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Monday, September 01, 2014
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Published: Tuesday, 7/1/2014 - Updated: 2 months ago

COMMENTARY

A 3rd road to change

Sister Virginia Welch and her work at the Padua Center

BY KEITH C. BURRIS
COLUMNIST FOR THE BLADE

I wrote Sunday about Sister Virginia Welch and her work at the Padua Center. They are on to something there.

Sr. Virginia Welch Sr. Virginia Welch
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I was struck with three things: First, Padua is a small organization. That means that it is almost impossible for a parasitic bureaucracy to grow on top. It also means that, whatever Sister Ginny and her team do, it is personal — friend to friend and not service provider to client.

Second, Padua respects the folkways and customs of the neighborhood and tries to address what people say they want and need. Conversation, rather than imposition.

And, third, Padua does not limit itself. Its emphasis is early supplemental education, but Padua has branched out into community gardening and nutrition — because that is a need Sister Ginny perceived.

So, the keys to the success I see at Padua are flexibility, listening, community roots, and a reasonable scale.

When it comes to addressing the causes of blight or crime — like lack of jobs, family disintegration, or mediocre schools — part of the remedy may lie with smaller, more flexible organizations than city government or Toledo Public Schools.

I first heard about Padua from Councilman Jack Ford. Last year he insisted that I cover a fund-raiser where the art of Padua students was auctioned off.

Padua is essentially self-sustaining and this art auction is its major fund-raiser. This event also includes a dinner and a lecture, which was given in 2013 by Dr. Lynne Hamer of the University of Toledo. Ms. Hamer has done extensive research with Padua and on Padua.

In that talk, about seven months ago, Ms. Hamer spoke of “intervening institutions,” which are basically voluntary associations that fall between the individual and the family at one end of the scale and large official and semiofficial institutions on the other end — like the state, the city, and TPS.

These smaller organizations have greater resources than individuals and families but can respond to human needs in a more personal and creative ways than officialdom.

If you are hungry, you need shelter, or you need help cutting the grass, you don’t think of the city, necessarily. You may not even think of your church.

But you may think of a neighbor. Sister Ginny and Padua are neighbors.

Most of the shelters in town are intervening institutions.

Food for Thought, which runs mobile food pantries and distributes sandwiches to folks downtown on Saturdays, is an intervening institution.

This vehicle of the intervening institution is a middle way to reform and where we probably should put more of our money and effort. And I’ll be writing about other examples in this city in the future. This may be the most promising mechanism now available for breaking cycles of poverty and dependence.

Sam Melden, who manages Food For Thought, summarizes the strength of an intervening institution when he talks about his gang handing out peanut butter and jelly sandwiches each week across from the library: “The thing is, it’s impossible to tell the so-called server from the so-called served.”

Keith C. Burris is a columnist for The Blade.

Contact him at: kburris@theblade.com or 419-724-6266.



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