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Home > Interpreter Magazine > Archives > 2005 Archives > January 2005 > Saving lives a dollar at a time

Julia Means, a parish nurse in Milwaukee, teaches a "Kids of Nia" class.
Saving lives a dollar at a time

By: Susan Passi-Klaus

A dollar doesn’t go far toward high-tech gadgets and designer clothing. But a dollar buying tennis shoes and school supplies for jail-bound teenagers or extra cash to fight for the rights of evicted tenants literally can change lives. In some cases, the dollars even save lives.

Marilyn Higgins, a community developer at Solomon Community Temple Church in Milwaukee, is a pro at turning dollars into actions.

Funding from the Human Relations Day offering lets her “do the little things for the kids in our community,” Higgins said. “We can give them deodorant and toothpaste, so they’re not embarrassed in school. We can feed them the only hot meal they may get in a day. And we can pay for ACT tests they need to take to get into college.”

But the dollars United Methodists give on Human Relations Day also help address some very big problems.

Those dollars allowed Higgins to mobilize local mental health professionals to counsel children who had just watched a 12-year-old climb to a school rooftop and jump to his death.

As Higgins and her team counseled and comforted stunned youngsters, they heard three other fifth-graders admit that they, too, had considered suicide. Because United Methodists gave a little extra, the children Higgins calls her “babies” received counseling to cope with secret hurts and family traumas.

“In our communities, dollars save lives,” she said.

Eliud Rios, a community developer in San Antonio, doesn’t mince words when he calls on fellow United Methodists to ante up a little extra on Jan. 16.

The Kids of NIA. Nia is one of the principles of Kwanzaa, meaning "to have purpose."
Rios said, “As Christians, either we truly understand the Gospel and are going to practice it, live it, do it — or we’re going to say, ‘Here’s my check. Here’s my tithe. Now leave me alone.’”

When immigrants from Rios’ community knock on the door of Monte Sinai Church, they seek food, the advocacy of a Spanish-speaking legal aide in a courtroom or medical care, even if they are uninsured.

“Without the work done by the congregation at Monte Sinai, there would be a big breakdown in our community,” Rios said. There would be more crime, more school truancy, more illnesses left undiagnosed and untreated and more “loss of faith among people who would have to endure hardship without any offer of hope.”

Hope is something the Rev. Teri Green does not often see in the eyes of the juvenile offenders she counsels as associate director of criminal justice and mercy ministries in the Oklahoma Annual Conference.

Kairos Torch weekend retreats are among the many programs Green coordinates. They provide a spiritual lifeline for youth jailed for everything from stealing and prostitution to rape and murder.

Torch retreats are heavy on hot topics and spiritual themes, but it’s the traditional group birthday party the youth remember.

Few have celebrated their own birthday, Green said. “They were raised by moms and dads who couldn’t afford it, or by drug addicts, or by other people who just didn’t care.

“You should see their faces when we dim the lights and each volunteer carries in a birthday cake with one candle,” Green said. Each youth receives a cake engraved with his or her name. “The whole time we’re singing, ‘You are loved, you are beautiful, you’re a gift of God.’”

Green’s greatest joy comes when youth she’s counseled confide that they’re learning to trust adults … and maybe even God.

Green said, “When you listen to God’s call on your heart to serve the least of these — whether it’s working with juvenile offenders or giving to the Human Relations Day offering, then your heart just overflows with joy.”

--Susan Passi-Klaus is a freelance writer in Nashville, Tenn., and publisher of Cracked Pots, an inspirational newsletter for women.

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