Giving Ventures Podcast: Episode 61 — How to Implement True Charity

On the latest episode of Giving Ventures, host Peter Lipsett talks with James Whitford, president and CEO of True Charity, about what it means to help a person avoid a lifetime of suffering and poverty and flourish in their profession.

‘Faith in Christ’ Led Whitford to Start Crisis-Relief Ministry

Whitford, while now the president and CEO of True Charity, is a physical therapist by training but first got his start in ministry when he and his wife felt called to open Watered Garden Ministries, a crisis-relief organization based in Joplin, Missouri.

“It’s a strange turn of events — isn’t it? — to go from physical therapy to what I do today. Well, you know it really was faith — faith in Christ and then my heart just being ignited for people. So, it was a compassion thing that just rose up in me and my wife…”

That’s when, in 2000, the couple began their ministry, first with Watered Garden, a nonprofit meant to meet needs in southwest Missouri, then-plagued by addiction and poverty. Then their mission shifted. They went from meeting urgent needs to creating a workforce pipeline.

Whitford: ‘Are we putting a Band-Aid on the issue of poverty?’

A former wound specialist, Whitford quickly realized he needed to approach the problem of homelessness with more precision. Tackling the crisis meant more than delivering stop-gap material needs. He needed to empower those stuck in a rut. His new mission? Give people tools.

“Sometimes I go back to that previous field of mine and I’ll give illustrations about ‘Are we putting a Band-Aid on the issue of poverty?’ If I had a patient who came in to see me who had a wound that was infected, the last thing you want to use it just put a big bandage over it …”

Letting a wound fester without proper care is disastrous and could lead to more serious infection or an abscess, says Whitford. This disastrous approach wound-care, he says, is a lot like the way our country and philanthropists, however well-intentioned, approach homelessness.

“I think we do a lot of that in our care for people who are poor today in America. We see the need and then we put a Band-Aid on it. Sometimes that’s like … ‘They’re homeless? Just put them in an apartment.’ But really that’s a Band-Aid over something that’s deeper…”

Whitford: ‘Compassion’ That Launched Original Ministry Didn’t Produce Positive Outcomes

Whitford realized that’s what his early ministry was doing: applying a Band-Aid to a bigger problem and not addressing the root issue behind homelessness and all the repeat visitors that were coming through his ministry — visitors who didn’t have the tools to climb out of poverty.

“[T]he compassion that launched our ministry in southwest Missouri was not resulting in the outcomes that we had hoped for in people’s lives. We were hoping to see real change and what we actually saw were the same people coming back in our doors again and again…”

That experience at Watered Garden is what ultimately gave rise to True Charity, a nonprofit that advocates for strong families, meaningful work, a faith community and a sense of purpose — all things necessary to end the cycle of poverty and learned helplessness, according to its website.


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