Community Outreach: Serving the Working Poor


Though poverty is often seen through the eyes of the homeless or unemployed there are many hard working people in our nation struggling to stay afloat. They are called the “working poor.”

The working poor can be defined as: People who spend 27 weeks or more in a year “in the labor force” either working or looking for work but whose incomes fall below the poverty level. [1]

Here are a few of their stories:

Glenn’s Story

“55-year-old Glenn Johnson was making about $14,000 a year — or $7.93 an hour — at a Miami-area Burger King. He’d been in and out of the fast food industry for more than 30 years. Johnson described his daily routine as “pure hell.” It’s a nonstop effort to keep the store clean and the customers and his managers — most of whom are less than half his age — happy. “Sometimes I get home and I’m so tired, I eat dinner, take a shower, lay down to watch TV, and I’m going to sleep,” he said. “Next morning comes. I’m tired, but I’m trying to make it.”

While Johnson was far from enthusiastic about his work at Burger King, with no computer and few immediate prospects of another job, he still wished he could clock more hours. He said he worked about 35 hours a week, but wanted anywhere from 40 to 50, which would make it easier to pay for his $765-a-month rent, gas and any of the things he can’t currently afford.” [2]

Karen’s Story

“Karen Wall, 38, works as a teacher, cheerleading coach and weekend bartender. Yet money is tight, and all of it goes to keeping her family afloat and paying off her student loan debt. Both of her boys have special needs, so even with the multiple income sources, Wall knows she’s only one disaster away from losing it all. “If I got in a car accident, I’d be homeless,” she said. “If I get laid off from any of my jobs, my kids will end up going hungry.” [2]

The working poor are sometimes the forgotten in-betweens. They live day to day with constant pressure and stress to make ends meet. We see them daily as we order our food, pay for our groceries or fill up with gas. But what we often don’t realize is that these individuals are part of the growing number of working Americans that live below the poverty line.

This past spring I was introduced to an organization in town that specifically aims to help these working poor individuals. The Community Outreach is a Christian ministry in Sioux Falls that aims to share the hope of Christ through providing tools for daily living.

While Community Outreach is not a nation-wide ministry (it is specific to Sioux Falls) I want to share about one of their programs in order to bring awareness to how ministries across the nation might learn to partner with the working poor.

When talking with Gary at Community Outreach I was struck by the reality that most working poor Americans continue to teeter on the edge of disaster. They hold a job but at any moment a small crisis (A car accident, missed utility bill or health issue) could send their life spiraling out of control.

He introduced me to a program they have called the Genesis program. It partners together the working poor with a mentor and team of volunteers who can help them. The Mentee(s) and Mentors work together for 18 weeks to complete a curriculum designed to improve goal setting, budgeting, parenting, and other daily living skills Mentees identify as important. Genesis combines sharing information and encouragement, within a trust-building personal relationship, to improve the Mentees ability to remain safely housed and to better care for their basic physical needs. [3]

What first drew me to the program was its ability to identify the need for practical care along with healthy relationships. It is a model of giving a hand-up through mentoring and some basic financial assistance while still promoting and encouraging the solid work ethic of these individuals. During the process not only are the individuals or families provided with a host of skills that will better equip them, they are given a web of relationships and contacts; mentors and social workers that care for them and want to see them succeed. Sometimes just having someone walk along with you in your stress and difficulty is a huge encouragement. Gary also mentioned that many of the relationships created end up extending beyond the 18 weeks because of the friendship that is created.

The Genesis program also highlights the ways in which local churches can partner with an organization to wholistically care for an individual. While the organization provides the “experts” the church can provide the resources and compassion needed to encourage, care for and support the individuals or families throughout the process.

There is certainly no easily solution to working class poverty. No law of legislation will single handedly eradicate the issue but it is good to see organizations that are coming alongside the poor with a wholistic approach to helping them.

As Christians we are not only called to give to the poor, (Proverbs 19:17) but to also befriend them by caring compassionately for their needs. (Luke 10:25-37) I like what Community Outreach is doing for the working poor in my city. They aren’t the perfect solution to ending poverty, but they are seeking to love the poor through tangible action and healthy relationships. The working poor are all around us, but often not the recognized ones. Take the time to find out how you can help them in the struggles they face. I encourage you to find an organization in your area that sees the power of loving the working poor through word and deed and get involved. Help by being part of the hands and feet of Jesus in your city.

[1] http://poverty.ucdavis.edu/faq/who-are-working-poor
[2] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/05/19/working-poor-stories_n_5297694.html
[3] http://thecommunityoutreach.org/programs/genesis/
Image courtesy of Fibonacci Blue/ flicker.com
By | 2015-07-13T05:30:11+00:00 July 13th, 2015|Categories: Learn and Apply|Tags: |

About the Author:

John Warden is Reconciled World’s global staff pastor and the facilitator for 2:10. He holds a Masters of Religion from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and has more than fifteen years of ministry experience. He lives in Sioux Falls, SD with his wife and two daughters. You can contact him directly at johnw@reconciledworld.org.

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