2nd Town Meeting discusses progress, strategy and collaboration with Community.
Continue cooperation to meet human needs
These two small words can have a big impact on two growing, but often hidden, problems in Beaufort County — hunger and homelessness.
That was the message in a town hall-style meeting this week, the second held by the 2-year-old Hunger & Homelessness Coalition of Hilton Head Island.
Rabbi Brad L. Bloom of Congregation Beth Yam, which hosted the meeting, said he was inspired by what had been accomplished in two years. But he told the room full of volunteers and agency heads from across the county that they still face a double duty, to not only comfort the afflicted, but also to afflict the comfortable.
Board member Andrea Bhatt Siebold said people see southern Beaufort County as a wealthy place with pockets of poverty, when actually it is a poverty-stricken place with pockets of wealth behind gated walls.
Board member Janet Weingarten said the coalition now feeds 200 children in southern Beaufort County on the weekends through the Backpack Buddies program. She said they used these figures as a rallying point: Half the elementary school children in Bluffton and 47 percent on Hilton Head qualify for free or reduced meals at school due to low family income.
The Beaufort County School District told them it has 125 homeless children, probably in families moving from place to place in what they call “sofa surfing.”
Coalition president Twyla Sable asked for more help to make this a kinder, gentler place to live for financially struggling children, senior citizens, the unemployed and the under-employed.
She said needs have been addressed by the addition of soup kitchens over the past two years, with two each week at Holy Family Catholic Church, one at St. Andrew By-the-Sea United Methodist, one at Resurrection Christian Community Church, one at Campbell Chapel A.M.E. Church in Bluffton and one at St. James Baptist Church.
Sable cited numerous agencies and groups that have helped the soup kitchens and the Backpack Buddies program come alive.
Keynote speaker Fred Leyda talked about the advantage of a broader collaboration among agencies and coalitions. As human services director for Beaufort County, Leyda has for almost 20 years participated in the steady evolution of countywide collaboration among some 100 human-services agencies. Each of them touch some facet of often inter-related challenges that show up in schools, soup kitchens, hospitals and the jail.
He said the evolution of service has led to today’s Beaufort County Alliance for Human Services, which operates under the premise that “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”
First, Leyda said, the agencies had to learn what each other does, then work to eliminate what they called “the Beaufort shuffle” — passing clients around among agencies.
Now there are computer programs that help, including the Charity Tracker database that was developed in Alabama after Hurricane Katrina. It has broken down walls in Beaufort County to better track 6,400 cases. Leyda said Charity Tracker “has brought us light years to track the issues.”
The alliance is now working on a “virtual resource center” so agencies can access expert advice and make connections immediately, when clients are sitting in front of them.
And they are launching a “community allies” program in which volunteers will be trained, then work with a client for nine months to a year to shepherd them through the maze of agencies that can help improve lives. Leyda hopes that will better address an age-old problem: People can be told what to do to improve their lives, but they won’t do it.
Human problems will never go away, but improvements can be made if the community works together. No one, and no agency, in Beaufort County needs to tackle alone hunger, homelessness and the many related ills that come with it.
As human needs multiply, the people of Beaufort County need to open their eyes to see it and open their hearts to fix it. Collaboration must be the first line of defense.
Copy published as an editorial by the IslandPacket on Saturday, March 17, 2012 firstname.lastname@example.org
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