Let me make a suggestion for public education that applies not just in our community but universally. Teach the kids about money. Now that may seem like a simplistic and stupid statement. But let me explain. Perhaps by explaining, you'll understand my thinking.
Because of the Community Christmas Campaign, I deal with a wide range of low income residents during this time of year. You'd be staggered by the numbers. I listen to their stories and, being the reporter I once was, I ask questions. Too many questions sometimes.
And here is what I hear. Most people have no understanding on how to handle money or budget their limited resources. Part of that is clearly a lack of responsibility and foolish spending. But some of that also stems from a total lack of understanding on the financial process required to keep a family afloat.
Many families who apply for assistance through the Community Christmas Campaign do indeed have a source of income. With few exceptions, their resources come from state and federal assistance funded by taxpayers. Most of the time this income is sufficient to handle the routine and basic needs of living - food, shelter and sometimes transportation. But with no foundation on how to allocate limited resources, an overwhelming percentage run short of funds each month. As I said, part of that is pure irresponsibility. But part of the problem - I am convinced - is a total lack of knowledge on how to handle money.
These people did not learn at home how to juggle resources. Their parents were in the same shape they now find themselves. As a result, foolish purchases and dumb decisions put them in a financial pinch each and every month of their lives. Now I can debate all day long how asinine their decisions truly are but the fact of the matter is, the cycle repeats itself month after month.
In some ways what we have in this country is not a lack of resources for the poor but a total lack of understanding among the impoverished on how to stretch those resources to meet their needs. Many of you simply shake your heads in disgust on these foolish behaviors and I understand your feelings. But to break this ongoing cycle of financial immaturity, it will take education. The only way to limit escalating assistance is to educate those on the receiving end on how to adapt their lives. It will not be easy. Some would argue it's impossible.
I'm not really sure why I wrote this column this morning. Maybe it's to ask for your financial assistance to complete the 2002 Christmas Campaign. But maybe it's to explain - in my own way - why we have such a strong need for help this time of year.
I may not agree with the lifestyles of those seeking help this time of year but I know firsthand that the need is genuine given the circumstances. But I also believe - perhaps foolishly - that we can change this cycle of dependence with education and monitoring. That would reduce the cycle and, in the end, that would benefit all of society.