Shares and Shares Alike

You won't see Mary McCoy rubbing shoulders with the big boys of social service funding on the morning TV shows. They were all there recently because it's that time of year again -- time to give 'ti

You won't see Mary McCoy rubbing shoulders with the big boys of social service funding on the morning TV shows.

They were all there recently because it's that time of year again — time to give 'til it hurts. Well, considering the notorious strong-arm tactics of the Untied Way (heretofore known as "those other guys"), someone might just get hurt.

McCoy's organization, Community Shares, is much too small for all that. See, strong-arming someone might alienate a potential donor, and Community Shares can't afford to do that.

There are five staffers at Community Shares, but most of them are part time — including McCoy. So the organization operates with the manpower equivalent of three full-time people in Mount Auburn from the rehabbed basement of a church that donated the space. It's very 1960s of them.

Community Shares is the proverbial David, shooting small caches of funding at the Goliath-sized social ills abounding around us. As such it's the kind of place where people go and go and go like rabid Energizer funding bunnies.

Staffers from member organizations — folks who receive funding — commit to monthly volunteer hours. That way, they're not just walking around with their collective hands out; they're digging in to help the agency that helps them.

Community Shares is what my pastor would deem an "underrower." That is, someone unashamed and unafraid to do the grungy shit work that makes the vessel go.

Underrowers are the unseen factions. They're dedicated beyond comprehension. They go about the work because it exists and because no one else really cares about getting it done, much less unraveling problems like what to do with ex-cons or giving feminism a space to flourish.

In lay terminology, Community Shares begs. They beg for people who don't have the resources to beg for themselves.

So it is with Community Shares and McCoy, its executive director. Community Shares is the entity through which many bastard stepchild groups around town receive crucial funding dollars.

There are 21 member organizations in all, and they get money through workplace partners or places that allow Community Shares to come in and solicit monetary donations from its employees.

What makes the giver feel all mushy about giving is that donors can give cash to whomever they want — a novel concept when "those other guys" all but twist your arm to earmark your money in seemingly broad and generic categories.

In one place I worked for many years, I actually ducked and dodged the woman designated the workplace enforcer, er, solicitor of donations by "those other guys" because she'd push it on you until you either cursed her out or caved under the pressure.

But there's nothing generic about, say, the Drop Inn Center, Justice Watch, ReSTOC, the Women's Research and Development Center or the Prison Reform Advocacy Center, among many others in the Community Shares stable. These are folks who don't get funded by "those other guys."

Perhaps it's because of the work they do. There's nothing warm, fuzzy or particularly photogenic about housing the homeless, providing transitional refuge to ex-convicts, giving racially integrated housing to chemically dependent homeless people or helping women become economically independent.

Nah, none of that would look pretty in a glossy campaign brochure "those other guys" like to circulate to get your money.

Don't get twisted, though. "Those other guys" have every right to ask for money for the giants they fund. But the giants surely have other sources of funding. Besides, they've monopolized things long enough.

If Cincinnati is guilty of anything — and it's guilty of a lot — it's that this city seems incapable of supporting and sustaining more than one group doing the same kind of work.

Forget that there's enough poverty, homelessness and drug addiction to spread around with leftovers to spare. It always comes down to an issue of loyalty with Cincinnatians. Like, "Oooh, 'those other guys' won't like it if I give to the (real) needy."

Get over it.

This fall begins Community Shares' sixth workplace giving campaign. Last year they raised $233,000 for member organizations. Comparatively speaking, that's a fleck of dust in the universe considering how many ways it's divvied up. Kinda reminds you of Jesus, the fishes and the loaves, doesn't it?

I know this all sounds like bullying or like martyrdom, but it's not. All I am saying is give giving a chance.

Its name is to be taken literally: Community Shares. It is about helping those who are trying their damnedest to help themselves. It's about the invisible, fringe, nearly discarded element of who we are, the people who get lost and who rely on the agencies in the parts of town many of us never venture into, much less think about.

They're out there. And so is Community Shares.

Thank God.

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