Churches natural allies in community development initiatives

Through Buckner Family Hope Centers, parents earned the school supplies for their children by participating in classes and volunteering in programs that benefit others. (Photo / John Hall / Buckner)

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Nonprofit organizations focused on community development should recognize churches as natural allies in helping vulnerable children and their families improve their lives, said Lorena Gonzalez, vice president of Urban Strategies.

Lorena Gonzalez

When Gonzalez began work in parenting education, she and her colleagues typically focused on schools as community centers strategically located to affect families in their neighborhoods.

“We soon discovered the schools were overwhelmed, and adding another program to their responsibilities was not the best vehicle for making an impact,” she said.

So, she and her co-workers developed partnerships with churches and other faith communities.

“Churches are trusted, they typically have longevity, and they have established relationships,” she said. “Also, they are aligned with the values that represent what we need to be doing—love, service and responding to needs.”

Gonzales will be a keynote speaker at the 2018 No Need Among You Conference, Oct. 3-5, at First Baptist Church in Waco, sponsored by the Texas Christian Community Development Network.

To improve children’s lives, work with entire families

To make a positive impact on the lives of children—particularly in the Hispanic culture—community development initiatives need to recognize the importance of families, said Gonzalez, who also is president of the National Alliance for Hispanic Families. \

“In the Latino culture, we must take a holistic approach that involves the entire family,” she said.

Again, she noted, churches value families and understand the value of ministering across generations and engaging all age groups.

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Build on strengths

Gonzalez hopes churches will recognize the value in collaborative approaches that build on the inherent strengths in communities rather than looking only at addressing urgent needs.

“We can build on the gifts, talents and knowledge that people possess and help them move forward,” she said.

Rather than assuming a more affluent and better-educated volunteer from outside the community has all the answers, a balanced approach to community development recognizes the skills people in poverty often already have.

For instance, she pointed to the remarkable budgeting ability and time-management skills demonstrated by parents who work multiple low-paying jobs and manage to provide the essentials for their families. Looking particularly at the Hispanic culture, she also noted the ability to maintain healthy cross-generational relationships in extended families.

Tell the stories

Gonzalez noted her parents were migrant workers with about a third-grade education who made a living picking spinach. Their children have doctorates, and their grandchildren include attorneys and engineers.

“My parents were not fully educated, but they had a vision, a strategy and a plan for improving the life of their family,” she said.

Just as churches recognize the importance of bearing witness through personal testimonies of faith, second- and third-generation Hispanics can inspire people in their communities of origin by telling their own stories, she added.

“It’s important for people in marginalized populations to meet someone who comes from their community who has his or her own story to share,” she said.


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