On the very snowy day after Christmas, I spent a few hours with some people from the Mahoning Valley Hope Center passing out blankets and meals to the homeless on the streets of Warren.
It was sad to look around and see the poverty and hopelessness that is part of the city. It is tempting to think that the government should do something to fix it. The problem is that for almost 50 years, the government has been doing things, and all they've succeeded in doing is making the problems worse.
Government tends to do most things poorly and especially things that involve people. Bureaucracies don't do people well. People get lost in bureaucracies.
Additionally, government programs sometimes have awful unintended consequences. The principle cause of child poverty in our country is absence of a married father in the home. In fact, marriage is such a powerful weapon in fighting poverty it has the same effect as adding five or six years to a parent's education.
Our current system disincentivizes marriage. A single woman with children receives more in welfare than if she had an employed husband in the home. Since the War on Poverty created these programs in the 1960s, births within marriage have decreased from 93 percent to 59 percent. That rate is even worse among minorities. Our government programs, although well intentioned, have created more poverty.
While reform is necessary and would certainly help, what people really need to understand is that individuals, churches and non-government organizations can have far more impact than anything the government can do. The reality is that people make more of a difference than any government program can.
I've advocated for the Warren Family Mission in my previous columns. Both the Mission and Mahoning Valley Hope Center work to fight poverty with people not with government programs. Each organization has a slightly different approach, but they both understand that people need to know that someone cares about them.
People might wonder why I am so sure that private charity and individual involvement work so much better than public programs. Very simply, I am evidence. When I visit Hannah's House, the women's program at the Mission, and I look into the eyes of the women, I see where I could have been but for the grace of God.
My mother was a paranoid schizophrenic and was institutionalized from the time I was 10 years old. I was blessed to have a great dad, but my home life was very chaotic. I also have addiction in my family history and am fairly certain that I have that genetic predisposition. One thing that made a difference to me was not some government program, but a Bible club that I started attending after school when I was in elementary school. From the Bible club, I became involved in a church.
I was an ornery little girl with a dirty face. More often than not, I was a major pain and pretty much hell on wheels. The people in that church cared about me anyway. Their involvement in my life partially made up for my lack of a mother. If it weren't for those folks, I'm not sure where I would be. I know I would not be the person I am today.
Individuals, families, churches and organizations like the mission and the Hope Center can do more to influence our culture and improve the lives of our citizens than all the government programs we could possibly have. Each of us needs to realize that we must take care of those in our own community who need our help. Reach out to those in your neighborhood. Work within your church or one of these other organizations. We can change our community and bring hope to those around us.
Take it from that dirty-faced ornery little girl who grew up to be me: You can make a difference.
Yoder is a West Farmington