So You Think They Should Know Better

SEABROOK SAYS:  Those who know must help those who do not know.  Think 30 years.  Interfaith Hospitality Network works every day, Sundays too, to help whose who do not know.  Read, please.

Since 2004 I have had the honor of serving the homeless community of Gaston County, particularly homeless children and their families. I serve as the Executive Director of Family Promise of Gaston County. Family Promise provides shelter, meals, transportation and supportive services to homeless families of Gaston County. The shelter program called Interfaith Hospitality Network is organized by several congregations in Gaston County that provide lodging space, volunteers, meals and a tremendous amount of support to the families we serve.

The beauty of Family Promise’s Interfaith Hospitality Network model is the selfless commitment of volunteers to serve homeless families that enter their own congregation’s facility each day. It provides an opportunity for volunteers to touch the very lives of everyone with whom they come into contact.

While all those we have served over the years are considered impoverished, they can be categorized in two different ways. As described in Ruby Payne’s “A Framework for Understanding Poverty,” some are experiencing generational poverty, while others are experiencing situational poverty. Generational poverty can be defined as being in poverty for two generations or longer. Situational poverty is a shorter time and is caused by circumstances. Regardless of the circumstances, when you are facing homelessness or in a homeless situation, it is highly possible that learning what is socially acceptable will not be high on your priority list.

“They should know better”, “don’t they know better than that”, “well everyone should know that!” These are reoccurring comments I have heard over the years from volunteers, community members and even staff who have worked with the homeless children and their families we have served. While I do not believe in making excuses for others, I find myself taking it as a teaching opportunity to better inform those who feel the people we serve “just should know better.” Fact is, in many cases they do not know better, but this does not give anyone reason to judge, but instead be sensitive to the situation and when the opportunity presents itself, take the opportunity to share a bit of wisdom with those we encounter. No one is born knowing all they need to know to be productive and successful in life. Someone, whether it was our parents, teachers, or neighbors, had to teach those of us who feel “we know better.” Do those who struggle in impoverished situations not deserve the same experience? Most of the individuals I am privileged to serve are eager to “know better” as long as they are approached in a respectful and dignified manner, especially the children, they are starving for attention and someone to impart life lessons into them.

There is a fine line you must walk between being judgmental and empathetic. While one cannot assume that everyone that is impoverished is ignorant to certain social norms, one must be empathetic toward those who are impoverished and exercise patience when it appears “they just don’t know any better.” I believe “when you know better, you do better,” and this is the truth on which I stand and serve those in their time of need. So when the opportunity presents itself to share a nugget of positive redirection, seize it. Help someone you come into contact with know better, so they will do better.

Donyel Barber
Executive Director
Family Promise of Gaston County




1 thought on “So You Think They Should Know Better

  1. Janice Holly Booth

    A few years ago, I had the opportunity to participate in a poverty simulation facilitated by Crisis Assistance Ministry. Up until that point I hadn’t really thought very deeply about the impact of poverty on individuals and families, but once thrust into that situation — even though it was temporary — I realized that poverty is a huge, sucking vortex and once you’re in it, it can be extraordinarily difficult to get out no matter how hard you try, or how sincere your efforts. In addition to fighting every day just to survive, people in poverty also have to deal with predators of all kinds who take advantage of their vulnerability. The poverty simulation in which I participated had me and my “husband” both employed with three children; we were living paycheck to paycheck but doing OK. Then a series of calamities befell us, I was the only one with a job, and even with all my knowledge about budgets and time management and creative problem solving, my “family” fell into real poverty, a desperate situation that was not going to turn around any time in the short term. Anyone who has the opportunity to participate in a poverty simulation should do so — it is such an eye opener and one will never, ever think about poverty the same way again. The other thing we learned was that one of the best ways to help someone in poverty was to befriend them. Not give them money or mentor them (although those are helpful behaviors), but just be their friend. As Donyel says: “So when the opportunity presents itself to share a nugget of positive redirection, seize it. Help someone you come into contact with know better, so they will do better.” Amen. — Janice Holly Booth


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