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Many threads of charitable giving

by Jordan Green

I experienced a flash of pride at being part of Greensboro’s tapestry of humanity on a crisp and bright recent Saturday morning as I walked with my friend James to Grimsley High School for the Human Race charity walk and run.

For those readers given to reflexive nausea at such sentiments, let me forewarn you: lately I’ve been consumed with a growing sense of Gate City boosterism. I’ve come to believe this can be a great city if it engages the talents and passions of its many and diverse citizens.

I saw the best of it on March 25. There were the active-duty military guys and firefighters, the college administrative staff members bouncing on their toes before the firing of the starting gun on the track at Grimsley; the high school marching band blasting its energetic song on the football field; the legions of disabled citizens preparing to take to the streets in their wheelchairs; the walkers of all ages huddled around signs designating their respective organizations; the high-school age volunteers; the commercial vendors giving away everything from slices of pizza to free massages; and the Wishful Thinking Band, which if you can believe it covers everything from Lynyrd Skynyrd to the Village People.

My part in the Human Race, which was organized by the Volunteer Center of Greensboro, was a small part of a larger chain of events. Noel, who attends St. Mary’s House Episcopal Center with me, recruited James and me to participate in the Human Race. We collected pledges from members of our congregation and coworkers. We earmarked our funds for Habitat for Humanity, as part of a collective effort on the part of the eight Episcopal churches (seven if you consider that ours is technically a chaplaincy for UNCG), to build a house for a family in need.

I’ve been developing a theory lately that philanthropy is one of the more subtle yet effective means of exerting power and influence in a community. I think a strong case can be made that Greensboro is a city where people take philanthropy seriously. People of great wealth and modest means alike take pleasure in reaching out to those in need or down on their luck.

And in Greensboro, both a quintessenital Bible Belt city of the New South and a historical stronghold of Quaker abolitionism, houses of worship broker a lot of philanthropy. They both assess needs through their ministries, and allocate funding through such enterprises as Urban Ministry.

I was proud to represent. One thing about church attendance is that it gives you a place in the social pecking order of the city. It’s neither the best nor the worst thing about organized religion, as far as I’m concerned. I certainly am not proud of the tendency of religious people to lord it over our heathen fellow citizens. But hey, there I was, ready to run.

I saw a lot of people wearing Syngenta and Bank of America shirts, representing the corporate flank of the Human Race. I saw at least one person I recognized in the sea of people on the football field. There was Rev. Mark Sills, who sits on the Greensboro Truth and Reconciliation Commission, standing in his snap-cap and overcoat and holding a sign for Faith Action. I felt a twinge of fellow feeling at the recognition that we both represent numerically modest constituencies.

Actually, most of the churches and non-profit organizations at the Human Race were pretty small; the powerhouse congregations the likes of First Baptist, First Presbyterian, Our Lady of Grace Catholic Church and Temple Emanuel were mostly unrepresented.

James, who stuck around after the run for the awards ceremony, told me that the Gateway Education Center, Bell House and After Gateway, all organizations that serve the disable population, raised the most money. Of the churches, most of them could probably be described as small, evangelical and Protestant, including New Jerusalem Cathedral, Sanctuary Deliverance Church and North Pointe Holiness Pentecostal Church.

Parent teacher associations for Stokesdale, Peeler and Foust elementary schools were also out in force. The mental health associations of Greensboro and High Point were there, as were a galaxy of non-profit organizations whose daily work often goes unheralded in newspapers, including Legal Aid NC-Greensboro, an organization that provides poor people access to the courts, and the Feral Cat Assistance Program, described as a ‘“volunteer, nonprofit feral cat advocacy organization that supports humane, non-lethal population control of feral and stray cats through a well-managed trap-neuter-return program.’”

It’s hard to describe the endorphin rush of pounding down Benjamin Parkway in a heaving mass of runners. I finished with a time just under 26 minutes, which I thought was pretty good. Getting passed at the second mile marker by a graying dude wearing an 82nd Airborne Division shirt was both humbling and motivating.

To comment on this story, e-mail Jordan Green at jordan@yesweekly.com

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