Help in Hard Times

Photo courtesy of iStockphoto/ Amanda Rohde.

BY: Susan Passi-Klaus
MAY 7, 2010

When it comes to hitting rock bottom, these folks speak from experience.

Mary Dilg went from being a $50,000-a-year middle manager at a major corporation to being on disability and getting just $11,000 a year.

Phil Leone went for three years without a job and used up his 401K savings just trying to survive.

Sims Maddox went broke in 1975 after the real estate market took a dive. He lost everything but his house.

What better leadership could a hard-times ministry have than three people who have been there, done that and survived?

Dilg, Leone and Maddox are key players in an outreach ministry of Mountain View United Methodist Church in Marietta, Ga. Since last spring, they have been constructing a support program for people in their community who are down on their luck because of the realities of the current economy.

“Times are hard now; they really are,” said Maddox, who came up with the idea for Hard Times Ministry. “Banks have gone broke. Companies have cut back. People are out of work.

“Many people who thought they were secure have discovered that financial hardship can knock them over,” he said. “They don’t know where to turn.”

The group meets the first and third Thursday of each month in an old farmhouse behind the church. The folks who show up are without jobs, struggling to pay their bills and desperate for ways to feed their families. Some may be facing bankruptcy or foreclosure. Hope is definitely in short supply, and many who attend are severely depressed.  

For the most part, they are not the chronically poor, and living hand to mouth is a new challenge.

“People who are accustomed to having money have no idea how to be poor and survive,” said Dilg. “We’ve got practical information for them: where to apply for food stamps, what government programs can help them, how to cope without insurance and other things.”

“We’re not there to be their crutch with fast fixes,” Leone said. “We’re there to give them a base where they can rebuild their life.”

Dilg, who coordinates the ministry, wrote a handbook, “Together We Can Make It.” It covers categories from job loss and foreclosure to bankruptcy and debt management. Among other topics, it outlines where the unemployed can find free computers to use for job searches and directs job seekers to places they can find inexpensive interview clothes. It’s also full of suggestions on what people who are out of work can do with their unwanted extra time.

“Our concept was never that we were going to give people money,” Dilg said. “Our concept was to share resources and options that would enable people to help themselves.”

Group leaders encourage attendees to “come out of the poor closet.”

When Leone was going through hard times, he didn’t do what he now encourages others to do – talk about it.

“I thought I could do it on my own,” he said. “But I’ve learned that it makes it a lot easier when you can open up and be honest about what’s going on in your life. It eases the burden, not only when you put things in God’s hands, but also when you allow other people to give you a hand.”

“There’s nothing shameful about going broke, especially when your company goes out of business or you’re laid off from work,” Maddox said.

But not everyone sees it that way. While job loss and the consequences of unemployment seem to be signs of the times, Maddox said fewer people seem to be reaching out to those who are struggling.

“Maybe it’s because they’re in the same boat,” he said. “But it might be because they just don’t understand what it’s like to be without the money you need. Most folks want to get away from you if you are broke. It’s like a disease they are afraid they’ll catch or they’re worried you’ll want to borrow money from them.”

Dilg sees it as an opportunity to give back.

“I’ve struggled all my life with many, many issues,” Dilg said. “I was the ‘least of these,’ yet I was invited into a home. I was invited into a church. I was invited into grace. If I can’t give back, what’s the point of being saved?”

As for Maddox, poverty taught him to reprioritize. Money, he discovered, is third. God and people come first and second.

“Losing your job or going broke is a good opportunity to learn,” he said, “You learn stamina. You learn to be patient. You learn how to deal with tomorrow not being a better day and that change doesn’t come overnight. Most of all, you learn your credit rating isn’t that important, but your rating with God is.”

Maddox learned how to survive being poor the hard way. He lost nearly everything and had to reinvent his life without a paycheck. At meetings of the Hard Times Ministry support group, he often shares these tips with people who are out of work and strapped for cash.

1.       Pay bills that have to be paid first. Your mortgage or rent (if you can), utilities and insurance. Credit cards and loans can wait.

2.       Try to join a support program. It forces you to network. When looking for a job, you have to keep your face in the public. Meet people and sell yourself with gusto.

3.       Get a proper resume. Ask someone for help in writing a good one.

4.       Consider any type of job. Don’t limit yourself to the familiar. Think outside the box. Consider going into business yourself.

5.       This is a good time to put your children to work. How can your teenagers help the family? It’s also time to cut the fluff. The only time children should order off the menu is when they’re paying!

6.       If you don’t have a job, volunteer. Keep your hands and mind busy. Act as if you have a job even when you don’t. When you reach out to help others, you really help yourself.

7.       Hang tight. Times change. Jobs will come back, and things will work out.

8.       If you are not already praying,  it’s time you start.

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Mountain View United Methodist Church: Hard Times Ministry

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