What is Sustainable Alamance?

You can give a man a fish (charity), you can teach a man to fish (grace and mercy), but that changes nothing until they have access to the lake (hope and justice).

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In 2008, I visited a local ministry group, the Piedmont Men of Steel, a Bible Study outreach for men “on the streets” of our community.  This was the beginning of tremendous insight into a world I knew little or nothing about.

I was surrounded by men who were products of the criminal justice system.   When I say products of the justice system, I mean just that.   While their decisions and actions placed them in the system, the system took over and placed them on a path that had the power to change their lives forever … unless something or someone intervened.

I learned that there are economic sanctions placed on men and women in the justice system, probation fees, fines, restitution, and attorney fees (court-appointed attorneys are not free attorneys). But the catch was (and is), with a criminal history, few employers are willing to hire these men and women, and the “system” has now created a pathway that has economic penalties, but with little or no way to earn the money to pay. This too often leads to additional poor decisions and additional criminal activity—for many people in this situation without means and without a job, this may be seen as the only way to gain the means to make the required payments. (Not making the required payments, is yet another violation.) This is a true “Catch 22” situation for many people without economic means.

This seemed like the perfect the starting point. If we were to stop a cycle of criminal behavior as well as its impact on our community (poverty, expensive incarceration, absent parents in families especially in low income neighborhoods, etc.), what was needed was access to jobs, a legitimate means of earning money to pay the economic penalties.

But my education continued.   

People just don’t end up in jail or prison.  I learned that too often it was a journey. Their parents were often missing, incarcerated, or slaves to drug abuse.  Too often this led to abandonment or physical abuse.   Many children in this situation grow up coping with this trauma in the ways that were modeled to them, further extending a cycle of addiction or crime.

What is needed is not only a job, but healing and hope.  What is needed is someone to lean in and listen to the pain and offer the hope that life does not have to be this way.   What is needed is a belief that people on the margins of our community do not have to be defined by the deficiencies; that they can and should be seen as God sees them, with gifts and talents of their own, gifts and talents that have been buried in the mud and trash of life. What is needed is someone to help uncover a dream AND help with access to the resources to make them come true. This is what Sustainable Alamance does.

Sustainable Alamance is not about windmills and solar panels—Sustainable Alamance is not about renewable energy, it is about renewing lives.  

Sustainable Alamance sees people as the greatest underutilized and misused resource in our community.  

What we do comes from “why” we do it: we exist because people matter to God—ALL people. We have agreed not to do “to and for” our trainees, but to do life “with” them. When you walk with people, you get to know them.  You hear the pain and hurt of the past and help to heal; you hear the dreams and desires and you help build networks for success. 

When you teach a man to fish AND give him access to the lake, you allow him the opportunity to bring fish to the community pot luck, and recognize that our community is stronger with them rather than without them.

Sustainable Alamance… Restoring Lives, Restoring Community