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Thursday, May 28, 2009

Who Gave You Permission to Help That Man?

Someone asked me something like that once. We were trying to find rides for seniors and people with disabilities who can't drive so they can get to the doctor, to the grocery store and to church. He was a development director for one of the largest charities in town. What he really wanted to know was whether we had the okay of the local good old boy network BEFORE we started looking into the problem.

"Who gave you permission to start a transportation initiative?" he asked.

The answer: Nobody did!

So, without permission, in 7 years we tripled the funding for rural transportation for seniors. We forced the rural transit provider to drop discriminative practices. We engaged private sector transportation providers to help get folks with disabilities get to and from jobs. We stopped predatory "coyote" drivers from exploiting the families of farm workers in small rural colonia's and helped the women get an affordable ride to town to buy groceries. We did so without raising taxes by so much as a nickel.

For our troubles, I got a nasty letter from the executive director of the local Council of Governments. The director of the state Transit Association called me "anti-transit".

I figure we must have done something right if we upset so many good old boys!

There has been a lot of rhetoric in recent years about an old African proverb. "It takes a village to raise a child."

Somehow, folks of a certain political persuasion have come to believe that Washington, DC is just the village to do that.

I'm not sure on what planet the federal government is considered a village, but it is surely not in this solar system. The proverb is dead on, though. I know from experience. I grew up in such a village.

Back when I was 12, If I had been seen throwing rocks at a street light in Keene, Texas by any one of the town's mothers or grandmothers, word would have reached my Mom before I could have made it home at a dead run. Mom would have met me on the porch, her arms crossed and tapping her foot in a way that boded no good for me.

There is no power on Earth for getting things done effectively and humanely like that of a small community. That's the village those old Africans were talking about. Local communities, united together to fix their own problems - that's what the proverb means. They aren't talking about vast unwieldy social programs.

Virtual Village began as a dream to help people working in small to mid-sized nonprofits in rural and small towns, local neighborhoods and communities. The idea was to help inexperienced, but passionate local leaders successfully network, write grants, create new programs and solve problems in their own communities.

They don't need a mandate from Washington. They don't need the okay of whatever good old boy political network runs things in their state. What they need is help figuring out how to do what needs doing.

We call it "doing good without permission".

You'd be surprised how many government bureaucrats we've aggravated so far.

As we built the website, however, the economy suddenly came crashing down around everyone's ears. Foundations cut their giving for new projects. Some closed entirely. The feds cut the deduction for philanthropic giving, seizing control of dollars that once flowed freely to charities and channeling them through government programs. Our small, local charities need help more than ever.

I was driving through the country yesterday and saw a crude sign in front of a tiny country church advertising a "Soup Kitchen". It wasn't sophisticated. It wasn't politically correct. Yet struggling rural seniors were getting a hot meal. The church started the soup kitchen because Meals on Wheels and food bank programs have been having getting food out into the rural areas and there were a lot of older people out here in the sticks that need a hot meal every day. So neighbors pitched in and are helping their grandmas and grandpas and struggling families that have been laid off, have lost jobs or businesses or who have had the family wage-earner die suddenly. By the time a government program could have been put together, isolated seniors could have been starving. They didn't because their neighbors acted quickly and solved a problem with the resources they have.

They'd like to keep it going permanently, but they don't know how.

The Food Stamp folks have long complained that church food pantries were cutting into their business. A couple of years ago they actually started a marketing campaign to bring people back to the Food Stamp program that were being fed by little church food pantries. Now, the Food Banks that supply those church based pantry programs are suddenly finding it harder and harder to get the food supplies they once did as the federal government tries to centralize all anti-hunger programs under government control.

Small to mid-sized charities also face stiff competition for increasingly limited Foundation grants. Big charities with fat development budgets and marketing resources dominate the competition for what grants and other funding remains out there. Local charities are having to do more, with less money and they're doing it with organizations that don't have the aggressive development resources they need to find funding to keep their doors open.

Virtual-Village is a vitally needed on-line tool that can help the hundreds of thousands of small church and community-based organizations that have sprung up to meet needs in our towns and neighborhoods that were not anticipated up in Washington's central planning.

We're here to help the people who create and run local charities. We're here to show them how to reduce travel costs, to access information they need to do their jobs and to help build collaborative networks using 21st century telecommunications and Internet based tools. These wonderful people solve a myriad of problems that exist in our home towns that nobody in Washington has ever thought of, much less designed a "program" for.

These are tough times.

Please go to this link ( ) and visit the site. Small charities can't afford expensive development officers, much less afford an extensive development and fund-raising program. Yet, Foundations and government funding sources increasingly require more and more networking, interagency cooperation and program coordination before they'll give money to local charities. This is an expensive and time consuming task, something most nonprofits can't afford. Virtual Village can help by bringing the collaborative networking process down onto our own desktops.

You can help the little nonprofits and faith-based ministries survive in this era of crumbling economies. Contribute now. We need your time, your talent and your money. Any one or all three!

We need just $25,000 to finish adding all the new tools the site needs to be fully functioning. A commercial for a used car dealer can cost more than that to make.

Just go to the Virtual Village homepage and click on the 'donate' button. Help us finish building the website and adding the tools our friends will need to survive the coming lean years.

The community you help may be your own!

I've given 6 weeks pay so far. Can you give lunch money? It's easy. Follow the easy to use Paypal "Donate" link on the home page. Just a couple of minutes and you can strike a blow in support of all those little guys out there helping your communities.

  • They aren't making government salaries.
  • They don't have government health benefits.
  • They spend on average less than 8% of their entire budgets on admin costs.
  • Many go without pay altogether.
  • Millions of volunteers work with them.
  • Tens of millions are given a hand up.
  • Tens of millions of lives are changed.
  • We can help them do even better.

Join us, won't you.

We don't have to ask the government for permission to help the homeless, to shelter a battered wife and her kids, to feed an elderly person or to help someone who's fallen on hard times to get back on his feet.

Why should we have to ask someone in Washington whether the widow next door deserves to have a couple of neighbors mow her grass or paint her porch for her?

Why should our neighbor have to file stacks of humiliating paperwork when all he needs is a couple of bags of groceries and a ride to work for a few weeks till he gets on his feet?

Help Virtual Village help our community do-gooders to, well, to do good!

Thanks for your support,

Tom King

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