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RRStar: Congressman's View: Provide help to build from the ground up

Rockford Register Star

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Washington, October 15, 2016 | comments

Last Sunday, I sat in church listening to the gospel of Luke and the story about the rich man and Lazarus. This story reminded me that in the end we will not be judged by our success, our wealth or our social status. We will be judged by the compassion and kindness we show to others, especially those who are down on their luck or seemingly left behind.

Throughout my life, I have been fortunate enough to have a home to live in, food on the table and a loving family who supports me. And today, I have the honor and privilege to serve so many people in my community and across the 16th District of Illinois as a member of Congress. The opportunity to serve others has given me the chance to meet and represent folks from all walks of life and for that, and so much more, I’m truly grateful.

During my childhood, I was given a unique window into the lives of people who perhaps didn’t have the same blessings or opportunities that I had. Growing up, my father ran a homeless shelter in Bloomington, Illinois, called the "Home Sweet Home" mission. But to simply call this a homeless shelter would be a disservice to everything they did there.

The mission at Home Sweet Home meant so much more than just a roof, a bed and a hot meal. In keeping with its namesake, the people of Home Sweet Home made it their mission to not only provide a place to live with food to eat but, more importantly, they sought to help folks down on their luck find a way up and out of the darkness.

I’ve heard so many stories of people who find their stride after experiencing rock bottom, and it’s always inspiring to me. But how do we get folks there?

Recent statistics tell us that, in Rockford, unemployment rates are 2 percentage points higher than the national average. Nearly 1 in 10 live in poverty, and for the city’s African-American population the number rises to nearly 4 in 10. This is unacceptable. As a community, we must fight together to get at the very root of the poverty struggle and help our neighbors live up to their God-given potential.

I recently visited the Rockford Rescue Mission and was struck by the similar feelings I had to the days when I would volunteer with my family at Home Sweet Home. Just like my father’s place, the Rockford Rescue Mission has made it its calling in life to give people the tools they need to fix their situation and give them hope for the future.

Sometimes it’s basic life skills such as handling money and saving for the future. Other times it’s about helping people receive the job training they need or other help that can often feel too far out of reach.

The operations of the Rockford Rescue Mission and Pitney Place are lean and effective, with a compassionate staff and residents who seem happy to have someone who believes in them. The simple act of telling or showing someone that they have worth and value can make all of the difference in the world. By providing the resources to build from the ground up, to improve skills and education and to tailor poverty-fighting programs to a person’s specific needs, we can ignite hope in people who may have lost it during their struggles.

Today, our country is awash with pessimism and anger. People feel disconnected, desperate and helpless. While we certainly have our work cut out for us in Springfield, and in Washington, D.C., it’s important to recognize that in the midst of the darkness there are many people ready and willing to show a light.

People who are willing to do so much for someone they don’t know shows us that light and shows us the very best in humanity. These people are living the mission that God gave us all: to love your neighbor as you love yourself.

I believe we must help others learn to love themselves, provide the resources necessary to pick themselves up out of darkness and inspire them to find their mission in life.

A special thank you to the Rockford Rescue Mission for all you do each and every day for others.


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