Good works

I have found my way onto TV. I’ve been lucky enough to start a weekly segment with NECN on Tuesday mornings called “Good Works.” It runs at about 9:40 in the morning, and focuses on, as the lead-in says each week, “People in need in your community and what you can do about it.”

Being on TV is a strange experience. Don’t get me wrong. I kind of like it -- new, exciting, a little rarified. The first few times I did it, it was a hoot to sit down with the kids at night to play back the segment. My four year-old son, Jude, would jump up and down and yell, “You’re up there, Mommy. You’re up there!” It is not a hoot, however, to get a hi-def view of what you really look like to other people. I repeat: not a hoot.

What I think I like best about doing the “Good Works” segment, though, is the opportunity to focus every single week on our social justice calling. That’s what it means to think about “people in need in your community and what you can do about it.” Each week, for about four minutes (which is long in TV time) we get an opportunity to focus a disparate group of people on the call to solidarity and service. We also get to call their attention to the need that exists, and the good works already being done in response to it.

Our segments have covered subjects ranging from volunteerism, to nonprofit hospitals, to refugee resettlement and the impact that loss of funding will have on youth violence prevention programs. Here at Charities, we are so close to many of the subjects that get covered on “Good Works” that I find myself surprised by what surprises other people.

For example, it seems obvious to me that the State Department works with faith-based agencies both nationally and locally to resettle refugees as part of its humanitarian aid mission. That surprises other people quite a bit. It also surprises them when they stop to consider whether or not they themselves would have the internal fortitude to pack up their entire family, carrying no money, almost no possessions, and with no ability to speak the language, and move overnight to a new country. When they stop and think about those facts, however, people discover that they feel much more open to the next “foreigner” they meet. The surprise turns to a bond of solidarity, slowly forming.

Volunteerism numbers also surprise people. In 2007 alone, 60.8 million people volunteered their time. They gave 8.1 billion hours of service. The magnitude of that good will surprised a lot of people. That surprise turned into pride for some, though, and fed the social justice flame that quietly burns in us all. Theirs burns a little more brightly now that they can see how many people live their commitment every year.

Much of what we see in the news and media today is adversarial. Political coverage is all about the horserace. News talk shows are about disagreeing, not finding common ground. We learn what’s hopeless, what we should hate, and why those who disagree with us could not possibly be people of good will.

I am grateful for the opportunity to do “Good Works” every week, and awe-inspired by the fact that NECN came to us with the idea, not the other way around. Each week, those four minutes allow us to hold up for admiration the angels of our better natures, to call people to understand better the needs and plight of those around them, and to strengthen the bonds of justice and solidarity that bind us all.

Tiziana C. Dearing is President of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Boston.

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