Tulsa World, March 30, 2008: Breaking the cycle

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Too often we are unaware of our neighbors in need.

Asking for help and finding yourself unable to offer anything in exchange can be a humiliating experience. It’s a gut-wrenching fear that prevents many from seeking desperately needed assistance. The individual, along with his or her family, continues to live in impoverishment, to do just enough to survive — but never enough to rise above the poverty line.

In other words, they maintain the patterns that drive their particular cycle of poverty.

Breaking that cycle requires a number of components. The first may be getting those in need in the door, but the most important element is the will of the individual to make the changes essential to break his or her specific cycle. However, merely giving assistance rather than teaching drowning Oklahomans how to swim is a disservice.

More than half a million Oklahomans lived in poverty this past year, according to the August study by the U.S. Census Bureau. That number includes more than 70,000 Tulsa County residents.

The keys to reducing that number lie in the ability to create positive change. Positive change evolves from possessing the skills necessary to gain and sustain employment.

How confident would you feel applying for a position while dressed inappropriately? How well could you present yourself? How would you find and keep a job with no reliable way to get there?

Without the skills or means to make a positive change, we perceive change as unattainable. We merely survive.

Neighbor for Neighbor, advocates for the poor since 1968, has proven its understanding of this fact during four decades of service to Tulsans. A recent example is its newest program, which teaches basic life skills such as budgeting and cooking.

Parent to the Tulsa Community Food Bank, the Coalition for Fair Utility Rates, the Health Issues Project and Millennium House, Neighbor for Neighbor also played a major role in the implementation of the plan that led to the desegregation of Tulsa schools in 1971.

Rather than serve the poor as a group, Neighbor for Neighbor serves the impoverished individual’s specific needs.

By teaching skills in addition to providing needed services such as medical, dental and eye care and expecting those who are able to give back to Neighbor for Neighbor through on-site service, Neighbor for Neighbor has gained the trust of the community.

Helping individuals help themselves is a different concept than helping just individuals. Neighbor for Neighbor helps break the cycle of poverty by offering a hand up rather than a hand out.

Other organizations working to decrease the number below the poverty line should take a lesson from Neighbor for Neighbor and take the extra step that leads to employment and success.

Sam Smith is the Neighbor for Neighbor director of food distribution. Diana Diaz is the Neighbor for Neighbor associate director.

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