"It is harder for the poor. The poor get poorer….It's harder because there are more needs, more diseases, more that have lost their jobs or their homes. It's getting so that elderly people on fixed incomes can hardly pay their bills. Sometimes they have to decide whether to buy food or their medicines," said Ms. Maudine Holloway, executive director, Community Enabler Developer, Inc., in Anniston, Alabama. Community Enabler Developer is a part of the Community Developers Program (CDP), an
initiative administered by the General Board of Global Ministries for
The United Methodist Church since 1972. The Community Developers Program gives seniors, children, teens, and anyone in need, such as the residents of Anniston, a way to improve their social and economic situations through services and support.
As is the case with more than 40 United Methodist-related community development sites around the United States, Community Enabler Developer provides meals, classes, housing, and health advocacy. Anniston's Community Enabler center first began at Haven United Methodist Church and now operates out of its own building near
the First United Methodist Church of Anniston. The center also runs Sable, an after-school program located in nearby Hobson's City.
Serious Illness in Anniston
Holloway, a community developer for 37 years, notes a trend in the number of serious illnesses in the area. "A lot of our folk are dying of cancer and other diseases. I'm seeing more sickness, more kids born with deficiencies, and more seniors with Alzheimer's. Cancer and diabetes are rampant."
Scientists, environmentalists, and community members attribute these high rates of illness to the environmental damage that has strangled the neighborhood since the 1930s. Monsanto, a chemical company, provided work for the community for 40 years but also dumped contaminated water into the streams and soil of the
low-income neighborhoods of Anniston. The EPA has found mercury, arsenic, and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), among other chemicals, in Anniston's land and water. Since 1997, Solutia, an offshoot of Monsanto, has produced chemicals at the plant.
Community activist David Baker remembered his brother who died in 1970: "At 16 years old, he died from a tumor of the brain, cancer of the lungs, and hardening of the arteries of his heart. He never smoked. He never drank. He didn't do anything but play in ditches and have a good time. He got sick and died within a year." Baker is currently training people on how to purify the soil of chemicals.
The Anniston ditches and streams and yards where Baker and his brother played were polluted by PCBs. In 2002, the case against Monsanto, filed on behalf of 20,000 community residents, was settled for $700 million. The scientists and lawyers who helped establish and build the case have turned their attention to other neighborhoods; community developers like Holloway have stayed and continue to reach out to the residents.
Hanging on in Hard Times
Like other community developers across the nation, the Community Enabler has not had an easy time. "We ran out of food four times this year—bare necessities, like bread and eggs," reported Holloway. In 2007, the Community Enabler center provided meals, clothing, and emergency supplies to 5,216 people.
"We don't say you have to be Methodist or Baptist; we don't turn anybody away….These people have nowhere else to go. If it wasn't for the church, I don't know what would happen to them," Holloway added.
In addition to distributing food, community centers distribute knowledge. At the Sable center, teens learn conflict-resolution skills and parents learn how to get involved in their kids' schooling. Of the 53 students enrolled in the Sable after-school program, 35 have perfect attendance at school and 30 are on the A or B honor roll, reported Holloway proudly. Sable also offers classes in sewing, cooking, nutrition, and sexual health. Holloway realized the need for sexual information when she learned that a fifth-grade
student at the local school had been diagnosed with a sexually transmitted disease.
The Community Enabler center has helped meet the needs of young people seeking medical attention, like the boy who needed insulin five times a day and care from a hospital in Birmingham. When the boy's family could not afford to take the boy to the hospital, the center arranged for round-trip bus tickets for the boy and his mother to travel to the facility 65 miles away.
Ms. Holloway is humbled by and grateful for the folks who themselves face difficult times, yet come to the center to volunteer. An older woman who buried her daughter donated $300 in her daughter's memory to the Community Enabler Developer Center.
"People who have been helped are coming to help," Ms. Halloway reported. "During the Christmas holiday, an older lady came in and said, ‘I told my children, "Don't give me anything, I want to help Miss Maudine's center." ‘ "
Relearning the ABCs
Establishing and supporting one another through community-development centers is one way the people of Anniston in Calhoun County are lifting themselves out of entrenched cycles of poverty.
At the foundation of the Community Developers Program is a philosophy known as ABCD—Asset-Based Community Development—a process developed at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. Rather than focusing on the resources a community lacks, an asset-based paradigm encourages residents to identify and draw upon the resources they already possess. Such re- sources may be people-powered.
For example, many volunteers at Community Enabler Developer are aging. One hero, so named by the local newspaper, The Anniston Star, is Myrtle Miller. At 76, Ms. Miller volunteers to work with "the elderly" at Community Enabler. Miller is also on the board of the center.
The success of community development centers relies on "the power of many as opposed to one," said Tanika Harris, executive secretary for the Community Developer Program at Global Ministries.
Many community-development centers use a multipronged approach to address the pervasive poverty in low-income neighborhoods. Strategies depend on a neighborhood's resources. In general, community developers try to engage children, teens, and the elderly, as well as those who are sick, homeless, unemployed, or substance abusers, to become involved in their communities in positive ways.
Community developers may build economic development opportunities for the disenfranchised and invigorate the financial viability of communities. For example, at Community Enabler, unemployed people learn handicraft skills and job readiness training.
"When the pipe [manufacturing] shops closed, we had to
help people find jobs and skills. The pipe shops were the center
of industry here in Anniston," Holloway explained.
The center has also helped to provide and build housing. In the United Methodist North Alabama Conference, where the center is located, two new retirement homes were built. "We built a retirement home in the black community," Holloway said. "We are involved in so many ways in the community."
Community Developers Program
For more on the Community Developers Program, visit the Global Ministries web page at http://new.gbgm-umc.org/about/us/cim/programs/developers/
For more on community activist David Baker's story and that of other residents of Anniston, Calhoun County who have struggled with the fallout from the Monsanto plant, visit the website for the Center for Public Integrity, Investigative Journalism in the Public Interest. The report on the PCB manufacturing plant in Anniston can be found at www.publicintegrity.org/superfund/videos.aspx
"We are rehabbing lives, credit, and buildings," Harris said of the Community Developers Program.
The work of the Community Developers Program is funded through gifts given on Human Relations Day, a Special Sunday giving opportunity usually celebrated near Martin Luther King, Jr., Day.
"A taxi brought a man here; he had no socks or shoes and he was so thankful. He was homeless. When you can do the things that most people take for granted, it warms your heart. It makes you so humble. Like I say all the time, I was hired by the church, but I was called by God. It's been my life," Holloway said.