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Opinion Letters ‘War on Poverty’ was meant to empower

This letter is in response to Chris Murray’s letter concerning the difference between Republicans and Democrats. In particular, I am responding to his statements of the differences in the way the parties relate to the “needy.”

I quote: “The Republican philosophy is to empower rather than enable.” He uses the “Great Society,” created by Democrats, as an example of a failed approach that caused “generations to become dependent on and enslaved by their government for their needs.” The period referred to is also known as the “War on Poverty.” The local organizations in this war were called “Community Action Agencies,” and that is exactly what they were. Our local group, Macon Program for Progress” (MPP), was founded in the late 1960s and is still working to improve the quality of life for many.

According to the dictionary, empower means “to authorize or permit”; enable means “to make able, give power, means or ability to.” Enabling is exactly what the whole War on Poverty was about.

I totally agree with Mr. Murray’s statement that Democrats and Republicans work together to make our world and community a better place to live. That is exactly the premise that MPP was based upon: involving ALL the community in analyzing our needs and working collectively to find solutions. The founding committees and boards were composed of community leaders, elected officials, and representatives from the low income population. From the beginning, the involvement of volunteers has been vital.

Many programs were developed, and an astonishing number are still operating. It would take a book to describe all the on-going benefits, but I can give one or two examples.

When Headstart was begun, it was considered by many in the education fields to be a waste of time to try to work with children that young. Today, it has been proven that early intervention is critical, and it is a vital part of the educational process. Head start has always worked with the entire family, not just the child. Some examples of services are nutrition education, early health screening, parenting, family planning, literacy for adults. It continues to be a vital part of our community.

Other examples:

Self-help housing – MPP provided a lead carpenter; FHA provided low interest loans; five families joined together to provide labor to build their own homes. Around 300 houses were completed.

Maco Crafts – provided training in, and a market for, mountain crafts. When it closed after 32 years, it had generated over $6,000,000 in revenue in Macon County. After the sale of assets, over $200,000 was given to the Macon County Community Foundation to be used to support Macon County projects.

Sheltered Workshop – provided the first opportunity for gainful employment, plus life skills training, for the developmentally disabled of the county. Still operating as Macon Citizens Enterprises.

Plus: Home Improvement, Credit Union, Adult Education Program, etc.

There were some failed programs, and there will always be those who take advantage of any system, but these programs are still enabling, and empowering, countless people.

Margaret Ramsey — Franklin, N.C.


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