Hello from Lighthouse

Welcome to my blog.   I’ve been asked to contribute some thoughts each week about our work at Lighthouse.  Frankly, it’s not clear just who would want to read this but I’m willing to give it a go.

Many people have asked how the families we serve at Lighthouse are coping in these difficult times.   I’ll be able to let you know how the families we serve are making it work and what Lighthouse is doing to make a difference for them.

If you find it interesting or useful, please let me know.   Your feedback and ideas will certainly keep me motivated to continue writing.  You can reach me at jziraldo@lighthouseoakland.org

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February 4, 2010 at 3:34 pm Leave a comment

Even Small Things Can Make a Big Difference

As you know, Lighthouse has always been in the business of helping people overcome the crises in their lives.  Since 1972, we’ve thrown open our doors and invited the world to bring us their problems and, every day, they do.   Though much of our work is similar to our early efforts, the kind of people we serve today has changed dramatically.

More than 30% of our new clients have never sought help from an agency like ours before.  Many of the families now turning to Lighthouse for services are well-educated, have good work histories and are simply struggling to get through these tough economic times.  Simply put, they are your family, your friends and your neighbors.

When so many people need help, what can one person do to make a difference?  Many people have told us that they simply cannot afford to contribute as they have in the past.  The economic downturn has had an impact on many of our supporters as well as our clients.  Yet, even if we have fewer dollars to give, each of us still has the power to make a big difference for those in need.

If you find yourself struggling to contribute as you have in the past, here are ideas you may want to consider:

Adjust How You Give Rather Than Whether You Give

Some of our supporters have begun to shift their emphasis from making cash donations to supporting us by providing in-kind goods and volunteer time.  Others have moved from making one large, year end donation to making smaller monthly contributions.  In this economy, it’s no surprise that our volunteer numbers are up this year.

Work with a Friend or Team to Make a Bigger Impact

Many businesses, schools, churches and other organizations find that by working together they can undertake projects that are too large for any one family or individual.  By harnessing the power of a team, a relatively small number of people can find ways to accomplish a lot.  We have many projects and ideas your group may want to consider.

Party with a Purpose – Have Fun and Do Good

Take an existing holiday gathering or activity and give it a charitable purpose by asking the guests to make a charitable donation or to contribute some essential in-kind good.  This issue of the newsletter has a number of good examples to spark your creativity.

Focus on the Essentials – Give Where It Matters Most to You

While there are many worthy groups who are asking for your support, you may want to concentrate your efforts on the organizations that are doing the work that you feel is most important.  Look for groups that tell you how your charitable dollars are making a difference.  Obviously, we hope you view Lighthouse as a place where your support can have the greatest impact on those in need who are struggling to become self-sufficient.

We are thankful for all of the help you provide to Lighthouse and the seniors, families and individuals we serve.  Your generosity does make a big difference for those who come to our doors hoping to get back on their feet.

October 29, 2010 at 3:51 pm 1 comment

28 Years Later & We’re Still Walking

On May 1st, Lighthouse held its 28th annual Hunger Walk.  Like so many other charities, our walk is intended to help us raise dollars and awareness of the important work we do to solve the problem of hunger in our community.  Charitable walkathons have their roots in the protest marches of an earlier age.  In essence we walk because we want to change the world by demonstrating our common concern with just a little bit of energy and shoe leather.   After all these years I have to ask — how are we doing?

Unlike some of the civil rights marchers of the 1960’s, this year’s Hunger Walkers did not face angry opposition, fire hoses or attack dogs.  Though we did have to dodge a few raindrops, few people would oppose our efforts to overcome hunger, homelessness and poverty.  The “enemy” we are fighting is much more difficult to identify and overcome.  Why in one of the wealthiest counties in the United States are there families that continue to struggle to provide enough food for their children?

The root causes of hunger are many.  An underfunded and inefficient public welfare system certainly plays a role.  Another factor is the weakened local economy that offers very few jobs for those without 21st Century skills.  Our staff and volunteers have expressed concern that the food that’s available in inner city markets is too expensive and of poor quality.  Some of the families who come to us for help are struggling with problems that are the result of their own poor choices.  Perhaps the largest single obstacle is a sense of complacency that allows us to view the problem of hunger as unsolvable.  Even those who work on the problem every day are slow to abandon the programs and strategies that only treat symptoms rather than root causes.

Despite our best efforts, the problem of hunger is growing.   Why aren’t we angry and more committed to finding a real solution?  What will it take so a walk on a spring day is simply a fine way to spend time with friends rather than a former of social protest?

May 10, 2010 at 12:21 am Leave a comment

Do Nonprofits Compete or Collaborate?

In tough times like these, many nonprofit organizations are looking for new ways to raise revenue so that we can help the increasing numbers of families in need.  When we try to do more, nonprofit organizations find themselves both competing with other worthy groups for resources and collaborating with some of these same groups to provide services and programs to people in need.   When it comes to the question of how we compete and collaborate, I think we might have it backwards.

So many of the groups we compete with for resources share similar goals and, often, serve some of the same families.   A number of donors have told me that they dislike the idea that charitable groups with similar missions “compete” for their support.   Rather than leaving our supporters feeling pulled in separate directions, perhaps agencies with similar missions should be working together to increase the overall base of support.  By increasing the number of people who are committed to the well-being of poor families, we would be making the pie bigger for all.

Collaboration for human service agencies often means coordinating the programs we provide.  In this way, charitable groups try to avoid duplication of effort or resources.   However, this approach to working together does little to motivate nonprofit agencies to improve the effectiveness of the programs we provide.   In the for profit world, businesses compete everyday to provide better services at a lower cost.   There are real financial rewards for business that find new ways to improve the quality and value of the services they offer.   Unfortunately, this is not always the case in the nonprofit world.  Too often, we rely on the compassion our donors have for the families we serve to raise support for our work.  What would happen if we had to compete for support based entirely on the results of our programs?

Maybe it’s time we flipped our ideas about nonprofit competition and collaboration.  In doing so, agencies serving the poor might end up building a broader base of support for our efforts and achieving greater results for people and communities we serve.

March 31, 2010 at 5:04 pm 3 comments

Just what is the social “safety net?”

As more and more people turn to churches, government agencies and groups like Lighthouse, the news media talks about the strain on the social safety net.  Just what is the social “safety net?”

The image of someone balancing precariously on a high-wire above a net is a good metaphor for those who are struggling to keep it together in this tough economy.   When public and nonprofit agencies step in to make sure that relatively smaller problems like an unpaid utility bill don’t lead to a larger crisis like homelessness, these groups serve as a safety net for people in need.  The short-term help provided to families often helps them avoid even larger troubles down the road.

You and I as individuals are part of that same safety net when we reach out to help a family member or friend who is struggling.  When every one of us contributes what we can — whether it’s time or money or a listening ear – we keep the safety net from breaking.   With help and support the families we serve can continue to move forward even as hard luck and tough times try to push them back.

Perhaps the safety net is simply each of us joining hands to make sure that no one in our community has to face a difficult crisis alone.

Let me know if there are things you think Lighthouse should be doing to maintain a strong safety net for the communities we serve in Oakland County.

February 8, 2010 at 9:49 pm 1 comment


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