Comments by Roy Exum
Roy Exum: Poverty Knows No Religion
Wednesday, February 29, 2012 - by Roy Exum
The cardinal rule of any good salesman is never - under any circumstances -
discuss politics, religion or your favorite football team with a prospective
buyer. Nothing in the world will kill a deal quicker than to volunteer you are
“one of those.” Using that theory, I have often wondered how Chattanooga’s very
successful Interfaith Homeless Network keeps from imploding.
Think about this for a minute – how do 51 area churches, representing who knows
how many various tribes -- hold hands to provide one of the most beautiful and
successful outreaches to those less fortunate when they can’t even decide which
“rule book” to use?
It’s really simple, the center’s longtime executive director said Tuesday. “The
one common thread of every religion is to help those in need. If you just knew
how over 100 volunteers from churches across our community work together every
week, it would make your hair stand on end,” said Mary Ellen Galloway. “As a
result, we see miracles happen every day.”
Mary Ellen, who is Catholic, and Ruth Votava, who is Jewish, are the center’s
only fulltime employees. A volunteer from St. Elmo Presbyterian opened the door
yesterday while the board president attends the First Christian Church. The
treasurer goes to Burks United Methodist and the board secretary attends
But because the whole thing works in such an inspiring way, over 700 families
have been served since 1998 and the success rate of those who have climbed from
despair is right at 80 percent. I think it is one of Chattanooga’s most
phenomenal success stories and the network receives not a dime in city, county
or state money.
The new building, which is the “day center” for the families it serves - is at
1184 Baldwin St. – just a stone’s throw from the Community Kitchen on East 11th
Street - is totally paid for and, are you ready for the clincher, this year’s
annual budget is less than $200,000 total. In an age when cynics, nay-sayers and
red tape rule supreme, the Interfaith Homeless Network is a glittering gem that
is needed more right now than ever before.
With foreclosures, a stifled economy, and literally millions out of jobs, Mary
Ellen told me yesterday she has 135 families on her waiting list but, little by
little, she and an eager volunteer army are quietly chipping away in hopes of
helping even more. “People of every faith are called to serve the needy. While
we might disagree on theology, no one who helps in our efforts thinks poverty is
a real good idea.”
And one way the network circumvents individual beliefs is by respectfully
requesting that none among them proselytize, or tries to convert, each other or
the clients. “It is a rule that makes sense and is crucial to the way we work
together. Now that I’ve said that, I have to tell you that what I have seen
happen by just the examples that are set by the volunteers who come here is not
only endearing to all of us, but a deep ministry in itself.”
Give me an example, I asked. “We have a beautiful woman who came here with her
children and was missing her front teeth. She shined in a way so that nobody
paid any attention to her mouth but she was very self-conscious, as you would
guess. She started attending a Seventh-Day Adventist church and soon somebody
there ... I don’t know the details … quietly got involved. Today she’s got a
great smile,” Mary Ellen laughed warmly at the story. I could not.
And that is my whole point – how can the followers from all these different
religions band together to get 700-and-counting Chattanooga families out of
life’s ditch? They tutor clients to take the GED exam, to make a weekly budget,
to get and keep a sustainable job, to educate their children. The day center has
a laundry, a play area and “a quiet place” for the children and – most of all –
a roof of a haven until they can venture anew into society. Hello?
What if the Republicans and Democrats could do that? How about Alabama and
Auburn, or Vanderbilt and Tennessee? All you have to have is a faith, a belief
that poverty isn’t a good idea and the promise you will not foist your personal
beliefs on the guy beside you. Moreover, the Interfaith Homeless Network has an
80-percent success rate.
I am completely dazzled and Mary Ellen Galloway isn’t bashful about turning away
potential volunteers, donors, or any ideas. Maybe it is time you gave a little
back. Call her at 756-3891 and tell her you’d like to help, that you don’t think
poverty is a good idea, either.
She would love that. I would, too.
From Matthew, 25th chapter:
I was hungry and you fed me,
I was thirsty and you gave me a drink,
I was homeless and you gave me a room,
I was shivering and you gave me clothes,
I was sick and you stopped to visit,
I was in prison and you came to me.'
... the King will say, 'I'm telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one
of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me.'
following ministries will always welcome additional servers:
Come work with elementary age
children from 3:00 to 4:30 on Tuesdays!
Kyle Cutsinger 423-892-1079
kylenrick @ comcast.net
provide needed items for homeless children!
Louise R (423-886-3633)
drussell124 @ comcast.net
Bucks Store” – Help
stock the “incentive store” for children who are working hard to succeed!
Contact Gail R (703-402-9862)
gaillrich @ epbfi.com
recognize our teachers who are making a difference in children’s lives!
Sandy Reynolds 423-886-2361
smtenn @ bellsouth.net
feed the hungry!)
serves every 1st & 3rd Friday
Pete Raulston llr36 @ yahoo.com
Don Baldwin 423-842-3718 dhbaldwin @ aol.com
(Help a family put a roof
over their heads! ...And 4 walls, too!)
works 2nd Saturday of each month
Larry K (423-265-0756)
email is kirbychat @ epbfi.com
Chattanooga Room In The Inn
Volunteer to serve a meal every 5th
Shannon Beattie 423-883-9083
email: shanhb @ hotmail.com
Interfaith Homeless Network
Help out when we host families for a week, several times each year.
Julia Martin 423-876-9588
email: chuck343 @ comcast.net