Acton Commentary

The Human Face of Compassion

In his study of the history ofwelfare in America, Acton Senior Fellow Marvin Olasky talks about the“narrow but deep responsibility of making a difference in one life overseveral years.” You would be hard put to find a better example of makinga difference — and with very few resources to do it — than an agency called Faith in Action of the Quad Cities.

Faithin Action, based in Pana, Ill., describes itself as a multi-denominationaloutreach program that assists the elderly, the homebound, andthe disabled to maintain independence, dignity, andquality of life. In effect, the agency functions as an additional friend orfamily member, assisting with such mundane tasks such as rides to the doctor,grocery shopping, and bill paying. Simple things. But for those who are allalone in the world, this everyday help may be the only tangible evidence thatsomeone out there cares.

Faithin Action was started in 1996 by four local ministers. A $25,000 grant from theRobert Wood Johnson Foundation got it going. Today, the agency reaches intofour hard-pressed rural counties and is supported by donations and volunteersfrom the local Catholic, Baptist, Methodist, Pentecostal, Presbyterian andUnited Church of Christ congregations. With two part-time staffers and anannual budget of $6,500, it literally operates on a shoestring. Faith In Actiondraws crucial support from Pana Community Hospital, which supplies office spaceand utilities and covers the salary of Director Lori Holthaus.

Everydollar counts. So Holthaus was surprised and delighted when she learned thatFaith in Action had won $500 in a random drawing of the 2004 Samaritan Awardapplicants. The prize money was offered as an incentive to applicants who filledout the online form. She plans to use the $500 to recruit more volunteers andpublicize the agency to those who may not be aware of their services.“We’re going to find them,” Holthaus vows.

Grass roots organizations like Faith in Action are at work all overAmerica – in rural counties, inner cities and suburbs. They workheroically, with few resources and often little recognition. Funding is alwaysa problem. Faith in Action hasn’t attracted the interest of largefoundations because, Holthaus suspects, it is so small. “They want togive to large organizations because they want to give big money,”Holthaus said.

Donors also wonder about a small agency’s survivalprospects. Then there’s the capacity issue. How much money can Faith inAction responsibly absorb?

Sheisn’t interested in seeking funding from government sources. “Ifind them very hard to work with because there are always stringsattached,” Holthaus said. “For a small agency, sometimes I wonderif it would be worth the hassle.”

Butnobody at Faith in Action is waiting around for outside endorsement. Its staffand church volunteers are doing the work that is before them, following theBiblical command to be “doers of the word, and not hearers only”(James 1:22). Holthaus remembers a call from a woman who needed a ride. It washer first request to Faith in Action, and she had no way to get to herappointment. When Holthaus called back to tell the woman that she had arrangedfor a volunteer to pick her up in an hour, the caller said: “You are aGodsend.” Another woman, incapacitated by a car accident, could not carefor her dogs, which were the sole source of companionship in her life. The dogswould not go to a kennel, the woman insisted. A Faith in Action volunteer whois also an animal lover came to the woman’s home every day to care forthe pets. And every day in Pana, this small town in Illinois, Faith in Actionis standing in for friends and family.

Whatis so inspiring about grassroots organizations like Faith in Action is that itsvolunteers have the ability to see the uniqueness of the human person. Thevolunteers provide care in relationship, seeing not a case number but a uniqueperson with both physical needs and a spiritual capacity that is as infinite astheir Creator.

Ask Holthaus about the everydaystruggle to keep Faith in Action going, to recruit volunteers, to attempt tomeet a need that will never be satisfied, and you will get a straight answer.It’s difficult, for sure. But she is also confident that the people in Panawill keep it going. After all, it’s about friends and family with them.Holthaus makes a promise: “We will be in business.”