Religious social-service groups to meet to focus public attention on needy

June Gutterman insists that it’s time for society to open its eyes to the growing plight of people in need.

In a world where economic classes have become increasingly separated, people can go through life without seeing poverty, she said. In a world in which more information is available at our fingertips than ever, people are choosing to ignore the things in society that make them uncomfortable.

We turn our heads or flip the station.

“We can divert our eyes and not see it, and therefore not feel responsible, and therefore see the people who experience it as ‘the other,’ ” said Gutterman, chief executive officer of Jewish Family Services.

Gutterman and other executives from faith-based social-service agencies in central Ohio will gather at a public forum from 2 to 5 p.m. Sunday at First Congregational Church, 444 E. Broad St., to help focus the community on its neediest.

“Faith-Based Social Services: In the World for the Sake of the World” seeks to help increase understanding about the work the organizations do, ways in which they collaborate and how social services have expanded over the years, from simple charity work to massive efforts aimed at fostering social change.

Other panelists will be Larry Crowell of Lutheran Social Services, Rachel Lustig of Catholic Social Services, Nicol Ghazi of Muslim Family Services of Ohio and Dawn Tyler Lee of Columbus Mayor Andrew J. Ginther’s office. Dispatch Reporter Mark Ferenchik will moderate.

The Rev. Skip Cornett, a retired Lutheran minister, organized the forum, which is sponsored by the Interfaith Association of Central Ohio. He wants to show that faith-based social-service agencies help people of all religious backgrounds and receive a great deal of funding from government agencies, which rely on them to provide much-needed services to the public.

Ghazi is the administrator of the 20-year-old Muslim Family Services of Ohio, the youngest agency on the panel. Although the Muslim community used to be more transient, she said, it has become a permanent part of the central Ohio landscape. She said her organization not only provides social services to people in need but also works with other nonprofit and government groups to help them understand the unique needs of Muslims.

“We’re continuing to get busier in terms of serving alongside our other faith-based organizations, and alongside secular organizations,” she said. “We definitely want to build strong families, so we’re definitely willing to do our part.

“We don’t think anybody should have to wonder where the next meal for their children will come from.”

Crowell, chief executive officer of Lutheran Social Services, said the various faith-based groups, and community and government organizations, can and do share resources and support one another. The panel discussion will help them discover more ways to unite in their common cause to assist others, he said.

“It’s an exceptional opportunity simply to share and learn and to strengthen by coming together in a new way,” he said.

He said the agencies also can learn from others’ business models. For example, other groups might be able to benefit from copying Lutheran Social Services’ social-enterprise efforts, such as assisted-living centers that generate revenue to subsidize the costs of such services as homeless shelters and pantries.

For the public, Crowell hopes the forum will provide an increased understanding that faith-based agencies tend to serve anyone, regardless of religious background. Faith, he said, is what compels the groups to serve but not what determines whom they serve.

“What drives us as an organization, as a faith-based organization, is really a command to love our neighbor and care for those who are in need in our community,” he said. “There’s no litmus test to care for others.”

Gutterman stresses a “we’re all in this together” point of view, saying that society can no longer abdicate the responsibility to care for the needy to religious organizations. The government must assist, and people who can help must do more than write a check to the church.

“It can’t just sit on one set of shoulders,” she said. “This is not about doing good deeds. This is about really serious work, and you need resources for it.”

Her goal is to awaken people to the importance of reaching out to help others as a way to social change.

“If they keep their eyes closed, nothing will change, and we can’t afford that any longer,” she said. “We’re getting to a tipping point in our country. We cannot continue to ignore this. We cannot continue to write people off. We just can’t.”
JoAnne Viviano, The Columbus Dispatch, Friday April 1, 2016 5:43 AM
Religious social-service groups to meet to focus public attention on needy