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  • Doug Tjapkes

Can helping prisoners be measured?

“So, how do you measure your success?” The question came to us from a potential new staff member. The HFP team and members of our Human Relations Committee were conducting interviews for someone who may be called upon to help us raise funds. “When approaching foundations for money,” she said, “I have learned that they want to see positive results.” Fair Question. Fair observation. I have long held Father Greg Boyle’s opinion, that success is valuable only when it is a by-product of faith. As he puts it, success can be set up by choosing to work with those most likely to produce positive results, rather than those who most need support. In other words, HFP does not choose who it will help in order to stack the deck in the success column! We help everyone who asks. The neat thing was the quick response to her question from the front lines...not with numbers, but with stories. Susie told of a prisoner who had serious physical issues that made conditions for living with another inmate almost impossible. With a lot of persuasion, we were finally able to get him a single-person room, and he’s beside himself with gratitude. Matt told of a grateful prisoner who is being reconnected with his long-lost son, thanks to the hard work of our office. I related the fact that I had just signed letters of thanks to 5 prisoners for financial donations to HFP, ranging from $10 to $20. I explained the significance of these gifts, based on the few cents per hour that these people earn at their prison jobs. I told of holding the door open for an HFP client who recently stepped into freedom...how we hugged, no words, silently weeping, not even noticing the cold wind and rain. The HFP story is not an easy pitch to a foundation. We don’t have records showing that we rescued x number of pets, or served x number of meals, or helped x number of abused women or kids. Back to Father Boyle again: “Mother Teresa’s take: ‘We are not called to be successful, but faithful.’” He goes on: “Jesus was always too busy being faithful to worry about success. I'm not opposed to success; I just think we should accept it only if it is a by-product of our fidelity. If our primary concern is results, we will choose to work only with those who give us good ones.” We work with them all, in our little Spring Lake office. Thus, moving, heart-touching stories every day, because we’re staying faithful. Prisoners get it. They’re flooding our office with 50-100 contacts a day! Now to convince foundations.

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