The ideal goal of charity is to lift the recipient to a position of independence. What does it look like to successfully lift poor people out of poverty and into positions of independence and responsibility?
One successful program is Grace House, a ministry located in the poor Birmingham suburb of Fairfield, Alabama. Grace House was founded in 1989 by Lois Coleman. Coleman grew up in the area, but left for some time as a missionary.
After coming back to Fairfield, Coleman began recognizing the needs of the many young girls in her neighborhood. She opened her home to them as a way to address some of their issues. They came to Coleman seeking counsel and advice and to just hang out with others after school. They respected Coleman so much they called her “Mama Lois.” She was a positive influence in their lives, helping them realize their need to develop positive behavior patterns and the skills they would need to succeed in life.
It was during this time that Coleman developed a vision for what Grace House could be. Many of the girls’ home situations were bad. Their abuse was widespread, and Coleman knew that girls suffering such abuse were at risk of a future marked by abject poverty. Coleman opened the first Grace House in 1992 with help from sponsors. It had room for eight girls. Three other homes have been added to the ministry, which can now serve the needs of thirty to thirty-two girls at any time.
Grace House’s focus has been to provide a safe, stable home for at-risk girls. It places a strong emphasis on inculcating the Christian virtues of honesty, hard work, perseverance, and thrift among its residents. There is also a strong emphasis on education. Every girl entering Grace House receives an initial assessment of her educational abilities. An educational plan is established for her future development based on this assessment. Most girls leave Grace House with the skills and abilities to live independent and productive lives. Many have earned college degrees.
While not all the girls entering Grace House have gone on to gain full independence, the organization has positively impacted the lives of more than 200 girls. It is funded by private donations from local individuals and churches that see the value in Coleman’s vision. It is these efforts that address the real issues of poverty in a way that best serves the goal of promoting dignity, independence, and responsibility.