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Dolphus Weary: What needs can I help with?

A Mississippi minister devotes the encore phase of his life to rural poverty and the racism that feeds it, saying, “A lot of people are struggling with ‘what do I do next?’ Look around your community and ask, ‘what needs can I help with?’”

Dolphus WearyI grew up in a single parent family – Mom and the 8 of us lived in a three-room house. I understood poverty and what it means not to have enough and when I looked at the problems around me in Mississippi, they were so big, I wanted to go somewhere else. I went to college in California on a basketball scholarship, then got my graduate degree in a Christian seminary. It was then I realized that my calling was about my faith, but also about making a difference.

When my wife and I moved back to Mississippi in 1971, the question we asked was: do we simply ask poor people of Christian faith to give their lives to Jesus and promise them they will one day go to heaven, or can our faith have an impact on their needs right now? So we spent 27 years building the Rural Education and Leadership Christian Foundation, a holistic Christian community development ministry mostly focused on young people, that had a health clinic, a nursery school through 5th grade, a farm and a thrift store in our town, Mendenhall, Mississippi. Our ministry became a national model, from Chicago, to Texas, to Minnesota to Seattle.

And then God put another question in our hearts – what about those other small towns in our state? That’s when that second part of our vision came into play – the encore part, so to speak.

Wearys_TEAMPURPLETHUNDER_sml.jpgOur goal is to work in 20 communities to reverse rural poverty and the racism that feeds it. We are passing on the knowledge we accrued in those 27 years to others, and building an endowment so they can have a $2000 or $5000 or $10,000 financial gift to help fight rural poverty in their areas. It’s not like we owned a big business and we sold it, everything has been from zero. This will be a source of support to these 20 ministries after we are gone.

We know in this country we have a lot of people who have retired or are thinking about retiring. Lots of folks do that thing running around the world, seeing the sights, when they get older. Do some of that, sure, but also use your skills to benefit underserved communities. A lot of people are struggling with “What do I do next?” An encore experience gives you a great opportunity to take that which you have learned over the years and use it for the common good, for others who haven’t had the opportunities you have had. Look around your community and ask “What needs can I help with?”

(Dolphus Weary was honored as an Encore.org Purpose Prize Fellow in 2013.)

CEN is partnering with the national nonprofit, Encore.org, to gather stories of older adults engaged in “second acts for the greater good” for its online collection, Stories from the Encore Movement. Dolphus' story is one from that collection.