To create a better world

In Hebrew, it is “Tikkun olam,” repairing the world. For Pope Francis, it was echoed in “Urbi et Orbi,” his first Christmas message. “For every man or woman who hopes for a better world, who cares for others,” Pope Francis prayed.

The pope’s vision for peace is as spiritually challenging as it is optimistic of human nature. “True peace is not a balancing of opposing forces. It’s not a lovely facade which conceals conflicts and divisions. Peace calls for daily commitment,” he said.

That lovely façade divides not only warring parties but the have and have-nots. If we aim to repair the world, our daily commitment begins at home.

As The Herald’s Julie Muhlstein reports, the United Way of Snohomish County announced grants totaling $100,000 to 11-area nonprofits that tackle poverty. All are focused on advancing self-sufficiency. With each organization, the United Way concentrates on capacity building over a three-year period (a $330,000-plus commitment.) It’s a wise investment in community, with tangible, “better world” outcomes.

One of the more promising initiatives is the Washington Community Alliance for Self-Help, known as Washington C.A.S.H. In 2013, the nonprofit offered a course through Everett Community College to teach low-income Spanish speakers the fundamentals of sustainable business. The mission is to alleviate poverty by promoting economic independence.

“Washington C.A.S.H. has a long history of microenterprise development, helping very low-income people start their own businesses,” said Gylan Green, the organization’s executive director. “We’re committed to small-business ownership.”

The Washington C.A.S.H. template has taken off in King County. The nonprofit reports that its average client provides for a family of three on a $22,267 annual income. The vast majority of enrollees are women, and 65 percent are generating income 18 months after the program. A quarter of these businesses support more than one employee, with most experiencing a 34 percent jump in household income. Average revenues ticked up from $2,085 to $13,568.

The testimonials are compelling. “In 2009 I was at the point where I was making a little bit more than minimum wage working for a security company,” writes Augustine Lujan, a C.A.S.H. graduate. “I knew I could start a security company and one day be as successful if not more successful…and that the people that worked for me would not be underpaid for the work that they did as a security officer.”

The goal of the 2014 United Way grants, which include nonprofits as diverse as Domestic Violence Services and the Latino Education and Training Institute, is to strengthen community. It’s a mandate that requires all of us contribute in some way; to not only hope, but to work for a better world.

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