The above is a hadith (saying) from the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him [PBUH]), shedding light on the ideal dynamics of a “community.” Social solidarity was an integral aspect of Prophet Muhammad’s (PBUH) lifetime as a leader, and it has accordingly remained one of the most powerful messages of Islam. The responsibility of individuals towards its community and, similarly, the responsibility of the community towards its individuals are both of high value and significance across all societies, not just limited to Islamic communities. As a Muslim undergraduate student, I found the faith-inspired Georgetown community to be motivating and inspiring not just towards my development from an academic perspective, but also from a faith perspective. It demonstrated that engagement and civic service are fundamental to Georgetown’s functioning, through collaborative learning and opportunities to serve, all summed up by its exceptional value of cura personalis, or care of the person. Reminded by my faith and experiences, I set out to explore Washington, DC and find groups and organizations inspired by faith that strive to better society, specifically in the poverty and education.
Fortunately, I found an effective network of organizations in the DC area that contribute effectively to reducing poverty and homelessness or to improving the access to and quality of education. For example, organizations like the Washington City Church of the Brethren, Loaves and Fishes, and St. Augustine’s Young Adult Association participate in feeding the hungry, simultaneously educating volunteers about hunger and homelessness issues. Other organizations like the ADAMS Center, Operation Understanding DC, and the DC Baha'i Community offer experiential education programs in an effort to not only foster moral and spiritual development, but also promote understanding and peace. Additionally, groups like the Westmoreland Congregational United Church of Christ and the Franciscan Mission Service organize missions and service programs such as the Volunteer Crops and the DC Service Corps, respectively, to provide individuals with extensive direct social service opportunities. Westmoreland’s Volunteer Corps presents a one-year domestic volunteer service program to individuals to work with various agencies, such as with case workers for at-risk youth, refugee support, employment counseling and search, homeless shelters, and maternal/child healthcare. Franciscan Mission Service’s DC Service Corps prepares and supports lay Catholics for long-term (1-2 years) and short-term (1-2 weeks) service opportunities in solidarity with marginalized and impoverished communities across the world. These aforementioned organizations do not constitute the entire DC network of faith-inspired organizations dedicated to social justice by any means. They simply serve as a few examples out of several other organizations that are doing similar meaningful work to better the DC community.
Keeping in mind the large network of such faith-inspired organizations, I wanted to highlight one—again out of several others—that is doing unique, yet effective social work in Washington, DC. So Others Might Eat (SOME) is an interfaith organization that endeavors to serve by providing food, clothing, and health care. Such services are not unique to SOME—various other organizations in DC perform similar social work. What really sets SOME apart from others is its dedication to breaking the widespread cycle of homelessness, It does this by offering exceptional services such as job training, affordable housing, counseling for the vulnerable, and addiction treatment. Just some of its many operative statistics include emergency housing for 176 adults in psychiatric crisis, affordable and safe housing to 192 families and 595 single adults, comprehensive addiction recovery services to 307 individuals, and job training to 92 SOME Center for Employment Training graduates. Out of these 92 graduates of its job-training program, 88 percent of them were placed in jobs earning an average starting hourly wage of $12. Moving to more tangible examples, a women named Teressa is just one success story out of the several that SOME produces. SOME was able to assist Teressa in overcoming difficult obstacles in her life with regards to abuse, homelessness, and addiction. She has now given back to her community by volunteering at SOME for over three years, helping other women overcome their own challenges.
Teressa’s story reminded me of the reciprocal responsibilities between communities and individuals. Theresa demonstrated that a person in whom a community invests can recover and serve others. As the hadith notes the suffering of the entire body when any one part of it is in pain, an ideal community too must recognize and feel the pain of its individual components, in order for it to respond appropriately and effectually. Another hadith comes to mind when reflecting on individuals in community helping one another. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said, “Anyone who has property that exceed his needs, let him support someone whose property does not (meet his or her needs), and anyone whose food exceeds his needs, let him share it with someone who does not have food.” In modern times, where some people have excesses and others have less than the bare minimum needed to survive, such faith-inspired organizations in DC are thankfully contributing to the betterment of society. This post presents just a small sample of the resources present in DC and hopes to motivate individuals and organizations alike to research and work with one another towards a better community and world, one step at a time.