by Karen Ford

When should one stop helping someone in poverty? Is it when the person misuses the help, becomes “rich and famous,” can repay, after helping ten times, after 50?

Hidden rules, expected outcome, and relationship influence the underpinning of help. It depends on the exchange, whether money, a tangible object (car, furniture), or something more subtle (trust, motivation).

Illustration: I give five dollars to a friend so she can get gas to get home. At the station she buys two dollars’ worth of gas; she takes three dollars and buys a bag of chips, a lottery ticket, and soda. When I speak with her, she regales me with her adventure of coasting into her parking space on fumes. I say to myself, “Self, why would she buy junk food and a lottery ticket and put herself at risk when she had money to make it home?” I am offended.

Why? Because my hidden rules/values say that I exchanged my money for a specific purpose, whether voiced or not. The understanding: my money for her gas, safety, and getting home. She did not value my rules, money, or her safety. My expected outcome was her getting home safely, using gas that I purchased. Friendship led me to help her. I gave on my terms.

The primary issue is choices. I chose to help by giving money. After that five dollars left my hand, it was no longer my five dollars. If she chose to buy five lottery tickets and walk home or ask someone else for help, is it my concern?

Other questions: Am I enabling her? Is she using me? Could I have aided her differently? Was this purchase valid? Is this a recurring pattern? Was my motivation valid? What is her backstory, and how did it influence my decision? Will I help again?

Life, when you are in poverty, is navigable but never easy. Help comes gift-wrapped in the pretty paper of support, sometimes benign, sometimes toxic. The word support broadens the issue of help. It formulates a more personable platform. It can empower from both sides. The questions are now when and if to stop supporting, and under what circumstances?

The answer is whenever either party chooses to end the exchange. Respecting an individual’s right to choose is support in itself.

“Go and sin no more,” Jesus said when he healed. Did he ever say, “Give me back my gift of healing?” Was he less or more of a healer because of their choices? Did their choices change him?

Let God use support as he wills. Expect a good outcome, but do not dictate it. All have the power of choice. All must use their brains and hearts to make the best decision when offering or declining support.


I come from a background of generational poverty, which was a surprise to me because I did not grow up in poverty. I grew up in Delaney Projects, Gary, Indiana. I was 18 months old when we moved there, before living in the “projects” became an undesirable branding, and I left for the first time after high school, when I was 18. It was not poverty; it was everyone simply living and surviving from day to day. I graduated from the Bridges Out of Poverty, Cass County Getting Ahead class in 2011 in Cassopolis, Michigan, where I relocated in 2004 from Battle Creek, Michigan. I am one of five associates in the pilot Leadership Development Initiative (LDI). LDI is an offshoot of the Cass County Getting Ahead assembly. Our group’s focus is the “Pygmalion” of hidden leadership skills in Getting Ahead graduates. We are encouraged to continue learning about ourselves and our community beyond the Getting Ahead process. We are writing the manual for the future graduates/LDI candidates to follow. Our plan foresees individual and group projects with which to instruct, inform, and involve the community in the eradication of poverty, one person at a time. My interests lie in art, expressed in various methods; communication through writing, singing, and conversation; reading (lots and lots of reading); cooking; and being generally a creative nuisance.