I have spent a lot of years in nonprofit work, many of those years were spent in direct contact with people who found themselves in difficult situations and were forced to seek help. The reasons were varied, and the people were diverse. Unexpected events that affect finances and basic needs can strike anyone at any time. That has never been so evident as in the past two years when the entire world’s population was struck with a pandemic. At the beginning of 2020 I was still working in a nonprofit in South Carolina that served a large population of residents in poverty. When the pandemic started affecting our community, neighbors who had never had to seek our services before also found themselves waiting in food lines and making applications for financial assistance. Many were embarrassed, some were distraught, others made the request easily and determined it was “just a bump in the road”. In all situations, regardless of history or socio-economic level the individuals that were able to move forward and make plans for recovery and change were those who had hope.
Second Harvest Food Bank’s mission has two parts, “Help for Today and Hope for Tomorrow”. One of the ways we accomplish the second part is with our Forward STEPS Initiative, which is poised to gear up this year in a big way. As for many, the pandemic forced us to focus on Help for Today. Getting food out to the wide variety of people, partner agencies, and organizations that we serve in eight Indiana counties was and still is a big priority. Beginning in 2022, however, we will be able to focus more on Hope for Tomorrow through the programs that make up our Forward STEPS Initiative. The goal is to offer opportunities for neighbors who have been struggling with life changes during the pandemic or even before, find a way forward.
We do that through our “Getting Ahead”, “Getting Ahead in the Workplace,” and “Staying Ahead” programs. All programs take place during 16 -18 weekly meetings with a group of people who are investigating, learning, and planning how to pivot their lives from where they are to a more desirable and manageable place with goals and hope for the future. Also, included in this initiative are programs that help donors, volunteers, and the general public understand through a hands-on experiential workshop what it is like to live in someone else’s shoes facing daily struggles. We accomplish this through Poverty and Community Food Simulations offered to public and private groups in all eight counties that we serve.
At the heart of all of these programs is a desire to instill hope, the kind of hope that helps us have a vision for what we hope will happen. To have hope is to want an outcome that makes your life better in some way. It not only can help make a tough present situation more bearable but also can eventually improve our lives because envisioning a better future often motivates us to take the steps to make it happen. If we are one of the lucky individuals who find ourselves in a position to be of help to neighbors in need, educating ourselves on what it is like to be in a situation where hope is hard to come by makes us more empathetic and more effective in our service.
Watch for announcements of when these opportunities will be available and open to participate in. Hope is a part of everyone’s life. Everyone hopes for something. It’s an inherent part of being a human being. Why not consider lighting the candle of hope for yourself or someone else this year so that we can all start to see a different more hopeful tomorrow.