Friday, February 24

Giving More Than Intended

Note: I received this article last week and was asked to pass it on the the readers of I hope you find it helpful! As always, please leave your comments and share your thoughts and opinions. 

Ten Steps to Protect  Faith Staff and Volunteers while Providing Charity Services
By: Johnny Lee, President of ePanicButton and Director of Peace@Work

In October 2007, in a small city in eastern North Carolina, two women were stabbed at the Lakeside Baptist Church by a man whom they were trying to help.  Program Director Debbie Kornegay and Asst Director Eve Beasley were preparing food for the Meals on Wheels program when a drifter, Tommy Lee Holiday, somehow obtained access to the women in the Fellowship kitchen. According to Kornegay’s daughter who was contacted as they were looking for a shelter, he asked them for help in finding a place for the night.  At some point, Holiday fatally stabbed Kornegay and critically injured Beasley in the course of robbing them. He then fled the scene only to be apprehended in a park and later convicted of the crime.

This tragedy highlights a unique risk that many faith communities are exposed to as a common mission is to provide charitable services directly to those in need. Soup kitchens, food pantries, clothing programs and other humanitarian services put faith member in contact with the public often with few security considerations.

The risks can be clearly identified. By nature of the charity, the population served are often in dire straits and extreme poverty and hunger can lead to desperate acts.  Greater complications arise with the frequent issue of substance abuse and mental health problems which volunteers are rarely trained to manage.  Charity-inclined volunteers, particularly the young and elderly, may be more vulnerable to perpetrators who are skilled in taking advantage of compassionate or generous attitudes. Higher risks are involved when providing services locally, often in high-crime areas.  The worst part of these risk factors is that they are certainly going to be on the increase. The continued challenges of the economy will  exasperate those already in need while also augmenting the overall numbers requesting help.

Prevention measures can limit exposure and be established through a series of administrative and behavioral controls. The following ideas are simply considerations that can be included in a formal, risk assessment and security development process.

~Set firm policies and standards for program delivery. Provide the service only at designated time frames and location.  Prohibit providing services to those who just show up asking for help.

~Set the environment for program delivery with safety in mind.  Remove high value items from view.  Designate public restrooms. Maintain access control to the facility and clearly identify client area and staff/volunteer only areas. Prohibit taking clients to the back or storage room to find items or services. 

~Develop boundary-setting guidelines that ban or suspend services to offenders who violate policy or act inappropriately.  Inform them of expected conduct and follow through with consequences. Banning individuals may not only remove a problem client but establishes the reputation of program for no-nonsense behavior.

~Always work in larger numbers or at least pairs.  Adequate staffing of events or programs is critical to maintaining safety as isolated and lone workers much more likely to be assaulted.

~Discourage or prohibit personal giving to clients. Often, program members or volunteers will develop a “special interest” in a client or family and provide services, materials and even money to them directly.  A frequent scenario is a volunteer offering a handy-man project or yard cleaning job to a client in need. Discourage contact outside of the program delivery parameters. 

~Train staff and volunteers in recognizing warning signs, defusing hostile behavior and setting boundaries for any inappropriate behavior.  Aggressors are often calculated in their approach and will test targets on what behavior they can try.  If impractical to teach everyone, train a few responsible members to monitor for developing situations and provide intervention support. Consider contracting professional security, off-duty officers or work with law enforcement to have booth or table at any community events.

~With respect to crowd control, if it is anticipated to have a large turn out, limit the number of clients in the program delivery area and/or set caps on services. A difficult encounter can ensure if supplies run out and crowd expectations exceed capacity.

~Consider some application process for in-depth services to be rendered. By obtaining the contact information of the individuals, a record is made which will support further investigation if required. Even background checks can be considered (seek your legal consul for guidance). {Background Information Here}

~Outreach programs providing services in the client community should be conducted in a safe location, provided by teams that arrive and leave together and done in conjunction with local representatives from the visited communities and/or law enforcement. Just as important is timing of services with evenings or Friday afternoons being more volatile.

~Finally, trust instincts. But if there is a sense of danger, a bad feeling about a location, person or exchange, encourage volunteers to listen to their gut and act accordingly.

The spirit of giving and charity should be honored and fostered.  In truth, the vast majority of recipients are not a danger and are truly appreciative. While the need to give back can always be met through fund raisers, the appeal of giving directly will lead to such programs being offered. This service can be a true expression of generosity for those less fortunate but at the same time, the security, safety and well-being for everyone should never be compromised.

Johnny Lee, President of ePanicButton and Director of Peace@Work

Please join us March 15th, 2012 at 3:30 pm EST for a free, online webinar on Maintaining Security in Faith Institutions with Dave Benson of the Center for Personal Protection and Safety. Info -

1 comment:

  1. Indeed, it is a very interesting post. Nowadays, giving seems like a very hard thing to do. It is because of scarcity and shortage. However, reading this kind of blog is so refreshing. Truly, we should practice giving and sharing.