In many respects, we are the wealthiest and most privileged society in human history. Yet even in our richest cities, vast amounts of poverty still exist, all the more glaring because it’s clear that more could be done to help them.
While there’s little doubt that being poor today is a completely different and preferable experience to being poor a century ago, there’s still a troubling lack of social support for many of the people that are struggling to get by.
Peter Nyberg, the Chief Financial Officer for the Camino Community Center in Charlotte, North Carolina, says this is especially the case for the growing number of Americans who no longer attend church, which has long served as one of the foundational pillars of American society.
The Role of the Camino Community Center
With church membership declining and churches struggling to pour as many resources into aiding their communities, it’s increasingly falling on community centers to fill the void, something the Camino Community Center has been doing since 2003.
Community centers are particularly vital in low-income neighborhoods says Peter Nyberg, where poverty is higher, there’s less access to healthcare and other important resources, and less awareness about the importance of managing money, eating well and taking care of your body.
Meeting the unmet healthcare needs of local residents was the Camino Community Center’s initial calling, as it started life as a free medical clinic for Charlotte’s Latino community. Since then, it’s evolved to serve all members of Charlotte’s community, touching the lives of more than 25,000 people annually.
It continues to run a health clinic while also adding food bank services, physical fitness classes, mental health checkups, and a thrift store where people can find quality goods at bargain prices. It also offers several workshops and programs that help local residents learn how to find work, better manage their money, and even launch small businesses.
According to Peter Nyberg, such programs help strengthen the community and foster stronger bonds between its members, which in turn helps the community center reach out to even more people.
Most importantly, community centers provide a place for members of the community to spend time, interact with each other, and feel civic pride, which could lead them down a path of volunteering and further community involvement later in life.
That’s a potential godsend in low-income areas where poor children face the threat of being pulled into a life of hopelessness and crime without others to show them a better path.
Peter Schieffelin Nyberg expects the importance of, and role played in society by community centers to continue to grow in the years to come, as local communities and governments struggle to support burgeoning populations of young and old alike.
He adds that despite how connected we are online, loneliness is becoming one of the great epidemics of the 21st century, as evidenced by the nearly half of Americans who purport to be lonely some or all of the time, increasing their risk of inflammation and an early death.
Peter Nyberg believes that community centers could be the answer on that front as well, bringing together people of all ages and creating more socially connected and vibrant communities.