in rapt attention.

Little did I know at the time that the forming friendship between this homeless man and group of girls would change his life.  David was trapped in the downward spiral of alcohol and crack cocaine addiction, but he was always straight on the Sundays we came to town.  I was glad he was there because he was so good with the young volunteers of Teens Opposing Poverty.

Over a dozen youth groups were involved in our DC ministry at the time, but David connected in a special way with this group of middle-school girls who served at the park every other month.  Over time, he began to see them as his “little sisters.”   In between the teasing and laughing, they built him up and made him feel special.   Just before he entered a rehab program, they encouraged him and told him that he could beat his addictions.

In other words, they believed in him.

David held tightly to their belief because he couldn’t yet believe in himself.  In late 2004 he entered a rehab program.  It wasn’t the first time, so he had little expectation of any lasting change.  After he completed the program, he got a job doing building maintenance.  I didn’t see him for several months.  The girls asked about him, and I told them that I assumed he was working.

When I saw David again in the spring I asked him how the job was going.

“I lost it,” he said. “I fell off the wagon and missed too much work.  But don’t tell the girls!  I’m clean again and I’m going to do my best to stay that way.”

Since then, David has experienced setbacks that would knock the most stalwart warrior off his horse, but he kept pushing.  He never gave up.  Although his self-confidence was shaky at times, he made a turn in his life.  Someone believed in him when he didn’t believe in himself.  His self-talk went from “why bother” to “it’s worth a shot” to “I can do this” all because he bought into the words of encouragement from some girls still too young to drive.

What they did for David cost nothing but their time, but it was one of the most precious gifts he ever received.

David Williams is now the Director of Teens Opposing Poverty’s Washington, DC homeless outreach.  He believes he can make a difference in this world because someone believed in him.

God’s grace to you,

Steve Jennings

Executive Director

www.TeensOpposingPoverty.org

Open the Door and Walk Down the Street

For the first time, Teens Opposing Poverty has coordinated a week-long mission outreach to the homeless in Washington, DC.  Part of the week’s activities included visiting other organizations that work poor and homeless people.

 We visited So Others Might Eat (SOME) and DC Central Kitchen. Both of these organizations do incredible work for the poor and homeless.  DC Central Kitchen provides 5,000 meals a day that are served through a variety of soup kitchens, Meals on Wheels and other programs.  They also have a training program that moves people from homelessness to employment (at a living wage) in the food service industry.  SOME has a soup kitchen, food pantry, clothes closet, low income housing, a warehouse full of furniture and other essential items and a long-term rehab program, along with providing medical, dental and mental health care.

 The people who took us on our tours were passionate about what they do and totally focused on their mission. 

 That is a good thing and a not-so-good thing.

 It’s good because passion and focus on your mission may be the only motivations to carry you through tough times when you are in the nonprofit world. It also keeps all of us who work with an organization or ministry on track.   I am often the same way with TOP, and it has been an important reason why we have stayed alive during the lean seasons.

 But that kind of focus can also be a negative.  We (fingers pointing back to me) too readily put on blinders and fail to connect with our fellow servants.  Thus we often re-invent the wheel, creating unnecessary duplication of services. 

 I’ve had people suggest that we do all sorts of things to combat poverty from job training to setting up day centers for the homeless to transitional housing.  In my wild imaginings I picture TOP doing those things. But other people are already doing that, and it’s not our mission.  We are often the first point of contact for the people we serve.  Our job is to encourage them, find out what keeps them on the street, and point them to the resources that help them into a new life.

 Getting to know other organizations helps us to do a better job of fulfilling our mission and opens our eyes to new possibilities in how we serve others. A fringe benefit of this interaction is that we learn things that help us do a better job of running the organization.

 If you’re involved in a church or nonprofit organization, I challenge you to open the door and walk down the street to other churches and nonprofits and groups who serve the people you serve.  Learn what they do and how they do it.  Don’t be afraid to form partnerships and cross referrals.  Every once in awhile take off the blinders of passion for your own organization and learn a little from others. You’ll be glad you did.

 God’s grace to you

Steve Jennings

www.TeensOpposingPoverty.org