Ideas from the bottom

Posted on September 23, 2010
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Big ideas and grand projects are not the only ones that make significant improvements in people’s lives.

I heard of three small ideas and projects in the past week that impressed me with their initiative and compassion.

The grandson of Miramichi friends works in a homeless shelter in Vancouver. One of the things they do is an example of bottom-up thinking that would never come down from on high. Most of us would never have thought about the problem.

If you are homeless, whatever stuff you do have, has to be with you at all times. We’ve all seen the people, on city streets, pushing shopping carts full of scruffy possessions. It had never occurred to me that they could not leave their carts even to go the bathroom or for a job interview. Apparently quite a few homeless people are ready, willing and able to work.

The shelter can give them a place to clean up and dress up a bit. The one the local man works in also provides a place for homeless people to leave their stuff. They have a wall of shelves in the basement of a church. On the shelves are plastic tote containers which can be chained and locked shut.

It is not a big expense or project but imagine what a help it is to people living over the edge.

In Edmonton last week for a family memorial, I had dinner with another friend who works with street people. When I told him about the storage project, he pointed out that another big problem for the homeless is hanging onto their personal identification. The poorest people are always among the most common victims of crime.

A project to provide security for their ID was a priority for his group. Imagine how desperate your situation could be if you had no money and no identification.

At the memorial, I met an art dealer from New York. Her husband and both of her children are dead. She says being an art dealer is something you are, not something you do, so she cannot imagine herself ever retiring.

She said she and her husband did quite well and were careful money managers. Sh lives in a small condominium and has never owned a car. She said she does not have a huge amount of money but has more than she will ever need and no one to leave it to. She decided to use what she has to help emerging artists. Her scheme is simple and beautiful.

Sometimes a gallery owner will give a young artist the opportunity to show and sell of his or her works. Often, however, the artist cannot afford even the frames necessary for a show.

This is where Lise steps in for artists she has identified as talented. She advances the money necessary to stage the show with a no-interest loan. If the show is profitable, she gets the advance back and it goes back into the fund for more artists.

She was inspired by Muhammad Yunus, the man who was given the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize for his development of a bank to make micro loans to the poor to enable them to invest in income producing equipment or materials.

The relatively small amount of cash required to mount an art exhibition can be the difference between an artist’s career being kick started or not.

A friend recently made a Face Book posting “The best things in life are not things!”.

Good, practical, ideas and grass-roots people with big hearts are.

On we go!                              DAC

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