We are the call no one wants to make. The letter says “last notice.” Last notice before eviction or last notice before the power or water is cut. Things will get better in a few weeks, but you need help now. Someone has told you about Good Neighbors. As a last resort, you call. The coach listens to your story. They offer some words of comfort, some guidance, and sometimes call the landlord or utility company to work things out to bridge the gap. Relief, even short term is welcome. My family doesn’t have to move. I can keep the air conditioning going to help my son’s asthma. A few weeks later, Good Neighbor’s calls to see how I’m doing. Someone cares.
This is Good Neighbors of Blount County. Over 150 families are given aid each month to help maintain a stable home. Those in need are called neighbors. All the families are from Blount County. All the volunteers are from Blount County. This is our community helping each other through some rough times. GNBC has one paid director, Rev Lisa Blackwood, and 26 volunteers who take on this task of helping those in need. They work with landlords and utility companies to help families maintain a home with lights and water. During the coaching session a thorough assessment of needs is compiled. GNBC links with other support agencies and directs the neighbors to those that can meet their other needs like the Community Food Connection.
GNBC was founded by the Blount County Ecumenical Action Council in the early 1990s. This group of about 20 churches of various denominations recognized the great difficulty a person had to go through to get help on a short term issue. Government agencies were not flexible or fast enough. Likewise, it was difficult for an individual church to be able to use their limited resources to be able to help very many people in need.
And then there was the issue of people who abused the generosity of churches which limited help for those truly in need. The churches pooled their talent and resources by forming GNBC.
So who comes to GNBC? A cross section of society. They are young and old. They are overwhelmingly female. Most have children. Many are in poverty but many had stable good paying jobs. A cruel economy has cost many people their jobs. They hung on for as long as they could, exhausting their savings and trading down to a more modest lifestyle.
Some don’t want to approach their families for help. Others don’t want to ask for anymore. The harsh cold winter or hot summer has taken more of a bite of the small amount of money they have to live on due to higher utility bills. Many have medical disability issues. Some issues arise from a sudden health issue like a heart attack or an accident. Others have long histories. Missing work frequently means losing a job.
Almost anyone given the right circumstances could be faced with the same issues of needing help just to cover the basics.
Then there are those who are actively working to better their situation. They need help getting their high school diploma after they’ve dropped out of school. They’ve experienced life, matured, and now realize that the high school diploma is a key to getting better jobs. GNBC funds GED tests. They are between jobs. The money from the old job has run out, and the money from the new job won’t show up for 2 weeks.
Some have had to move but can’t afford the deposits of a new apartment. GNBC helps here, too. Others need help simply learning how to budget their finances. Budgeting is not intuitive and is not really taught in schools. Chances are that if their parents didn’t budget, then they wouldn’t have learned how either. GNBC offers courses and works closely with Habitat for Humanity who allows neighbors to sit in on their finance courses.
But Good Neighbors isn’t just about helping those people in need. GNBC helps businesses and churches, too. There is a significant cost to the landlord to evict a renter, refurbish the apartment, place the ad and administer the new renter. Not to mention the loss of income between renters. Likewise for the utility company, there is added cost associated with having to send a utility person to a dwelling and cut off the power or water. Most people have short term situations, so having Good Neighbors help bridge the gap benefits everyone.
For churches, the issue is a little more complex. The willingness to help with Christian love is not always supported by the resources available to give to those truly in need. Frequently, the request for need is in the form of a phone call or knock on the door. Many times, the person is not known to this church community. Many churches struggle to help their own members with their tight budgets and limited staff. Churches direct neighbors in need to GNBC.
The director and experienced volunteer coaches and staff help by using the pooled resources of multiple churches and knowledge of other services available in the community to best meet a neighbor’s needs. The coaches act as listeners and guides. Relationships are built and maintained over time. Through this action the truly needy are served while others are screened out.
The neighbor is made to understand that GNBC is helping to bridge the gap and that there are limits to the amount of financial support that can be given. Sometimes the road to success takes a little longer than anticipated, and some neighbors are seen again. But for most, success means that GNBC never sees them again. Follow ups are conducted to see how the neighbor is doing. A thank you and a willingness to recommend Good Neighbors to a friend is sufficient to keep the staff going for the next neighbor in need.
Good Neighbors is a 501C3 non- profit organization overseen by a volunteer 12-person board of directors. Additional information can be seen at the GNBC web site, goodneighborsbc.org, or the “Good Neighbors of Blount County” Facebook page.