People doing what they should do may not be cause for recognition but it certainly provides an opportunity to demonstrate leadership in addressing the needs of fellow citizens.
Such an objective explains why I use this space today to describe an initiative of the church my family has called ours since we arrived in Arlington almost 50 years ago.
Most big cities share a common challenge. Over time, their older parts often suffer deterioration that comes with age.
Infrastructure breaks down and repeated repairs to streets, water lines, utilities and more get to the point where the only solution is to rebuild and restore.
The cost for cities to do that almost always exceeds tax revenues from the areas in need of revitalization.
Strip shopping centers transform into low quality uses or boarded up storefronts.
Neighborhoods become places occupied by residents facing conditions that don’t exist in other parts of the city leaving them without the sense of civic pride they once had.
Such is the case in the area of Arlington developed around the city’s first major corporate entity — the General Motors plant that is now celebrating its 60th anniversary.
As recently as this month’s successful bond election, the commitment of resources to address conditions in that part of town represented the majority of work planned for streets, parks, libraries and public safety.
But that’s not enough to meet needs that are out of reach of the government. Somebody needs to step up and somebody has.
Two years ago the Southern Baptist congregation of Fielder Church, one of the city’s largest, set up a satellite campus at a junior high school in the midst of these conditions. Bilingual pastors led the initiative.
Soon there was recognition of the reality that fulfilling spiritual needs begins with addressing physical needs.
People who responded to the opportunity to worship together in a place near their homes brought with them all kinds of challenges in their daily lives. If the ministry was to succeed, it had to be expanded to meet those needs.
Children didn’t have school supplies; so church members from the home campus provided hundreds of backpacks filled with thousands of essential items.
Others literally went door to door and asked how they could help. The answers ranged from lawns that needed to be mowed, to houses that needed to be painted, to handicap ramps that needed to be installed, to repairs that needed to be made and general clean up that was waiting to be done.
Government doesn’t do those sorts of things.
It wasn’t long before recognition arose that dealing with individual children required a priority commitment. After school tutoring is now being provided by some 80 volunteers. Most sobering of all, abused children are being rescued — sometimes from unimagined circumstances.
Last Sunday the Rev. Gary Smith asked the home church congregation to support the expansion of this ministry by moving it into an expanded facility providing a daily presence in the area.
Space in one of those strip shopping centers had been identified as the right location. The cost to convert it for the community’s use would be about $1 million.
The affirmative answer he received didn’t really surprise anyone. Sacrificial giving is something people of faith know about.
They made commitments way beyond what they would have supported had local government proposed some kind of tax increase to meet the needs of fellow citizens they never met.
This is how community is supposed to work. The model that has emerged has now been joined by 26 other churches making a difference in the lives of people across the city.
Richard Greene is a former Arlington mayor and served as an appointee of President George W. Bush as regional administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency. firstname.lastname@example.org