The fable “The Blind Men and the Elephant” offers great insight about how Americans seem to perceive how charity and public welfare is done. Remember that depending on his placement around the elephant, each blind man had a different perspective, i.e., the guy on the tail had a much different perspective than the one grabbing the elephant’s trunk.

We get a lot of contradictory messages in the media. People are giving more to charity than ever before or charities can’t get the resources they need. Hurricane victims can’t begin to get necessary help or a virtual underground network of charities and individuals literally all over the country is moving hurricane victims to health, wholeness, and community connectness.

I prefer the latter version about health and wholeness because that is what I hear about constantly. I spend every day learning about these Good Samaritans, recruiting them for our annual Samaritan Award, and touting both the evaluation and teaching value of the resulting charity reports in our online Samaritan Guide The 2006 Award competition has just been completed. WORLD Magazine partnerd with us this year, and the result of their visits to all fifteen finalist sites is featured in their Sept. 2/9 double issue on Effective Compassion.

Here’s our announcement of the Samaritan Award winner and honorees.

These great Samaritan Award charities, privately funded and serving people in the United States, are just a few among that army of Samaritans that are most often recruited from volunteers in local communities. Acton’s online Samaritan Guide includes five-page reports about charities doing work well. There are a number of substance abuse treatment programs in the Guide, but these are the residential ones that house and help residents for 12-30 months. The Guide includes a local charity that works in a prison, providing workshops where inmates refurbish wheelchairs that are then given to disabled people in this county and others who can’t afford them. The same charity makes sure that these inmates see pictures and hear testimonies of grateful recipients.

True change only comes within the context of relationships. They even expect those whom they have helped to become Good Samaritans, encouraging graduates to volunteer, to teach new people in the programs the things they’ve learned to return productively to society.

The Beltway Boys will always argue about welfare reform — and argue louder in an election year. But it’s those local charities, primarily motivated by their faith, that help move people toward self-sufficiency. Those local charities are the ones passionate about each individual person, every one of them created in God’s image. And doesn’t that make all the difference?

Update: Check out the discussion at World Magazine Blog here and here.