In his book, The Vanishing Middle Class: Prejudice and Power in a Dual Economy, Peter Temin suggests, following decades of growing inequality, America essentially functions in a two-class system: “One small, predominantly white upper class that wields a disproportionate share of money, power, and political influence and a much larger, minority-heavy lower class that is all too frequently subject to the first group’s whims.”
Temin suggests a lot of factors contribute to American inequality. It is so deeply embedded it could take almost 20 years for one to escape poverty—with nearly nothing going wrong in one’s life.
There is a lot of research about inequality and income disparity. While they all paint an alarming picture of our society, they also begin to draw a clear call to action for change. Research shows that two key components required to make the transformation out of poverty include education and a relationship.
In 2013, The Basilica’s St. Vincent de Paul ministry leadership prayerfully embraced this research. We recognized, as a faith community, we can offer relationships. We looked across the street and saw the gift and needs of Minneapolis Community and Technical College (MCTC). Ten percent of the students attending MCTC are homeless. Could we as a faith community, partner with MCTC to ensure two key components needed to make the transformation out of poverty—education and a relationship?
In 2014 we created a pilot program called Hennepin Connections: Basilica SVdP Mentoring Program with MCTC. In early May of this year, we completed our fourth year of this partnership—matching MCTC students and Basilica mentors, one-on-one. Each year we experienced profound and powerful results for both the students and the mentors.
The entire program is built on the opportunity to build relationships with students committed to their education. Relationships built through Hennepin Connections are not easy. They often bring people from vastly different cultures, experience, race and class together. This is, indeed the most challenging and most rewarding aspects of Hennepin Connections Mentoring Program.
To prepare for the mentoring partnerships, we offer resources and training for the mentors. We ground ourselves in Vincentian values and spirituality—recognizing we come to this work in humility and faith. Our mantra, as mentors, is “Accept them where they are.” We are called to listen and support, open our hearts and minds, and be willing to be changed by the experience.
At the end of this year’s program, students and mentors shared the meaning of the experience. It was an awesome and humbling evening. Over and over we heard the importance, for the student, to have someone in their life who was not in crisis, who would listen as they vented and would offer a new network for them in their life.
In sharing his gratitude for this program, a student reflected—without this program, even if he and the mentor had been sitting next to one another at a basketball game, they never would have spoken to one another. Hennepin Connections brought two very different worlds together, and made a difference. He said, “Thanks for creating a space for healthy relationships to happen.”
One woman shared that the mentor was “the missing piece of the puzzle in my life.” Another shared that her mentor helped her find calmness when she felt frantic and overwhelmed.
The mentors consistently shared the inspiration they received from walking with the students over the year. They felt they gained more than they gave.
The Basilica seeks to transform society through the Gospel of love—sometimes one life at a time. We can, and must, be proactive to build bridges and unite our community. If you are interested in being part of this important work, call the Christian Life office.