It was the first anniversary of the Adopt-A-Family program at the Lincoln Congregational Temple United Church of Christ, and all it took was the sight of the 15 families that were adopted during this past year to know that here is a concept that can't be beat.
There were Cheryl Fisher and her two children, who had been on public assistance before being adopted in August 1986, standing proud and overwhelmed as she received an award for the most overall improvement toward self-sufficiency.
As a result of the guidance and support she had received from a group of dedicated women called the Les Quells, Fisher was now employed by Pepco and looking foward to promotions and pay raises.
Then there was little Tyrone Ford, 13, the "gospel wonder boy," whose life seemed to have taken a turn for the worse last month when he disappeared for two weeks from his home in Northwest.
Now he was at the piano again, singing about helping people to find their way "so they can be free like me."
Ford and his family were adopted at the anniversary ceremony on Sunday by the National Center for Neighborhood Enterprise, with president Robert L. Woodson as his designated role model.
"I think we have reached the point where people understand that self-help is the primary force that will bring about the kind of change we need in the black community," Woodson said. "People are recognizing that those of us who have made it have a moral responsibility to reach back and not expect government to do it all."
The two people primarily responsible for the program at Lincoln Congregational are Peola Butler Dews, founder of a self-help organization called Payoff Inc., and Elsie Monroe, a member of the church.
Dews' organization sponsors 12 church-run programs aimed at helping indigent people in the Washington area. They include teen pregnancy and drug abuse counseling as well as adult illiteracy programs.
Monroe came up with the idea of starting an Adopt-A-Family program at Lincoln Congregational to aid indigent residents who live near the church, at 11th and R streets NW.
When the two women heard what the other was doing, they teamed up. That is worth noting because all too often, bickering over who started what when and who should get credit kills some very good ideas.
Adopt-A-Family was one of the programs that Dews had in mind. Because Monroe had had a similar idea, she became vice chairman for corporate affairs for Payoff and coordinator of the Adopt-A-Family program.
To be fair, the Christian Association of Far Northeast and the Business and Professional Women's League on Georgia Avenue also have Adopt-A-Family programs, and they, too, should be commended.
Still, the need for more participants is great. The sad reality, as Sherry Deane of the Children's Defense Fund pointed out at the ceremony, is that half of all black children live in single-parent households, and more and more of them are becoming "victims of the street."
The idea behind Adopt-A-Family is simple: A family or an organization vows to provide the support and assistance, not necessarily financial, to help a family achieve its goals.
Dews, a family therapist, was motivated to start Payoff as a result of her personal experiences. She had once lived in a public housing project rearing eight children. Nevertheless, she managed to work her way up to a posh residence on Washington's Gold Coast.
"I learned firsthand that you can become invisible quickly in this society," Dews recalled. "But thanks to some good church people, I was able to pull myself through. So on my way back from Paris in 1985, I asked God to please give me a way to help the other people who are falling through the cracks."
Recalled her partner, Elsie Monroe, "The Lord had been worrying me for three years to do what my mother had been doing since I was a child -- take in family. So we planted the seeds, and now we are watching them bloom all over the place."