A few good words


A few words, when they are the right words, can make a big difference. Someone who understands a problem at its source can explain it quickly. A sincere, believable apology usually comes in the fewest words.
Dan Ebener, well known across the Davenport Diocese for his work in social action and leadership formation, used the right words recently to help our perspective on “welfare” budgets. The issue was public support for programs to help troubled children. Money for such purposes is harder to find today, so budgets are being cut back. Workers in the community who try to identify individuals and families in trouble take on heavier case loads. Some services are dropped.
The people affected are usually poorer; at or near the bottom of the economic ladder.
In the Davenport and Muscatine area, Family Resources is an agency trying to help them find and maintain a healthy, stable life. Following the news that it must reduce its work with children because public funding is being cut, Ebener wrote a letter to the Davenport-based Quad-City Times. In that letter he laid out the full scope of need, both public and personal, in very few words:
“Children being served by Family Resources are among the most difficult, most troubled and most vulnerable in our communities. But they are our children. They came from difficult situations before they became difficult. They came from a troubled environment before they caused trouble. They were abused and neglected before they abused certain privileges.”
That is what a compassionate vision sees. Not a procession of individual trouble-makers unconnected from our public environment and a hard past, but stories containing a mix of handicap and opportunity with needs both personal and public.
We might place the burden of proof on individuals for their personal effort to overcome handicaps. But fairness requires that we accept together the burden of changing those public environments that foster handicaps — like unemployment. We also, together, need to accept a responsibility for healing the injuries that a bad start in life can do to children.
None of this means that Family Resources’ budget should be at this or that dollar amount. The point here is our vision of what it does, and our perspective as citizens. Family Resources, and agencies like it everywhere, are part of our collective sense of responsibility for our communities. They also represent an answer to those Gospel questions, “Who is my neighbor?” and “What must I do?”
In what spirit do our answers come out?
Frank Wessling

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