In Celebration of the Points-of-Light Spirit

April 22, 1991|By JAMES W. ROUSE

Good things are happening in America to relieve human suffering. There is a rising tide of concern about people without jobs, without skills, without homes, without hope.

As a nation, we are coming to recognize the vicious cycle of persistent poverty -- of life at the bottom of our society and the price we pay for it:

* More than 40 percent of the kids in city high schools fail to graduate -- become adults unqualified to work.

* Unemployment rates in center-city neighborhoods run to 40 percent, 50 percent and more.

* Men and women without work hustle to survive -- drugs, crime, violence. We have become the most violent nation in the world: 426 of every 100,000 Americans are in jail; only 333 South Africans; only 268 in the Soviet Union.

* Joblessness leads to homelessness -- one million people in the United States will sleep without homes tonight -- 100,000 kids and their mothers will walk the streets of America like stray animals looking for a place to sleep.

* But not all the homeless are jobless -- 16 million households in the United States have incomes under $10,000 a year -- working people making $5 an hour or more -- 50 percent of whom pay more than 50 percent of their income for rent -- leaves $15 a day for food, clothing, health care, all else. No margin for savings -- one setback, on the street.

* The homeless are not a pool but a surging tide of people who can't pay their rent -- are evicted, become homeless.

And we pay for these conditions -- in the loss of our competitive edge among nations.

We pay for it as a burden on governments at all levels -- estimated by the White House at $750 billion a year.

We pay for it in millions of alienated people who feel little or no stake in America.

But new hope arises from thousands of people who are doing something about it -- people from churches and temples -- people in non-profit community organizations -- people mentoring for others, one-to-one.

There is a huge, nationwide increase in volunteer community service.

To celebrate this, to encourage it, to urge corporations, institutions, individuals across the nation to reach out as volunteers to the millions of others in need; to break this cycle of persistent poverty, the Points of Light Foundation in Washington has set aside April 15 to April 26 to focus attention on community service -- events, organizations and individuals in communities across the country -- each day in a different city.

The surge of volunteers is expected to mount a major new force for community service to answer deep human needs. It will give heart and soul and muscle to non-profit teams calling for help.

It will help raise money, help build new structures, help find new ++ systems, help raise awareness among people of wealth and power.

This is not intended to take the place of government but to enhance and invigorate the role of both government and the private sector.

In Baltimore today Jack Kemp, secretary of Housing and Urban Development joins Mayor Schmoke, Governor Schaefer, Senator Barbara Mikulski, Rep. Kweisi Mfume, Rep. Ben Cardin and others to celebrate the work of volunteers in housing the poor, working with the homeless and feeding the hungry.

The celebration will center on the work of 50 churches organized as BUILD (Baltimore United in Leadership Development) to provide home ownership for low-income families.

A modular home will be lowered on its foundation in the 1500 block of Retreat Street in the Penn-North Neighborhood. It is one of 280 homes to be built -- 20 more rehabilitated for sale to families with incomes as low as $10,000 a year.

The work of other volunteers for Christmas in April, Action for the Homeless and the Maryland Food Committee will be honored. Everyone is welcome.

If Baltimoreans respond as Baltimoreans typically do to people in need and the opportunity to serve, today's celebration can mark turning point in our reaching out to one another -- and a turning point away from joblessness, homelessness, hunger and violence toward the well-being, productivity and opportunity we seek for one another.

James W. Rouse is chairman of the Enterprise Foundation and a board member of the Points of Light Foundation.

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