Acton Commentary

Compassion beyond Christmas: Recognizing America's Best Charities

During the holiday season, usually about this time, thefocus for many people turns to charity, and rightly so. Part and parcel of recognizing thegifts we have been given and the blessings we have received is recognition ofthe responsibility in turn to pass on blessings and do good to others.

What can be frustrating, however, is the sense that thefocus on charity and compassion is only necessary during a brief month-long periodbetween Thanksgiving and December 25.The themes that are appropriately highlighted during the holiday seasonought not to fade from view during the rest of the year.

In part it's the importance of long-term commitments to theeffectiveness of charitable work that has been the impetus behind the formationof the Samaritan Award program.The Samaritan Award is the flagship program of the Acton Institute'sCenter for Effective Compassion.It is an honor given to America's leading charities and providesvaluable information for donors and philanthropists. The evaluation process isnew and unique and assesses program, financial, administrative, and stakeholderinformation.

The 2004 grand prize winner of the Samaritan Award, whichcarries an award of $10,000, is the Network Savings and Training Program ofEmmanuel Gospel Center (EGC). Anational expert on urban ministry, EGC partnered with Enterprise DevelopmentInternational (EDI), a Christian ministry that operates microenterpriseinitiatives in nations ranging from Bangladesh to Slovakia. Through its innovative financialliteracy program and partnership with other community organizations, theEmmanuel Gospel Center helps set up programs like Individual DevelopmentAccounts (IDAs) at local churches in Boston's South End.

IDA programs teach low-income people how to manage theirmoney, read credit reports, and get control of their lives. Participants are required to save $30per week, which the program sponsor matches; monies are used for down paymenton a house, small business capitalization, or post-secondary education.

EGC's program is unique because it emphasizes financialresponsibility among the participants.Specially trained mentors complement classroom instruction, and onlinecurriculum counters the digital divide and geographic challenges. Seminars and mentoring foster acloseness not only with the program, but also among the participants; they feela sense of accountability to themselves and to their peers, which leads to asense of accountability to their community.

The program is also unique because it is privately sponsoredby local banks. According toprogram director, the Reverend Dr. Brian Gearin, this relationship is criticalto the program's credibility and success.“Churches and financial institutions in the city are almost like islandsof integrity,” he said. “Peoplefeel that the program isn't a scam to get their money. It's something that's really going tobenefit them.”

The Samaritan Award program also recognizes a group of top10 honorees, whose programs range from the food distribution and assistancework of the Hunger Strike Force program of Somebody Cares Tampa Bay, toWholistic Health Clinic Project of Baxter Community Center in Grand Rapids,Mich., which provides traditional health care, dental care, and mental healthresources for neighborhood residents who are ineligible for traditional healthcare benefits.

These programs operate on a 365-day a year basis, anddeserve our support and recognition not only during the holiday season, butthroughout the rest of the year as well.In lifting up the Emmanuel Gospel Center and other effective charities,the Samaritan Award attempts to keep this critically important work in ourthoughts and prayers. The ongoingneeds of people don't disappear the day after Christmas, and our commitment tohelping them meet these needs shouldn't disappear either.