Carolyn Thompson, director of Tri-Coastal Community Outreach Inc., believes “we have to change our approach to the way we help people; by making them part of their own solution, instead of being their solution, we can change the world … Whoever invented the idea of doing everything for people living in poverty and not teaching them how to make it work sold all of us a bill of goods that never has, and never will, work.”
The programs she administers out of a building on Highway 188 in Grand Bay are designed with that mission in mind — help people in need, but teach them to help themselves, their neighbors and their communities.
About a year after serving people following Hurricane Katrina, the needs didn’t seem to be going away, and Tri-Coastal, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit entity, was organized to provide aid for those in need. Five years ago, Thompson revamped Tri-Coastal so as not to be “another social-welfare program. There are enough churches and free services doing that,” she said. “I have seen many people who live in poverty their whole lives, and no matter how many programs are offered, they continue to live in the same condition.” Her “plight,” she said, “is to help those that want to stop dangling at the bottom of the food chain and move out of the way so others can be helped. The programs at Tri-Coastal are designed to do just that.” While reflecting on her own experiences as a mother, Thompson said, “I have seen people who needed to know they could fly on their own, if only taught how. Our neighbors are our greatest asset. We can’t afford to let everyone mind their own business and be our brother’s keeper at the same time. The two don’t match,” she said.
Tri-Coastal Outreach programs are funded through private and community donations, sales from a thrift store operated by the organization and, rarely a grant will come through are funded through private and community donations, sales from a thrift store operated by the organization and, rarely a grant will come through.
Some of the Tri-Coastal programs are described below:
• Project School Bus furnishes school supplies for children at the beginning of school and again after Christmas.
• On Wings of Doves provides Christmas for “guardian angel children, special, deserving extra love,” Thompson said.
• Youth in Action is a program that gives young people who have been assigned community service hours by the court a place to not only work off their hours but learn about helping others. In addition, students needing community service hours — for example, members in an organization such as the Key Club — get the same opportunity.
• Successful Start is a program allowing low-income students to give 20 hours of community service at a place of their choice in exchange for dorm supplies for college.
• It’s All About You, construction workshops for clients who have minor repair needs at their homes. They learn to do their own repairs, how to use unconventional materials in other ways, learn new skills to use around the house and, consequently, are able to teach their own children to use those skills at home and in their neighborhoods.
• Financial Fitness, where Tri-Coastal workers have been trained to help community members with the building blocks of financial literacy.
• Healthy Initiatives, which offers classes on improving health, preparing for disasters and decreasing visits to acute-care facilities, if possible. Participants are taught how to use monitors such as those for measuring blood pressure and glucose and are given those monitors to take home.
• Project Tool Kit helps clients with tools that have been introduced in the IAAY construction workshops.
• Pantry Programs include Share 2 Share and Help Now. With Help Now, Tri-Coastal fills an immediate need for household and food items. This service is provided not more than four times a year to an individual. With Share 2 Share, community members pledge to support the programs with a small donation.
“I have found that it lifts the spirits of people to know that they are helping others, even when they are helping themselves,” Thompson explained. “They say it feels good to know they are helping to make sure children have supplies to start school with and that their [own] children and other children will have a Christmas to remember.”
For more information on Tri-Coastal Community Outreach Inc., visit tricoastalcommunity.org or call (251) 865-9731.