Philanthropists eye LDS model of self-reliance

Published: Thursday, Dec. 1 2011 11:46 p.m. MST

Elder Richard Hinckley, left, walks with Alan Marty by bales of clothing at the Humanitarian Center, Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2011, in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Tom Smart, Deseret News

They may seem drastically different: a nonprofit that helps children build lemonade stands, an organization that encourages character building through sports and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. But they all have the same underlying goal: to promote economic self-reliance.

The LDS Church Thursday was the last stop on a nationwide tour highlighting best practices in economic self-reliance. During a two day conference sponsored by The Philanthropy Roundtable, representatives from charitable foundations across the country took a tour through Welfare Square, the LDS Humanitarian Center and the Bishop's Central Storehouse.

"We came to Utah to see Welfare Square because it is one of the nation's greatest models of cultivating self-reliance, not only for members of the Mormon faith but for people of all backgrounds," said Shannon Toronto, COO of The Philanthropy Roundtable, a national network of individual donors, corporate giving officers and foundation trustees.

Previous stops on The Philanthropy Roundtable's economic opportunity tour included Lemonade Day in Houston, which teaches children business skills, and Florida's Positive Coaching Alliance, a nonprofit that teams up with athletic leagues to teach principles of family and community.

The Philanthropy Roundtable, which is based in Washington D.C., seeks, among other efforts, to improve charitable outcomes by educating donors, Toronto said. Economic Opportunity, as it relates to self reliance, is one of the organizations major initiatives.

"We learned from our meeting today that the best programs recognize the dignity of the individual and that the highest quality of life is attained when a person becomes self reliant and can help others within her realm of influence," Toronto said.

Founded during the Great Depression when unemployment rates reached 50 to 70 percent in many areas, the LDS Church designed Welfare Square to help address both hunger and idleness, said Jim Goodrich, who manages the operation. Welfare Square consists of a storehouse, a bakery, a cannery, a milk processing plant, a thrift store and an employment center. For the most part, the operation is staffed by volunteers.

In the beginning, men put in a day of work on a farm in exchange for food from a small grocery store called the Bishop's Storehouse, Goodrich said. Today, the work is different: people "pay" for their food by completing a wide range of tasks ranging from canning vegetables to sorting clothes at the church's thrift store. But the principle isn't.

"We want to help people help themselves," said Terry Oakes, managing director of LDS Welfare Services. "We don't believe in giving handouts. We believe in giving hand ups."

The LDS Church also centers its international humanitarian aid program around self-reliance, said Sharon Eubank, director of humanitarian services and a member of the General Relief Society General Board. When the church enters a rural community in Guatemala to install a well, for example, villagers are required to contribute to the effort.

"They can't buy the cement, but they can mix the cement and they can dig the hole," Eubank said. "Involving them in the process allows them to maintain their dignity."

Several other charities, including Utah Youth Village, American Indian Services and Project HOME, presented during a luncheon at the Joseph Smith Memorial building. Utah Youth Village encourages self-reliance by teaching children the communication and social skills they need to succeed in school and work, said Eric Bjorkland, president. American Indian Services only offers partial college scholarships so young adults have the opportunity to contribute to their own education.

"We believe if a student can meet us halfway they are demonstrating a personal commitment to fulfill their own goals," said Yvonne Curley, a board member at American Indian Services.

After attending the conference, Marcia Argyris, senior program officer for the California-based S.D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation, said she has a "different impression of the Mormon Church."

"I think this whole idea of asking what a person receiving services can give back is interesting," she said. "Instead of just accepting something and walking away, they are working for it. I think that's very important."

Stan Swim, who attended the conference, said his organization the GFC Foundation in Pleasant Grove favors programs that support self-reliance when doling out money.

"We have a responsibility to care for the poor," he said. "We are trying to do it in a way that rebuilds people."

EMAIL: estuart@desnews.com

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