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Helping Families Escape From Poverty

11/14/2014 07:48AM ● Published by Aimee Cormier

By Michelle Matthews Calloway | Photo Submitted By Linda Lanclos

Louisiana’s abundant natural resources and crops – oil, natural gas, sugar cane, rice, salt, pine, sulfur and seafood – offer a rich landscape for the state’s residents. The diverse culture, attracting international tourists seeking the legendary joie de vivre, only adds to the wealth of the region. 

Although the many gifts the state enjoys suggest prosperity for all its residents, the poverty experienced by so many undermines the richness of this environment. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Louisiana’s poverty rate is 20.5 percent, the third highest rate in the nation and the second highest in the South. When many individuals have looked at these statistics and resorted to wringing their hands and pointing fingers in blame, Linda Lanclos has chosen a different plan. Instead of cursing the darkness of poverty, Lanclos has lit a candle of hope by founding an organization named Escape From Poverty.

Ministering To the Poor: A Painful Beginning

Though she was raised in a Christian home, Lanclos never dreamed her life’s passion would involve ministering to the poor. Born in Roswell, N.M., Lanclos’ family moved to Texas when she was very young where she and her siblings reached maturity.

Unfortunately, Lanclos’ first marriage ended in what she describes as “a hard divorce.” She says, “I was hurting and angry, and I was in so much pain.” Seeking inspiration, Lanclos went to church where her Sunday School teacher quoted Isaiah 58:10-11: “If you spend yourself on behalf of the poor, your life will be like a watered garden, with waters springing up in your soul. You will no longer be a parched land, and then you will find your joy in the Lord.”

Dumbfounded by the verses Lanclos sought the teacher’s explanation after church. She recalls questioning him about the lines he had quoted, “Is that verse really saying that if I give to the poor I’m going to have joy?” Lanclos remembers, “When he said, ‘Yes,’ I told him to sign me up!”

The First Work

Lanclos was 30 years old and living in Dallas when she heard the passage in Isaiah. “I’ll admit it,” she reflects. “I was a mess emotionally; I was just a mess. I had one child and was pregnant with my second when my husband left. Going through the divorce was extremely painful, and I was so filled with anger. I wanted to do charity work because I wanted to get better. Honestly, that’s why I did it. I just wanted to feel better.”

With the Christmas holidays approaching, Lanclos’ teacher told her to go to the church office because many people turn to the church at that season. “He told me to pick a family and we’d do a class project,” Lanclos recalls. 

She did as instructed and settled on a family of 10 living near the downtown area. “They were a family of 10, and they were living in a shack. It was a one-bedroom shack with holes in the floors and in the walls. The kids were running around barefoot, and there was snow on the ground. That was my first experience dealing with true poverty.”

Two Truths Learned

Lanclos’ class generously supported the family. Moved by their outpouring, she learned two things. First, people in poverty remain in poverty after the holidays. “We sweep in during the holidays and pour out all these gifts. Then we leave. We feel good about ourselves, yet once we’re gone they’re still in poverty.” Secondly, many people want to help. “People in the middle class do want to help; they do care. They just want to make sure they’re not helping a scammer.”

Ministry To Impoverished Women Begins 

The director of the church’s women’s ministry contacted Lanclos after the holidays. She told her she had been praying for God to send someone to the church to start a ministry for the poor. Undoubtedly she believed Lanclos was the person for the job. 

“Now mind you, I was still a mess,” Lanclos laughs. “I was still an emotional wreck and I was still holding on to a lot of anger. I was even mad at God.” When the women’s director approached her, she thought only of her unworthiness. “I was in no shape to do what she asked. I couldn’t believe she was asking me to start a ministry. And yet, when she was done, all I could do was put a big smile on my face and say, ‘Sure, I’ll do it!’” And just like that, her work rescuing people from poverty officially began.

A Two-way Transformation

Working with the women’s ministry, Lanclos was amazed at the changes in the lives of the disadvantaged women. Now remarried, she realized a husband wasn’t the only difference in her life. “After six months of working with the women’s committee I started noticing something – I was happy. I was fulfilled and I wasn’t angry anymore.” Not only were the women’s lives transformed, Lanclos’ life was transformed as well.

Lanclos later served on the formation committee and board of directors for the White Rock Center of Hope in Dallas, a community coalition of individuals, civic and social organizations and over 50 Member Churches united to provide emergency aid and steps toward self-sufficiency to individuals in need.

Home Sweet Lafayette 

Lanclos had met her husband in Houston. Originally from Opelousas, he was an engineer in the oil and gas industry. “You know how you meet those Cajuns and they always want to bring you home?” Lanclos jokes. She and her husband lived in Dallas for quite a while until he was transferred to Lafayette. “That was 20 years ago. I love it here, the friendliness and outgoing nature of the people, and, of course, the food. Lafayette not only feels like home, Lafayette is home.”

Continuing In Ministry

After her husband’s transfer in 2004, Lanclos heard about Love In The Name Of Christ, a newly formed ministry in Acadiana. Popularly known as “Love, Inc.,” the organization was formed as “a collaboration between local churches and the community for the purpose of effective help for the disadvantaged.” Soon Lanclos became the first director, serving until she stepped down to assist with the care of her father-in-law. 

After some time she resumed her work through membership on the formation committee, board of directors and eventually staff of the Bridge Ministry of Acadiana. That organization has “a vision to relationally empower lives through spiritual transformation, education and neighborhood revitalization.” 

Relief Versus Development

Lanclos worked at The Bridge until she experienced an epiphany. “I realized we were doing a lot of good, particularly helping children,” she explains. “And yet, 24 percent of children raised in poverty turn to a life of crime. We were helping children, but I wanted to help the parents of those children come out of poverty.” 

Although Lanclos knew The Bridge provided relief, she believed engaging the families in genuine development would afford greater impact. “I wanted to get the parents to a place where they could provide a lifestyle for their children without despair, hopelessness and frustration. They didn’t just need relief, they needed to come out of poverty.” With that realization, Escape From Poverty was born. 

Escape From Poverty 

Again, Lanclos felt inadequate, this time for different reasons. “I’m not well connected. I’m not a business person and I’m not a technical person,” she laments. Despite her fears, resources began to pour in, often from unexpected and seemingly serendipitous places. “I can only say I know it’s a ‘God thing.’ Escape From Poverty could not have come into being without him.”

The mission of this now vibrant non-profit organization is to “ignite hope and transformation by empowering impoverished families to escape from poverty by providing life skills classes, mentoring, support, accountability, and motivation within a faith-based community environment.” This multi-purpose goal succeeds through partnerships with churches, civic organizations and businesses to provide classes, mentors and budget counselors to impoverished families within small-group settings. 

Eligible participants and their volunteers attend classes weekly for 12 months and engage in activities and assignments with their mentors. The supportive, encouraging relationships built from these interactions form an environment for participants to apply practically the lessons taught by the mentors and facilitators. 

Looking To The Future

After its first full year of operation, Lanclos gratefully reports Escape From Poverty has transformed four of the five families enrolled in the pilot program. Video guides and printed curricula detailing the complete program are available for purchase from the website, thus enabling churches and other non-profit organizations to duplicate the program. 

“Escape From Poverty is now in 10 states,” Lanclos delightedly shares. The volunteers, board of directors and Lanclos propose to “ignite a national movement.” Lanclos attributes the organization’s success to God. “We’re making a tangible difference and we’ve only just begun.”

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