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JOE LAGUARDIA: Homeless, schools, local businesses, arts need our support too

Last week, many communities in the South saw droves of people turn out for Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day. Although I stayed home to eat a politically irrelevant tuna sandwich, I experienced the back-and-forth of opinions that day on Facebook.

Some people mentioned in their status updates that they were taking a stand for one reason or another. I could only ask myself: What if folks came out in droves more often and took a stand on some local causes in our own area, causes that actually affect the lives of our neighbors and families?

What would happen to our community, our churches and our neighborhoods if we were that engaged in initiatives related to social justice, education and our local economy?

My mind went immediately to Family Promise of Newrock, for instance (www.familypromiseofnewrock.org). Family Promise of Newrock is our local affiliate of a national nonprofit that connects churches and other nonprofits with homeless families in order to provide sustainable housing and employment.

This is how it works: Three to four homeless families (at any one time) stay in churches during the week when most church buildings are not being used. They stay at one church one week and then rotate to the next church the next week, and so on.

Get 14 or more churches on board, and each church hosts the families about four weeks out of the year, roughly one week per quarter.

During the day, the families go to a day center where the children go to school while the parents work with support staff to find sustainable employment and housing. By dinner time, the families head back to their respective "host church" where churchgoers provide dinner, fellowship, and appropriate accommodations.

Although Family Promise of Newrock has been up and running for less than a year, it has recruited the much-needed 14 host churches and countless other support churches (congregations that volunteer to help host churches). Since November, the program has graduated over a dozen families who are now working and living independently within our county.

But needs still exist: With support staff to fund and administrative costs to cover, such as the bus that transports families from churches to the day center, we need folks to stand up and donate resources, time, and money.

This organization -- with a proven record already growing in its infancy -- clearly gives families a hand up rather than a hand out. Certainly, droves can get on board with that local cause.

Education is another area in which our local residents can take a stand. Ours is one of the fastest growing counties in the state, and more families means more demands on local schools and teachers. Teachers and students alike need support in terms of classroom volunteers, advocates for literacy and tutoring, and mentoring programs.

Getting access to education in Rockdale is as simple as calling a principal or one of your child's/grandchild's teachers and asking how you can help.

In the past few years, for instance, our church served breakfast one morning to teachers at the nearby elementary school. It's a simple and fairly inexpensive endeavor, but it speaks volumes to our teachers who need the encouragement.

A last area where we can stand up is on behalf of our local businesses. I'm sure that our neighborhood Chick-fil-A appreciated the crowd last week, but what if we turned out that much at many other businesses in our county. I'm thinking of places like the Oakes Family Diner off Flat Shoals Road or Sugar Bakers, Evans Pharmacy or the Sandwich Factory in Olde Town.

Artists and entrepreneurs need patrons (www.conyersarts.org). I was disheartened to see our local art gallery close due to lack of funds, but there are other places to get involved. Frequenting places like Heartscapes in Covington or buying crafts, jewelry, or paintings from neighbors can make all the difference in the world.

The Bible celebrates when people come together to better their communities: "How good and pleasant it is to see kindred spirits live in unity" (Ps. 133:1).

When our county comes together in the areas of social justice, education, and local businesses, then everyone wins.

The Rev. Joe LaGuardia is the senior pastor of Trinity Baptist Church, 301 Honey Creek Road, Conyers. Email him at trinitybc3@bellsouth.net or visit www.trinityconyers.org.