Open Table: from poverty to community

Three of us at St. Francis (Beverly Valtierra, Michele Koch, and I) have been serving with a group called The Open Table (www.theopentable.org), which trains congregations to use their vocation and life experiences to assist men and women in poverty using a sharedpurpose model to change their lives. It changes everyone’s lives. Catherine Lillibridge (our bishop’s wife) represents The Open Table and travels all over the U.S. promoting the program.

 

 Often people in poverty are stuck in poverty by their circumstances. To get them “unstuck,” we help them formulate goals, then the participant (called a “Brother” or “Sister”) and the team devise a plan and are held accountable for implementing it. The participant goes through a series of readiness assessments, and then the team members are advised of the strengths and weaknesses of the candidate and given advice on how best to use or avoid those qualities when forming the plan.

 

A parish joins The Open Table program (for a fee), sponsoring as many tables as they can based on candidates needing assistance. The church recruits eight to 12 members of the team, who pay $120 each for training and technical support. In the beginning, Table members select their coaching preference such as Finance, Housing, Occupation and Education, Healthcare, Transportation and Insurance, and Children and Family. The team commits to meeting for a year for an hour once a week to help prepare, teach, and equip participants for moving out of poverty. Meetings are held in daytime hours or in the evening, depending on what is convenient for everyone concerned.

 

Beverly, Michele, and I are coaches on St. David’s Table #3. Our Table was assigned a Sister last summer, and the learning process began. Each team member has grown significantly by comprehending how relationships with people in poverty are formed. The communication style is different; our first obstacle was understanding and forecasting resources for the goals. Once we began to understand how to communicate better with our Sister, she began to trust that we were truly there for her. There have been medical emergencies, problems with the children, and loss of employment. We stuck with her and prayed. She has overcome everything.

 

In six months she grew into a stronger and more confident woman. By the time you read this, she will have gotten her driver’s license. She found a new, betterpaying job. The kids love their new friends at school. More importantly, our Sister and her children have witnessed Christ in us and are beginning to respond with their own prayers of hope and faith. We still have more goals to achieve, and I feel confident that, if we don’t meet them all together, our Sister knows how to get them done on her own.

 

The Open Table leadership team is looking for table members and would like St. Francis to join in. We can join St. David’s or get our own license to start new tables. It is a process through which our parish can help others with life skills and Christ-like friendship. Agencies throughout the city are alert for candidates who need our help. We are surrounded by people in poverty who have no resources for improving their lives— and I do not mean money. The Table does not give the Sister or Brother any money. That would be too easy and would not provide a long-term solution. We teach the participant how to reach goals by sharing our life skills and knowledge. Before you know it, the love comes pouring out. We have all been blessed and can definitely see God at work in our Sister’s life. I think she sees it too.

 

We will petition the vestry to allow us to sponsor a Table, but before we do we want to know that we have members of St. Francis who would be willing to serve. Look for more information in the narthex. There will also be a learning and training session Thursday, January 21, at the Bishop Jones Center from 8:15 a.m. to 4 p.m. (see http:// www.dwtx.org/calendar-events/ events/ for details). I hope to hear from you soon!

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