NinaSTell Me a Story…

By: Nina Smart In: 2009 Fall Conference

7 Oct 2009

At the lunch plenary on Monday, Community Information in Today’s Technology World, we heard a story about a homeless man who knows of a computer where he blogs about resources for homeless people. Remarkable, yes.  

At the lunch we heard about the great concern of the digital divide between those with Internet access and those without. The story of the homeless man was meant to highlight the belief of many here that all people need computers.

What I heard in the story is that even a homeless man is giving of himself to help others. Now that’s real philanthropy. I was hoping to hear the rest of the story about how he was supported by organized philanthropy.

I was going to drop the whole subject, but on the way to dinner, we walked by an elderly homeless man sleeping over a vent near our hotel in San Antonio. The man appeared to have nothing but the ragged clothes on his body. 

It was near impossible to imagine him with a computer accessing the Internet. Are we going to teach him how to use it before we help him gain some weight? He looked dangerously thin.

Addressing homelessness has lost its luster, because it’s hard work, multifaceted and discouraging during an economic downturn.   

So, I want to write the rest of the story of the homeless man who blogs–like this:

The mayor and a community foundation executive director find out about this homeless man with determination and a big heart and who is compiling valuable, practical information for the homeless. The mayor and foundation executive are both appalled that no one else has gathered this information and made it accessible to the people who need it. They discuss who gets to work with the homeless man and some of his homeless friends. The community foundation wins.

The homeless man and his friends are hired to talk and listen to the homeless, learn what they most need and how to best communicate with them. Armed with this knowledge, they call the mayor who makes homelessness the city’s issue. The mayor decides: Everyone is going to help connect the dots on resources for the homeless.

Now, these formerly homeless men can afford to pay rent in the newly-designed affordable housing complex adjacent to the trolley and a community health clinic. 

Nice! Does it have to be fiction?

Nina Smart is with The Jacobs Center for Neighborhood Innovation.

2 Responses to Tell Me a Story…

Reed Morgan

October 7th, 2009 at 2:36 pm

astute as well as poignant

Charlene Smith

October 16th, 2009 at 10:10 am

Hi Nina,

Thank-you for introducing our organization to the Council on Foundations. I don’t believe many people know and understand about this new kind of “From the Bottom up” Philanthropy.

In a time where history is being made by the election of a African American President. The same history is being make on a smaller scale where residents are leading residents in philanthropic foundation efforts.

One of the things that I feel people do not know about the Neighborhood Unity Foundation is it has been identified as the first resident led foundation in the United States.

In our community people have strong ties and pre-existing ways of helping each other. This kind of informal philanthropy has a center of worth that is the very foundation where one can build a bridge between informal philanthropy and formal philanthropic. Building on the strengths that support people and engage them in new and exciting ways to increase their civic activity is where I believe real change will takes place. It will be interesting to see where this all goes.

Charlene C. Smith, Vice-President of Neighborhood Unity Foundation

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