I met a new friend today. Her name is Nadia. (Not really. You will discover in a moment that I’ve had to change the names in this article.)
Nadia is four and a half years old. Her mother, Talia, was born in Russia. The father is… well, nowhere to be found. He abused Talia to the point where she was hospitalized, ran away with Nadial to a women’s shelter. Ultimately they found their way to a place called Lighthouse in Pontiac, MI.
Although her mother is Russian, Nadia was born here and is an American citizen. After her mother fled her abusive relationship, she could not find work because she was not an American citizen. Soon Talia and Nadia had nowhere else to turn but Lighthouse. They arrived almost a year ago with nothing more than the clothes on their backs. They were given an “apartment” that is approximately 300 square feet. It has a kitchenette with 40 year old appliances and no table to eat at. There is a tiny bathroom and an 8′ x 9′ bedroom they share. Talia has decorated it all in pink for her little girl. The main room, where I met my new friends, is small, dark and has a few pieces of donated furniture. Nadia spends part of her day in the Montessori school on the lower level of the building. When she is done for the day she does her favorite thing in the world: coloring with crayons. She draws pictures of princesses, horses, green fields and smiling people. Dreams of a life she’s never known. Her mom tapes every one on the inside of the door. (The 40 year old refrigerator is too small.)
The staff at lighthouse helped Talia get her green card so she could work legally. One of their great strengths is removing barriers to people working. Talia has found a job and now saved enough to get a used car. She and Nadia intend to be at Lighthouse another year. In that time she will take classes to learn about budgeting and parenting. She will role play with staff members to help her interview to get an even better job. By the time she and her daughter leave Lighthouse they will be self-sufficient and on the path to a safe and productive life.
For those who are interested in the math on all of this…
The average cost for families like Talia’s to stay at Lighthouse is $13,000. This includes everything. Once they are out and on their own, a study done at the University of Michigan found that that $13,000 was “paid back” to the community on average within 18 months of families leaving Lighthouse. This is actual productivity and taxes paid and does not even include the dollars saved by taking the family off public assistance and welfare. Further, Lighthouse boasts a 91% success rate for families in their Lighthouse PATH program. This works.
On Wednesday night President Obama and Governor Romney are going to debate the important issues facing our country. And in the interest of full disclosure, I’m a conservative Christian who typically (but not always) votes Republican. When the conversation tomorrow night drifts to sound bites about “the 47%” and the “entitlement class”, etc., I hope that, no matter what your political leaning, you will not consider the conversation to be abstract or hypothetical. Because it isn’t. It isn’t about economic theories or political platforms. It isn’t about winning the news cycle or “appealing to the base.”
It’s about real people in real places.
It’s about a little girl coloring with crayons in a tiny apartment in Pontiac, Michigan and a mom who needed a little help to get her and her daughter on the right PATH. In a country of 308 million people there are many many, more like them. I pray there are Lighthouse-like programs in their area. And I pray we never turn our backs on these people and those in service to them.
James 1:26-27 sums it up well.
“Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”
The good folks at Lighthouse have extraordinary programs that are aggressively (and impressively) addressing poverty in America. Lighthouse Emergency Services offer emergency food, utility assistance, medical assistance and other crisis support. Lighthouse PATH provides women (typically single mothers who have been abused or have had other crisis) up to two full years of transitional housing in a safe and structured environment and an opportunity to rebuild their lives. Family counseling, daycare, child educational services, and other services are offered. Lighthouse Community Development literally is rebuilding impoverished areas with affordable housing units that clients can take ownership of and pride in. The Center for Working Families provides financial counseling, employment assistance, classes in how to get a job and coaching on how to use a family budget and live within means. They specifically treat root causes for poverty, removing barriers to people connecting with jobs, self-sufficiency and a hopeful life.