Archive | March, 2011

Health and well-being in Mingo County: where we stand now

31 Mar

Yesterday was publication day for an important and interesting study on health and well-being in America that’s published each year. It’s the County Health Rankings report.

The Rankings provide 50 state reports, ranking each county within the 50 states according to its health outcomes and the multiple health factors that determine a county’s health. Each county receives a summary rank for its health outcomes and health factors and also for the four different types of health factors: health behaviors, clinical care, social and economic factors, and the physical environment.

So how did we do?  The Mingo County page is here.

There are 55 counties in West Virginia.  Mingo County has an overall ranking of 54th out of 55 for health and well-being in the state.  We come in at 54th for health outcomes and 53rd for health factors.  Particularly distressing is the ranking of 55 out of 55 for “morbidity,” which basically means “quality of life,” especially measuring occurances of disease, disorders, and illness. 

We’re ranked 50th for health behaviors, 55th for availability of clinical care, 48th for social-economic factors that affect health, and 26th for quality of physical environment. 

The work we do here at Christian Help has a lot to do with addressing this frustrating state of things.  Certainly, anything we can do to help provide adequate food, clothing, dental care, and financial help for utilities and life’s other basic needs for people who struggle to provide these things for themselves has a positive impact on health.

More specifically, Christian Help’s transit program makes a significant contribution to the health of low-income people in this county.  Every single weekday, we’re busy getting folks to doctor’s appointments, hospitals, pharmacies, and drug stores.  Many of them would have no other way to access these resources without the free transportation we offer.  They tell us that frequently.

These frustrating health statistics provide even more incentive to keep doing what we’re doing, so that we can help the people we serve avoid being among these numbers.  Thank you for helping us do that.

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Friends from Illinois

29 Mar

Christian Help, along with ABLE Families, is currently hosting a group of high school students from St. Peter’s Parish in Geneva, Illinois.  They’ve come to do works of service for the people that our two agencies serve here in Mingo County.

They’re an enthusiastic and very helpful bunch, eager to help out in every way possible.  Last night they chose to forgo the movie night we had prepared for them in order to do extra work cleaning up and organizing Christian Help’s warehouse! 

Much of their time this week is being spent painting a local home.  (Though it’s a bit of a chilly day out — enough that I just brought them some hot chocolate over a few minutes ago — they’re doing it all without complaint.) 

Here are some photos of the work in progress.  (And for your smile of the day, check out the little video of the group that I posted on our Facebook page this morning.  They’re playing a fun little game to start the day off.  See if you can figure out the rules.) 

“Losing Our Way”

28 Mar

Over the weekend, the New York Times published the last regular column by its longtime columnist Bob Herbert.  I was going to post a small snippet here to whet your appetite, then provide a link for the full piece online — but I couldn’t select just one small piece over the rest.  The whole thing is a must-read.  Here it is, in full:

“Losing Our Way”

by Bob Herbert  (March 25, 2011)

So here we are pouring shiploads of cash into yet another war, this time in Libya, while simultaneously demolishing school budgets, closing libraries, laying off teachers and police officers, and generally letting the bottom fall out of the quality of life here at home.

Welcome to America in the second decade of the 21st century. An army of long-term unemployed workers is spread across the land, the human fallout from the Great Recession and long years of misguided economic policies. Optimism is in short supply. The few jobs now being created too often pay a pittance, not nearly enough to pry open the doors to a middle-class standard of living.

Arthur Miller, echoing the poet Archibald MacLeish, liked to say that the essence of America was its promises. That was a long time ago. Limitless greed, unrestrained corporate power and a ferocious addiction to foreign oil have led us to an era of perpetual war and economic decline. Young people today are staring at a future in which they will be less well off than their elders, a reversal of fortune that should send a shudder through everyone.

The U.S. has not just misplaced its priorities. When the most powerful country ever to inhabit the earth finds it so easy to plunge into the horror of warfare but almost impossible to find adequate work for its people or to properly educate its young, it has lost its way entirely.

Nearly 14 million Americans are jobless and the outlook for many of them is grim. Since there is just one job available for every five individuals looking for work, four of the five are out of luck. Instead of a land of opportunity, the U.S. is increasingly becoming a place of limited expectations. A college professor in Washington told me this week that graduates from his program were finding jobs, but they were not making very much money, certainly not enough to think about raising a family.

There is plenty of economic activity in the U.S., and plenty of wealth. But like greedy children, the folks at the top are seizing virtually all the marbles. Income and wealth inequality in the U.S. have reached stages that would make the third world blush. As the Economic Policy Institute has reported, the richest 10 percent of Americans received an unconscionable 100 percent of the average income growth in the years 2000 to 2007, the most recent extended period of economic expansion.

Americans behave as if this is somehow normal or acceptable. It shouldn’t be, and didn’t used to be. Through much of the post-World War II era, income distribution was far more equitable, with the top 10 percent of families accounting for just a third of average income growth, and the bottom 90 percent receiving two-thirds. That seems like ancient history now.

The current maldistribution of wealth is also scandalous. In 2009, the richest 5 percent claimed 63.5 percent of the nation’s wealth. The overwhelming majority, the bottom 80 percent, collectively held just 12.8 percent.

This inequality, in which an enormous segment of the population struggles while the fortunate few ride the gravy train, is a world-class recipe for social unrest. Downward mobility is an ever-shortening fuse leading to profound consequences.

A stark example of the fundamental unfairness that is now so widespread was in The New York Times on Friday under the headline: “G.E.’s Strategies Let It Avoid Taxes Altogether.” Despite profits of $14.2 billion — $5.1 billion from its operations in the United States — General Electric did not have to pay any U.S. taxes last year.

As The Times’s David Kocieniewski reported, “Its extraordinary success is based on an aggressive strategy that mixes fierce lobbying for tax breaks and innovative accounting that enables it to concentrate its profits offshore.”

G.E. is the nation’s largest corporation. Its chief executive, Jeffrey Immelt, is the leader of President Obama’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness. You can understand how ordinary workers might look at this cozy corporate-government arrangement and conclude that it is not fully committed to the best interests of working people.

Overwhelming imbalances in wealth and income inevitably result in enormous imbalances of political power. So the corporations and the very wealthy continue to do well. The employment crisis never gets addressed. The wars never end. And nation-building never gets a foothold here at home.

New ideas and new leadership have seldom been more urgently needed.

Why they deserve it

25 Mar

We do this work here at Christian Help because people need the help and they deserve the help.  But it’s very easy to imagine someone responding to that statement by challenging it: “Why do they deserve it?  They got themselves into the situation they’re in now, and they can get themselves out of it.”

Why do they deserve it?

Because they’re human beings.  They don’t want their poverty any more than you or I would want it.

So why don’t they do something about it themselves?

Many can’t.  First of all, there are the disabled and chronically unhealthy.  Did you know that health statistics here in southern West Virginia are among the worst in the entire United States?  Did you know there are many places in this region, in this very county, where safe drinking water is difficult to find?  Of course, poverty and poor health are intimately connected, so where there’s lots of poverty, there’s lots of poor health, and that means lots of people for whom it’s very hard or impossible to work steadily. 

But there are issues beyond poor health and disability.  Central Appalachia is a place with few opportunities for quality education, personal development, and decent work, and that has been the case for many decades.  Many people who live here have received a raw deal from American society, the American economy, American politics, and life itself.  No, they’re not the only poor people in the country, but poverty is concentrated here unlike few other places in our nation. 

Again and again, we hear the comments from the student groups who come here to visit and serve: These are the conditions of a third-world nation.  How could this be happening in America? 

Many of them could do something about their situations, if they were living in another place, in a different situation, or had a different set of experiences that has brought them to where they are now.

Many, many people here grow up in families where academic achievement is understood as having little value, where an expectation of going to college, even an option of going to college, is completely absent.  Sadly, setting a kid’s sights on success and on preparation for college is often not a priority even in some schools in our region.    

Another element in this mix:  The culture of the region is highly, intensely family centered.  Many people, even many young people, couldn’t conceive of moving elsewhere for better opportunities.  Did you know that burying deceased loved ones on one’s own property is a common practice here?  Show me a person whose family is buried on their own land, and I’ll show you someone who has no intention of going anywhere, and would understandably find it very hard to, even if they wanted to. 

Are these things that could be overcome?  Could someone succeed and thrive in life despite these facts, if they really wanted to?  Yes, they could.  But shouldn’t modest success, and even basic survival, be accessible to more than just the very strongest, most resilient, and most determined among us? 

Are there deadbeats and lazy people among those who are poor?  There sure are.  I even suppose that they’re occasionally recieving help from Christian Help.  But as our founder Sr. Brendan Conlon often says, The only way to be sure we’re never taken advantage of by clients is never to help anybody.  If we end up helping a few lazy people in order to relieve some burdens of people who really are in need of help that they couldn’t get any other way, I can live with that.

Make it automatic

25 Mar

Just a note to point out to our friends that anyone can now make their donations automatic on a monthly basis.  There’s a new button on our donation page (Paypal calls it “subscribe”) for that purpose.  You do not need a Paypal account to make it happen — all you need is a debit or credit card.

Even a small amount given monthly can add up to a significant and helpful gift over time.  Thank you for considering it!

New Christian Help video

23 Mar

Here’s a look at a new video we’ve put together, to give people a sense of what goes on around here.  I posted it to Youtube earlier today.   Enjoy, and please share with your friends and family!

Wish list item

18 Mar

Sr. Therese is looking for the donation of a used pick-up truck. Even very used is fine with us. We need a workhorse, something we can use to pick-up and deliver furniture and other large items. No need for it to look pretty. In fact, as Sr. Therese points out, if it looks nice, it won’t fit in too well around here.