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Celebrate diversity

Celebrate diversity

Beyond governmental approaches to after-school and health care

President Clinton last week continued to put the spotlight on some major problems, such as health care for the poor and after-school care for kids whose moms are working outside of home. Instead of pretending that those problems are minor, conservatives should note that he is still proposing government-directed, anti-choice solutions, and still emphasizing bureaucracy rather than diversity.

Look at what happens in many communities from 3 to 6 p.m. Many mothers of school-age kids are at work. More welfare moms are entering the workforce. The result: millions of children return to lonely homes. Some head out onto the streets, where they may become perpetrators of crime, or victims.

The New York Times recently showed excitement about one new alternative to kids leaving school at 3 p.m.: "The explosion in after-school programs-federal financing alone has ballooned to $454 million this year from $1 million in 1997-represents nothing less than a reimagining of the school day for the first time in generations."

But here's what wasn't reported: Many high-quality programs already exist. In Washington, D.C., alone, a recent study by the Manhattan Institute found 129 different faith-based organizations (including 64 church ministries) focused on youth, often through after-school programs. I've visited several, including Children of Mine, The Fishing School, and Martha's Table, and have seen the love children get there and the learning that goes on.

Similar programs already exist around the country, often established by church groups. Why not help those programs to expand, instead of pushing all children at a public school into a one-size-fits-all governmental program? The New York Times reported "widespread agreement that the new after-school programs should be situated in schools to take advantage of insured public facilities sitting empty." That's fine: Invite the religious organizations into the after-school classrooms, on an equal opportunity basis with non-religious institutions. Let's be pro-choice.

Let's also remember that not everyone is working at a full-time job, and that lots of people have the time and flexibility to volunteer once a week for after-school programs. The philanthropic group Independent Sector reported in its 1999 edition of "Giving and Volunteering in the United States" that 56 percent of adults volunteered a total of about 20 billion hours, the "highest ever recorded level of participation in volunteering" since the survey began in 1987. After-school programs will take money, but why not push for a mix of professionals and volunteers and a mix of programs: homework help and tutoring, yes, but also recreational, artistic, and spiritual activities that develop body and soul.

The same logic should animate our thinking toward health care among the poor. Rather than creating brand-new governmental programs, why not work on expanding and replicating Good Samaritan Health Services in Tulsa and its equivalents in many cities around the country? When I visited Tulsa in December I saw how Good Samaritan only operates as a free clinic in low-income north Tulsa and the sections surrounding Peoria Ave. and 61st St. I also saw how the organization moves from provision of health care to the building of relationships that allow for the treatment of psychological, social, and spiritual needs.

Overall, Good Samaritan volunteer teams of doctors, nurses, social workers, and other professionals provide quality primary care, preventive health care, physical examinations and health screenings, vision and hearing assessments, mental health counseling, and treatment of sexually transmitted diseases. A 34-foot mobile medical unit allows Good Samaritan to reach those who would otherwise be unlikely to step into a doctor's office until the point of utter desperation occurred.

The poor gain at least as much medical help as they would through a governmental program, but for the volunteers they are persons, not numbers. And more doctors willing to volunteer part of their time are coming: The Hillcrest Medical Center in Tulsa is offering a family-practice residency that will train more doctors in community care from a biblical perspective. Some people addicted to governmental programs and opposed to choice snort at such things. Professionals volunteering their time to help the poor? Biblical perspectives in medicine? But why not, in this salad bowl of a country, encourage diversity?

The Roosevelt administration during the 1930s was right to fight a war against the Great Depression, but it chose the strategy of setting up uniform governmental programs rather than encouraging a diversity of religious groups. The Johnson administration during the 1960s, also proceeding from good intentions, followed a similarly flawed strategy. Now, in health care, as in after-school programming, we have the opportunity to reach out to all Americans in a way that honors the goals of 1930s and 1960s anti-poverty warriors, without repeating their anti-choice mistakes.