The Role of Empowerment in Poverty Alleviation
by Adam Hofer l August, 2022
“They must want it more than you want it.” You might have been told that once or twice if you have ever invested time into a person going through hardships. There is wisdom in those words. So often, poverty alleviation is portrayed as an easy process where all you have to do is give people what you think they need and they will thrive. If only poverty alleviation was that easy. We have learned at the Center of Hope that the needs of people in poverty are more complex than mere handouts. They must want to get well. They must be willing to put in the work to get well. If they aren’t willing, they will remain in poverty. Period. What people in poverty need is empowerment. They must be empowered to 1) grow in their relationship with our Lord Jesus Christ, 2) use their God-given gifts to
bless our community, and 3) view work as a form of worship. That is why we started our Earn-Your-Way program. In the program, guests who are looking for work can earn bicycles, IDs, birth certificates, work clothing, and work shoes/boots through community service at our partnering agencies (Bishop Dudley Hospitality House, Union Gospel Mission, The Banquet, Kingdom Boundaries, Salvation Army, and Health Connect of South Dakota).
The program officially started last summer as the Earn-A-Bike program in our Geared-To-Empower Bike Ministry but due to the success of the program, we expanded what we offered in the program and changed the name to Earn-Your-Way. We hope that this program will be the first domino that falls to lead people to self-sufficiency. We have been greatly encouraged by the number of people who have been helped through the program. Our guests have earned what they need to get back on their feet in dignifying and empowering ways by using their God-given gifts to bless our community through community service.
When our guests leave the Center of Hope with a bike, helmet, and bike lock, they leave with dignity knowing they earned everything they received. There is no shame. No hierarchy of giving. They do not owe us anything for the items earned. They leave the Center of Hope as equals knowing they made a positive difference in our community. They leave connected to a local nonprofit that cares for them, and they know where to go if they ever want to give back to the community again. Poverty alleviation is all about empowerment. People must want to get well to get well. They must have some sweat equity in their growth. Don’t rob people of working towards their own betterment. You can walk alongside, guide, pray for, and encourage. However, let them have some ownership in their growing process and empower them to press on. We understand this at the Center of Hope. We understand that mere handouts are not sufficient as we walk alongside people getting out of poverty. There is a time and place for handouts. However, empowerment is key. Empowerment to live into our purpose of loving God and people through work will bring about lasting change.