SMITH: We must come together as a community

We live in the most blessed country, during the most blessed time in history, but Americans are more stressed and depressed than ever. People have 1,000 Facebook friends but not five people they can count on in times of need. Suicide is up, and church attendance is down.

We have to ask big questions, think differently, and come together as a community to improve the lives of South Georgia residents. It is going to take collaboration, communication, and coordination between faith, community, business, government, and nonprofits.

Atlanta and Washington, D.C., can help, but South Georgia has to help itself.

Rural Georgia is suffering. We need more jobs, better education, more affordable housing, more loving stable families, and a greater commitment to personal responsibilities. Sadly, it is the last two that are the hardest thing to improve and quantify now. We took those for granted for decades and now are losing them.

The faith community and the 100-plus churches just in Lowndes County have to come together to help. You can’t save a soul if you don’t heal the spirit. Feeding, clothing, and sheltering people are key. People will come into churches if the congregation goes out into the community. Let us meet the needs where they are when they are.

Mission work in the community doesn’t have to be hard. Look at your church and programs and figure out what you do well (food pantry, clothes closets, relationship ministry), and focus on that, but support other churches that do the rest well. Partner and support local charities that specialize in these services.

There are some amazing nonprofits that know how to feed, clothe, shelter, mentor, and heal people, and all your church needs to do is give them money and volunteers. Money is not the only problem. The real problem is coordinating those resources effectively and efficiently. The United Way partners with 20 amazing agencies but there are dozens more that we can connect with you.

I am a sinner in need of a savior and no better than the next person, so I am not one to preach, but we need to come together. We believe probably 95% of the same things about Jesus and His teaching. We shouldn’t let the differences keep denominations from working together to improve people’s lives and spirits.

COVID-19 has taught us we are all vulnerable and connected. We have to help the one lost, even if 99 are doing well. This pandemic is changing the way we think about the economy and philanthropy.

I implore you to think and pray about how your church can think differently and address these problems in your community. The Greater Valdosta United Way is paying to bring a digital program called Charity Tracker into our region to help share data and resources.

GVUW will pay for two years of this program with a grant to encourage churches, agencies, and community partners to implement this. There has to be more communication to know what resources are available. We are also working to bring 211 back into the area, but it will take time.

If we Live United, change and healing can happen.

Neighbors Helping Neighbors

Michael Smith is executive director of the Greater Valdosta United Way.


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