Lexington's faith community is often in the vanguard of aiding those in need of food, shelter and hope.
Black churches helped organize the 2001 "No confidence, no trust" rallies that voiced frustration over too much busing of and too little attention to poor and minority children. That stand raised community awareness and encouraged more commitment to pursuing educational equity
Twelve years ago, a coalition of now 22 faith groups organized into Building a United Interfaith Lexington through Direct-Action, which sets annual goals for elected officials on issues ranging from curbing youth crime to helping ex-offenders and providing affordable housing.
That's why the United Way of the Bluegrass is wise to focus on religious communities to recruit volunteers for 11 Fayette County schools where tests scores are low. It's part of the agency's Big Bold Goal, a broad effort to help 10,000 families become self-sufficient by 2020.
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This is certainly not the faith community's burden alone. Elected officials, government agencies, business and civic leaders and other citizens all have roles. But when a passion for mission and the belief that good things will come are most needed, who better than the faith community to lead the way?
While its important to continue to set goals and measure where school systems fall short, hands-on help now is sorely needed: tutors, help with after-school programs and teacher assistance. Such engagement even could help clarify how best to hold school officials accountable.
The challenges are well known: More than half of Lexington's public school children are on free or reduced lunch; our well-educated city has the lowest-scoring elementary school in the state; and a stubborn achievement gap faces minority and low-income children.
We also know the opportunity: A good education is the foundation for building a successful life, family and community.
Building that community requires more vigilance than protesting school redistricting plans. Broader and deeper leadership is essential if a new superintendent has any hope of directing change. And that leadership requires more than just people with degrees in education and social work.
Consider Gene Bills, a retired truck driver with a third-grade education, who has been helping out at Yates Elementary School cafeteria for two hours a day.
When a teacher asked him to talk to a young boy who was too often in trouble, his first thought was that he was not educated enough for the responsibility, he said on a United Way video. He connected by sharing details about his own life and stressing his belief that the boy had a bright future.
Bills fought back tears when talking about his bond with the boy, whose conduct has improved. "I would never have thought that a volunteer job would have been this fulfilling," he said.