I was talking yesterday with my new friend Valarie, a dynamo of bold ideas, big-time vision and on-the-ground action, who runs the Outreach Center down in Lafayette, LA.
The Center has been running in the red for months now, as she, her team and the city try to manage the wave of folks that washed into town following Katrina. The cool thing about her, the Center and Lafayette….they are SO up to the challenge, but the resources they really need (i.e: cash) is in short supply these days, for many reasons. As you can imagine, the scope of the need eats cash 24-7….but there are also national groups that have, quite frankly, accepted/taken/raised LOTS of dough and have yet to spread it around at the level they should, or so that it filters down.
It must be frustrating beyond measure to drive into work everyday and see the faces of thousands of folks who need basic stuff—food, shelter, clothes, school for the kids, medicine for their parents–their lives back…and not be able to meet that need. That frustration is NO doubt compounded by the gut feeling that there’s money being given out, but your town, your clients, your program just hasn’t hit the radar. And that’s what we talked about…getting on the radar so that some company, foundation, church group or individual reaches out and lends them the hand they need to meet the need.
It’s hard when you try to swim against this kind of tide, and a small group down in a small town can feel pretty darn disadvantaged when they try to raise their hand above the Goliath organizations that have the muscle, the media and the manpower to get to any donor faster, with slicker packages and biggerer (I love that term) bold plans. And while goofy ass metaphors like David and Goliath hardly help, we did spend time talking about small stones and the impact a well thrown one can have.
Listen for her and look for her stones….I think she’s going to be a voice that is VERY hard to hold back, because she speaks for thousands of small organizations that are out there, everyday, slugging it out and loosing ground. For years now they’ve played the nonprofit game by the rules they inherited…be patient, don’t speak up, take the money you are offered and be grateful, smile for the camera, be a good team player…and remember, don’t push too hard, because, after all “the poor will always be with us”!?!?!?!?!
Listen for her, because hers is the voice of a new generation of leaders who WILL NOT sit by and watch passively while we repeat the massively well intended, but ultimately limited strategies of the first generation of nonprofit pioneers. Bold as they were, and as MUCH as they accomplished—New Orleans and just about every other city in America had, and still has way, WAY too many folks at the bottom. Would you be satisfied, if you were a young leader, who had invested years volunteering in high school? Would you, if you studied night and day through college while still continuing to volunteer in your “new” hometown, or in another town on your alternative spring break? Would you, if you got out of school, full of fresh vision, fat brains, unlimited faith and Good Will power and started looking for a nonprofit that had the resources and the power to harness and guide that energy to challenge the reason WHY so many are left out? Would you if you were the generation that will pay the taxes to continue to keep this country’s (or that nonprofit’s) lights on? WOULD YOU??? No, you wouldn’t…and neither will Valarie. She and many, MANY others of her generation want to wrestle poverty to the ground and leave it whimpering in the dirt. She wants the public to understand the difference between charity and change. She wants business and government to really partner with her, and hundreds of other groups in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama to STOP, think and then roar forward, together. Most of all, she wants folks who seldom had a chance to get into the game–to get a job, pay taxes, contribute to the community and, ultimately come home at night to a family table full of the food they bought, in the house they own, so that their kids believe in this country and the shot they have to get a piece of the pie for their own kids, one day down the road.
But today, right now….she wants in, and she wants to bring everyone she saw standing outside of the Outreach Center this morning with her.
And me….well, I’m trying to help her (and many others, myself included) find that perfect round, smooth stone that is probably lying right at her feet.
Take aim, Bold Sister.