Many years ago while working with a church in Raleigh, NC, I was so moved by the growing number of homeless people in the area that, along with some informed, compassionate members we decided to sponsor a “feed the homeless” event. It would ideally serve at least two purposes; meet the need of homeless people and raise the awareness among our community, especially our youth who, for the most part came from affluent homes. Our thinking was that they wouldn’t know much about those less fortunate until they were pressed outside of their comfort zone. The experience of going down questionable streets to downtown locations, setting up tables and actually handing poor, un-bathed people pastries and coffee would force our comfortable, fragrant youth to see the face of hunger, hear the voice of heartache, and touch the hand of helplessness, hoping that the undertaking would impact their lives forever. It did, but not like I thought it would. Yes, each teenager had their own biased interpretations of their experience. It was interesting to hear their comments as they rode in the back of the van. It seemed as if they were trying to “one up” the previous story with one that was a bit more graphic, a tad more sad. And of course, a “gross factor” always scored additional points. There was no question; they had an unexpected experience. For some, it was a “non-bucket list” adventure that they possibly would wear as a badge of honor and pride, while others would rather soak their nerves in a latte or hot chocolate. As I listened while I drove a [filled to capacity, 16-passenger] van I was lost in my own experiences — one particular experience.

Right in the middle of all the feeding and feeling good, a middle-aged homeless man walked up to me and unmannerly blurted, “This is all well and good today but what about tomorrow. Who’s going to feed us tomorrow?” Honestly? My first reaction? I thought (as any typical, comfortable, well-fed, relatively happy American citizen would), “You are SO ungrateful!” However, it’s better to THINK something without saying then to SAY something without thinking! The truth is, I was stunned at his apparent misunderstanding of our little event that instead caused me to smile at him and respond, “God bless you.” What troubled me on the way back through the seemingly endless intersections to my happy little cul-de-sac home was the emptiness of my words, “God bless you.” I’m not saying there is no power in them, but that day and maybe too often it’s a way of saying, “This conversation is over now because I have nothing to add.” It was a valid question; WHO WAS going to FEED them TOMORROW?” Look, in the past I’ve been guilty of a common way of thinking that a majority of homeless people is homeless because of bad decisions, laziness, or their addiction to drugs or alcohol, or whatever. But the fact is, a majority of homeless people suffer from some form of mental illness, which renders them powerlessness, locking them into a down-spiraling vicious circle of hopelessness. The help they need is not being offered and may never be until the awareness and direction is changed. Until then, as my friend and co-worker at the church, Dr. Tim Johnson used to say, “Even alcoholics get hungry and thirsty.” THAT event, THAT day affected the catalyst of change in my world and worldview. Though it’s easy to become comfortable with comfort, even mediocre in day-to-day mediocrity, I am constantly reminded by the lessons of THAT moment when I genuinely and profoundly had compassion on the “unmannerly man” and those less fortunate than me.

Back in 2003 the local power company; Middle Tennessee Electric Customers Care (MTEMC) began a community outreach called “Operation Round Up”. Through donations from its four-county service area (Cannon, Rutherford, Williamson and Wilson), thousands of dollars were raised each month for local charities that helped the truly needy pay their power bills, offer a number of educational programs through local schools and fund scholarships for students. In 2016 a new initiative called “Sharing Change” has been unveiled. SharingChange is MTEMC’s charitable foundation whose sole purpose is to give back to the communities they serve. MTEMC members donate funds, with 100% of the donations going to local charities and organizations. Middle Tennessee Electric’s charitable foundations have distributed more than $8 million to more than 550 local organizations. Funds have been used for things such as firefighting equipment for volunteer fire departments; life-saving equipment for ambulance or rescue squads; hospice programs; youth programs; food shelves; clothing, shelter, emotional support, and medical services. Over the last 13 years, MTEMC has been a faithful supporter of and partner with of Jay Banks Productions (JBP). They provided financial support for the former STAMP Out Bullying program and the current I AM UNAFRAID program. During that time we have brought anti-bullying education to 73 schools while 89 schools have yet to receive this research-based, self-empowering program. MTEMC announced they would continue to partner with JBP, bringing this timely education to the remaining elementary and middle schools. I know you would be hard-pressed to find even one other power & utilities company that gives back to its community like this. Actually, I’d be interested to hear from you of any.

Mahatma Gandhi, who not only led India to independence and inspired awareness for civil rights and freedom across the world including Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is credited with saying; “A nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members.” I believe because of the unselfish, enduring work of MTEMC’s SharingChange program, history will be kind even esteemed by the benevolence of its citizens who joined the efforts of this and charitable objectives alike.

Dr. Jay Banks, educator, entertainer and author Facebooks, Tweets, YouTubes, and Googles.

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