Public Policy: the Work of the Thrivers

As Dom Hélder Pessoa Câma, Brazilian Archbishop from 1964 – 1985, famously said: “When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why they are poor, they call me a communist.”

There have always been two sides to helping one’s neighbor, the preventative and the remedial. The easiest to find, access, and assist with is the remedial: cash for the homeless, a bowl of soup for the hungry, a shelter for the night, groceries for the jobless, etc. People need to eat, sleep, and survive; remedial help makes sure they don’t completely fall off the grid.

The second is preventative: after so many handouts, so many bowls of soup, so many bags of groceries, one begins to ask what might be done to stem the flow, to stop the problem at the inception, to have less people who are in these predicaments to begin with. This is the preventative.

If you are just getting by, surviving but just barely, you may have, out of the goodness of your heart, the desire to give on the remedial side. God bless you!

But others are not just surviving but thriving: your employment hasn’t skipped a beat, working from home is actually easier, your kids are not suffering too much from a virtual education, and home life is a positive experience. It is folks like us who are best positioned to address the preventative: what can we do pro-actively to change the system so that people down the road will fare better and not get into these situations?

Preventative work is much more difficult for a number of reasons: 1) the reward is rarely immediate – the fruit of one’s labors could take years to see; 2) the path to change is rarely straightforward but rather winding, haphazard, and difficult to discern; 3) there are far more forces working against preventative work than remedial work for here we are not just changing circumstances but structures and systems themselves with a whole lot of vested interests resisting change.

It has been a blessing to be a part of this work and be inspired by others doing this sort of work right here in Montgomery County. Some of the local preventative work that inspires me:
• MoCo’s Vision Zero, an initiative to end traffic deaths altogether in this County by 2030
• Montgomery County’s Coalition for the Homeless’ goal of ending homelessness in this county completely after having already ended it for Veterans (ending means homelessness is temporary, random, and non-recurring)
• MCPS Board of Education’s goal of 100% equity (a child of color statistically having just as much chance as an Anglo child of getting into a competitive school)

And some of the preventative work I am personally working on:
• Ending the deplorable environment of the poorly-designed and antiquated building at Neelsville Middle School by constructing a brand new facility by the Fall of 2024;
• Advocating for the passage of the Smarter Sentencing Act (S. 2850) that would reduce the length of federal mandatory minimum drug sentences by half, sentences which can ruin the chances of return to a productive life for those who’ve committed non-violent crimes;
• Working on the acquisition of a hub for social service providers in Germantown.

Our communities need both remedial and preventative work for immediate and long-term solutions. Both are critical.


  1. Marianne says

    Good points! Could you elaborate what you meant by ‘personally working on’ regarding the preventative work in the community?

  2. Norm Gordon says

    “Personally working on” varies. Intimately involved and taking leadership with advocacy for the new building at Neelsville Middle School. Have written my member of congress about Smarter Sentencing Act. Showing my support for and keeping up with developments on new hub for social services in Germantown. Different sort of involvement for each one. – Norm

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