Volume 1, Number 4, May, 2015
Beacon is About Breaking the Chains of Poverty
The mission of Beacon is to transform lives and communities
in response to Jesus’ call to serve those among us who have the least.
Beacon Interagency Networking Forum
Wednesday, July 16, 2015, 9:00 – 10:30 a.m.
Church and Agency Reps Welcome
Location will be included in June Bulletin
Beacon 5K Run/Walk
Saturday, July 25, 2015
Belleville West High School
Mark your calendar!
Details in June Bulletin
Beacon Trivia Night Raises $1,477
The rescheduled Beacon Trivia Night on May 2 had some stiff competition. Besides dealing with the fallout from the change in date, (the original February date was snowed out) there was a Cardinals baseball game and a nationally hyped prize fight that had a lot of people glued to their TVs. In spite of the obstacles, the bottom line was comparable to last year’s total, thanks to the loyalty of our friends who showed up and the hard work by Carol Haffner-Meyer, Beacon’s Office Manager. Carol called everyone who was signed up for the February date to encourage them to come back for therescheduled date. Most did. All the prepara-tions were done by Carol with help from a number of our faithful volunteers. It was a fun event. Next year’s date is already set for April 9, 2016. There should be no danger of being snowed out. Carol saw to that!
Life Coach Joins Beacon Staff
We are pleased to have Ms. Pandora Harris join our staff on May 4 in the capacity of Life Coach. Ms. Harris will be with us 15 hours per week, meeting with clients to coach them in budgeting, making informed decisions, setting priorities, planning ahead, and managing their financial affairs, all skills they need to break out of the cycle of poverty. Support and assistance in improving income is an important part of the coaching as well. Ms. Harris comes to us well prepared to coach others. Besides her academic preparation, she has “been there and done that.” Ms. Harris is a program manager at Bethel Place in Belleville. Her coaching work with Beacon clients will take place several evenings per week.
The coaching site is at Trinity United Church of Christ, on Douglas Avenue, close to downtown Belleville. Trinity UCC has an active outreach ministry to homeless and near-homeless people. Their pastor, Corey Hartz has emerged as a leader in efforts to more effectively serve homeless people. Pastor Hartz sees partnership with Beacon in support of the life coaching ministry as a perfect fit for Trinity. We see Trinity as an ideal partner as well.
Volume of Calls Increases Steadily
During the first four months of 2015, Beacon received 511 calls for assistance. In January, we received 77 calls; February, 111; March 149; and in April 174. By far the most requests were for help to avoid utilities shut-offs. The numbers soared in March and April, as Ameren began sending shut-off notices once the winter moratorium on shut-offs ended. During the moratorium, many customers simply quit paying their bills, resulting in amounts from several hundred to as high as $2,800. Lack of foresight is evident, but if your income can’t keep up with your expenses, one bill you can put off is the one that doesn’t get paid. Requests precipitated by eviction notices remained steady. A lot of hours went into work with all clients to help them work out a solution, how to negotiate with Ameren or the landlord, and some direct financial aid from Beacon’s Client Assistance Fund to prime the pump. Most clients were able to stave off shut-offs or evictions with Beacon’s help.
In the earlier months, furniture requests were dominant. Another large category is “other.” Most of these are simple referrals to other sources. Many of these are referrals to food pantries, to used clothing sources, sometimes for gas vouchers or bus passes to help people get to a medical appointment or job interviews.
We are looking forward to seeing our Life Coaching begin to reduce the numbers of repeat callers – those who come back time after time with the same crises or others precipitated by income-expense disparities.
From Charity to Hospitality
Beacon’s Relational Ministry has become a testing ground for a very different approach to serving homeless and near-homeless people. Near homeless are people who have a roof over their heads but live constantly on the edge. Like so much of what we do, and what other helping agencies and churches do, is charity. We are providers. We help people with rent, utilities, food, clothing, transportation, and other financial assistance in times of crisis. Others provide counseling, drug and alcoholic treatment, emergency shelter, child protective services, and so on. We are all providers. Those who come for help become recipients. These define our relationships with those who come. The roles are doctor-patient, therapist-client, pastor-parishioner. We have tradition-ally kept a certain distance, a certain objectivity, that which separated them from us – our “superior” knowledge, our professionalism, always the one who defined the other’s eligibility and granted or denied the other assistance.
Our Relational Ministry had been charity for as long as it existed. We provided lunch. We provided a sermon. We provided bus passes, Schnuck’s gift cards, and gas vouchers as incentives for them to remain through the sermon. There was a clear “us” and “them” boundary. We gave, they received. We have for a number of years had an intern from Eden Theological Seminary in Webster Groves at Beacon. Traditionally, the intern was the sermon provider at the Relational events. This academic year, we have Lyndsay Williams as our intern. Lyndsay soon began to question what we were doing. She suggested a different format. Instead of preaching, why not have a conversation time with those who attend? That way, we could get to know them better, and could find out what they wanted to get from the sessions, not just what we thought they needed. We could make the Gospel message of Jesus integral to the conversation, not delivered to them in a package. We would stop giving charity and begin extending hospitality.
A lot has happened since that moment. We stopped giving the incentives. We told the attendees the incentive from then on would be the lunch and the opportunity to share conversation with us and with one another. Attendance fell by half in subsequent sessions. We have established what we call the Roundtable Forum. We collected requests from those who attended of topics they would like to have on the agenda. A solid core of about 15 people come to every session. The conver-sations are lively. The people are energized, almost all actively participating. The quiet ones no less engaged as they listen intently. They are no longer coming to receive, but to share. Most dramatic has been the change in the role of Beacon staff and volunteers. We have become part of the group – on a level playing field. There are no providers or recipients in the group. The former clients are discovering their own agency, that they are valuable and powerful people – that we former providers and recipients are now friends.
We don’t know where all this will lead, but we don’t need to know. We see God at work in this gathering. That’s all we need to know.