In the fall of 2016, with political acrimony and discord rocking the nation, retired pastor Reverend Richard Little looked around the congregation at Morning Star Lutheran Church and thought to himself, “If we can’t get together in the church to talk about our differences, where can we do that?”
Meanwhile, down the road at Jonesville AME Zion Church, Gregg Coleman and others were talking about outreach efforts into the larger community. One day, while routinely responding to voice mail messages received by the church, Gregg found himself talking with a stranger named Richard Little about bridging divisions between churches. “And the rest, as they say, is history,” Gregg recalls with a smile.
After months of meeting on Saturdays, talking about big topics like racism and the educational system, members of the two churches noticed a common theme in their discussions: poverty. The community was grappling with many issues and none of them seemed solvable without addressing the devastating effects of poverty.
Edwin Terry, a former Crisis Assistance Ministry board member, suggested the agency’s Poverty Simulation as a first step. The group formed a planning committee, reached out to all the houses of faith along the Albemarle Road corridor, and began a year-long process that eventually culminated with a community-wide Poverty Simulation last October.
Crisis Assistance Ministry, with the help of twenty community volunteers, facilitated the Poverty Simulation for 80 attendees. The experience was eye-opening, even for the organizers themselves.
“For me, it was a very personal feeling,” said Cherie Little. “I have a member of my family who lives in poverty. And I knew in my head the struggles that she is going through. But in the poverty simulation I knew in the deepest part of me how it must feel. And I can’t imagine living like that every day.”
Today, nearly a year later, about 50 people are actively working to improve the Matthews-Mint Hill community. Their efforts are focused on five distinct areas: Housing, Education, Access to Services, Financial Literacy, and Root Causes of Poverty.
A few weeks ago, the working groups gathered for a celebratory lunch where they shared successes, among them:
- The Education group has adopted Lebanon Road Elementary School, where language is a barrier for many of the students’ immigrant parents. The group’s goal is to build relationships and trust, which they’re doing by tutoring students, donating school supplies, and providing hand-decorated encouragement notes to every third grader.
- The Housing group is partnering with Habitat for Humanity to provide funding and volunteers for home repairs in order to keep people safely in their own homes.
- The Access to Services group is printing wallet cards directing people in need to call 211, the United Way’s database of resources.
Group member George Friday sums it up, “In a country where we have so much, it is immoral, in my mind, to have children that can’t eat a good breakfast . . . or can’t even wash their clothes to go to school. That’s a personal thing for me. I’m hoping that we can do some good in this area.”