By JORDAN MCMORROUGH
CHARLESTON — A strategic planning conference to reflect on grant making, the needs of the poor and organizing for effective board meetings was held in the Holy City the last week of June.
Members of Sisters of Charity Foundations of South Carolina, Cleveland and Canton, under the sponsorship of the Sisters of Charity of St. Augustine Health System in Cleveland, met in Charleston for three days to listen to national speakers, visit ministry sites and look to the future for planning purposes.
James T. Clark, director of the South Carolina Department of Social Services, discussed the implementation of welfare reform and its implications for recipients in the state. Clark said that 93 percent of all welfare is still in place in some form.
After 58 years of an explosion of services, Clark said that welfare “became part of the problem instead of part of the solution.”
With the reform movement, welfare rolls in South Carolina as well as nationally have plummeted, he said. In South Carolina alone, the Department of Social Services case load is down by 23,000, with another 28,000 recipients scheduled to lose benefits in October.
In order to retain welfare benefits, program recipients are required to work 25 hours a week. Day care is provided for children, in addition to a monthly salary of $201.
“The chicken little scenario is not occurring,” Clark stressed, alluding to predictions that masses of people would end up in dire straits with the loss of welfare income.
In fact, Clark added, the child abuse rate has declined in relation to the increase in work rates, and less Medicaid benefits have been used.
He also emphasized that the reform legislation has brought “different attitudes and perspectives. We treat people in a different way. We reach out to people and create hope for tomorrow.”
While stressing that “things are much better than we thought,” Clark also noted the fact that “transportation is a terrible problem (for the working poor.)”
“Most people who are poor really want to work,” Clark said. “We must approach these people with love, set expectations, help them to be all they can be.”
At a panel discussion “The Barriers of Success to Becoming Self Sufficient,” issues related to housing, health care access, transportation, education and job training, all of which effect an individual’s ability to become self sufficient, were examined.
Panelist Cindy Mann, director of the State Low-Income Initiatives Project and Senior Fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, urged promotion of health care block grants to states in order to expand health coverage for parents and children.
Executive Director of Innovative Alternatives for Women Dr. Sandra Godman Brown spoke of the problems women face in moving from welfare to work. Her program targets single head-of-household women who live in the federally designated Enterprise Community of Charleston. Students are taught employment skills as well as life skills.
A litany of challenges was cited by Brown for her clients, including lack of self-esteem, learning disabilities, feelings of worthlessness, bad relationships, lack of support by family and friends and a limited view of life options.
In Cleveland, Dr. Wornie L. Reed, director of the Urban Child Research Center at Cleveland State University, said 15 to 20 percent of the people there are moving off welfare and into jobs. However, the number of child care slots for children over 2 years of age in that Ohio city is “seriously deficient.” That is a chief concern when two or three poor children live with someone who is employed. In addition, Reed cited a statistic that “over 60 percent of all children in Cleveland suffer from lead poisoning.” That illness has been linked to Attention Deficit Disorder and increased rates of juvenile delinquency, he said.
Dr. Mark Alan Hughes, vice president for Policy Development with Public/Private Ventures, addressed transportation issues. He made three brief points concerning: Why transportation matters; Why transportation problems require intervention; and Why these solutions are so complex.
Hughes followed up by discussing the increasing suburbanization of employment, and why mobility is an important necessity.
Attendees at the conference took part in site visits to view programs impacting the effects of poverty in the Lowcountry. They examined rural poverty at Our Lady of Mercy Community Outreach Services on John Island, transitional housing at Crisis Ministries, job training at Innovative Alternatives for Women, housing initiatives at Harmony Warehouse, Charleston Area Community Development Corp., and the City of Charleston’s Housing and Community Development Department, male mentoring at the DADS Project of the Trident Urban League in North Charleston, and child abuse prevention at the Lowcountry Children’s Center.
Conference facilitator Marc Roberts, a professor of Political Economy and Health Policy at the Harvard School of Public Health, said the visits provided a “broadening of focus which helps people think about the grant-making role.”
He asked the participants: “What contributions can you make to affect the lives of people?”
Roberts said that problems have intersected to make lives difficult for the poor, and he decried the “perverse effects of well meaning rules.”
“Because the problems are difficult, not everything you do will work,” he cautioned those gathered. “Think of yourself as embarking on a learning journey.”
Following Roberts’ presentation, Father Thomas Savage, a senior consultant with William M. Mercer, Inc. and an expert in strategic planning, led a session on “Organizing for Effective Governance” and the role of foundation governance. Father Savage also celebrated the opening Mass at the event.