THE BLACK MIDDLE CLASS

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Have successful, middle-class blacks turned their backs on their less fortunate cousins? Robert L. Woodson, director of the National Council for Neighborhood Enterprise in Washington, says the answer is an emphatic ``no.'' ``Once it's demonstrated that a dollar invested is a dollar to the poor, there will be an outpouring of wealth from the black community,'' he says.

``What is lacking is mechanisms that permit middle-class blacks to reach back to their low-income counterparts, where the resources - both time and money - are channeled directly to those experiencing the problem,'' he says.

Still, Mr. Woodson feels that at present there are not enough vehicles for middle-class giving. Once the channels are provided, he predicts ``the dawn of a black self-help renaissance that will be as critical to the black community as the civil rights movement has been for the past two decades.''

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Demographers estimate that as many as half of all marriages will end in divorce. With shrinking economic resources, strained family relationships, drug abuse, and disintegrating value systems plaguing inner cities and suburbs alike, families are in distress.

Adopt-A-Family is a program designed by middle-class blacks to help keep low-income black families intact. Started in Los Angeles in 1982, Adopt-A-Family has grown to embrace 65 families and 250 volunteers locally, with a nationwide network of 225 families and 800 volunteers.

Adopt-A-Family's unique structure enables it to respond to the diverse needs of different families. ``We try to address the big picture,'' says James Mays, a physician and founder of the organization. ``We get an adoptee family together with a team of professionals who are willing and qualified to address that family's particular needs.''

This can include filling in at a PTA meeting, organizing a birthday party, finding new shoes or school supplies, or sharing budgeting strategies. Each team looks to whatever need a family has, from skills development and job-interview coaching to child care or legal aid. This one-on-one approach shows the adoptee family that someone cares.

In one instance, an absent father was inspired to reunite with his family after he saw them on a TV program about Adopt-A-Family.

The Los Angeles Adopt-A-Family program has spawned a similar effort in Hyattsville, Md., at the Lincoln Temple Congregational Church. It is but one component in the Parents and Youth on Family Functioning program (PAYOFF), which has an ecumenical base of 12 churches. Each provides a unique self-help progam ranging from ``Rap Session'' lectures to a parenting program for unwed fathers, taught by men.

``I don't want you to think that we're getting families off welfare in one year,'' says Elsie Munroe, who runs the Lincoln Temple Adopt-A-Family. ``But what we are doing is helping them to find out what already is available to them.''

In the process of doing that, Adopt-A-Family helps people find the hidden resources within themselves, and in that sense it acts as an extended family. -30-{et

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