Vanessa Behan Crisis Nursery Executive Director Amy Swanson says it’s the question she most often hears:
“What about the people who abuse your system?”
Some potential donors are reluctant to give because of misconceptions they have about the people who use the crisis nursery’s services. And her organization isn’t the only nonprofit serving the needy to hear it.
“The vast majority of people who are on the receiving end are honest,” said the Rev. Kenny St. Hilaire, a Spokane priest and co-chairman of this year’s Christmas Bureau. “Plus, the good done through our generosity far outweighs the bad done through the dishonesty of the few.”
At Vanessa Behan, which provides child care to parents in emergency situations, there’s a straightforward answer.
“I look at our clients as the children,” Swanson said. “There is no way you can say a child is abusing our system.”
The key is not passing judgment on people, she said. Half of the families who use Vanessa Behan live on less than $5,000 a year, “and we know that stress is the No. 1 indicator of child abuse and neglect,” she said.
So when a mother comes to Vanessa Behan because she’s at her wits’ end, Swanson puts the situation into perspective. If Swanson didn’t have family in town to give her an occasional break – not to mention the money to pay for a baby sitter – her patience with her own kids would be short, too.
“I ask myself, ‘What’s the difference between me and one of those families?’ The difference is, I have the financial resources and a support system those families don’t have,” she said.
St. Hilaire advised being “honest about some of the judgments that are made about people based on the fact that they are poor.”
“Discrimination against the poor is one of the last acceptable prejudices in our society,” he said.
Besides, giving isn’t just about the recipients.
“It’s also very good for the people who give,” St. Hilaire said. “You just have to focus on the good and keep believing that in the end, by being generous, you’re doing something very, very worthwhile.”
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