Joe Micon – Farewell Address

Final Remarks to the LUM Board

I have been young, and now am old; yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken or his children begging for bread.  He is ever giving liberally and lending, and his children become a blessing to the future.   

Psalms 37:25-26

To the LUM board and members of the LUM staff, good friends and to my dear wife Jo: Scripture speaks to us of the future – which is why the Lafayette Urban Ministry has always been a place with its eyes set so firmly upon the future. Our motto is to touch the future by helping children and families today.  At LUM we even have a Dream Team. I have been so deeply moved by the well wishes that I have received from so many of you over the past few weeks.  But tonight, it’s my turn to thank you. Now I have actually done the math and tonight marks my 495th LUM board meeting – in a row.  I have been here consecutively, without a miss, on every third Wednesday night, for more than four decades.  Somehow Jo and I have been able to juggle all the major events of our lives, even the birth of our two children Katie and Jonathan, around the constant of LUM’s monthly board meeting.  Whether you and I have always agreed upon everything, or at times not seen eye to eye, my relationship with you and each of hundreds of former LUM board and staff members, has inspired and energized me.  Everyday I have learned from you. You have made me a better executive director, and you have made me a better person.

It was in October of 1978, more than 41 years ago, that I first came to the Lafayette Urban Ministry as a Purdue University Applied Sociology Intern. I was instantly captivated by the mission of this place.  It was here that I came to believe in the power of faith and the quiet dignity of working people as they cope with struggle and loss. It was at LUM that I came to believe that real change only happens when ordinary people get involved, make sacrifices of time and money and work together to improve the lives of others.

After 41 years, I still believe these things. And they are not just my beliefs.  They are the foundation of our life together as followers of Jesus. You see, our faith, doesn’t merely suggest, or urge, or recommend — no, our faith mandates that we love one another.  And we know that God will judge us based upon whether or not we have loved.  So together we have cared for the Lafayette Urban Ministry — as a way to love and serve, yes — but also as a way to help us to remain faithful.

What a radical idea LUM is — a great gift that those who came decades before have entrusted to us. People like Ron Elly and Jud Dolphin, Jim Davidson, Louise Jewell, Tom Hull and Don Nead.  Through their gift of LUM they have enabled all of us to build community, to achieve a common, greater good, to work for and to achieve justice. At LUM, ours has been a history of progress fueled by what Dr. King referred to as a fierce urgency of now, an abiding belief that we need one another and that we are stronger when we march forward together with a righteous impatience.

  • When Linda Hicks and her Good Samaritan volunteers share compassion and cash each morning at LUM, they know with quiet certainty that because of their efforts, families and their children will be kept from becoming homeless.
  • When we discovered the wadded up blankets of a homeless man under the front porch of our office, the LUM shelter was born.  At first we crammed 7 beds into an attic space.  Later, we expanded our shelter into the old St. Boniface convent.  Then we built our own shelter building.  Now, LUM provides more than 10,000 overnight stays to the chronically homeless each year.
  • In 2019 when Nina Morgan said “yes” to coordinating the new LUM Protein Food Pantry, little did we know that those in need of this source of healthy meats, vegetables and infant formula would so quickly surpass 70 families per week. 
  • Each year, we provide a Thanksgiving feast for 900 people.  Everyone is invited to join us at God’s welcome table, no matter their state, as a valued member of LUM’s family.

At LUM, we have never bought into the argument that charity is somehow toxic.  We know that charity toward another is the first fruit of the Holy Spirit and that where charity and love prevail, there God is ever found.

  • When LUM came face to face with increasing numbers of immigrants and asylum seekers in need of legal advocacy, we hired Susan Brouillette to start and to grow the LUM Immigration Clinic.  Following scripture’s call to welcome the stranger, LUM helps individuals navigate the always complex US Immigration bureaucracy.
  • When the working poor were leaving significant tax refunds and credits in the hands of Uncle Sam because they couldn’t afford to have their taxes professionally prepared, Patti O’Callaghan convinced us to prepare their taxes for free.  Through the years, LUM has returned more than $20 million dollars to working families in our community.
  • After the tragedy of 9/11 when the rules for obtaining photo IDs became much more complicated, we started the LUM ID Clinic so our clients could access employment, housing and public benefits.

Our programs help those who exist on the margins to build a brighter, more productive, stable and successful future for themselves.

  • When LUM realized Indiana was one of only a handful of states not offering free breakfast to low-income public school children, we raised $175,000, hired Purdue Economist Dr. Chuck Sargent and commissioned the CCHIP childhood hunger study.  After publishing the results, we convinced our state legislators to implement the federal free school breakfast program in every public school in Indiana.  We just felt that children learn better in school when their tummies aren’t grumbling.
  • When LUM witnessed first hand the abuse of applicants in our state’s township poor relief system, LUM organized, marched, lobbied and won improvements in the way the poor were treated by township trustees.
  • When LUM learned that some children in our schools were being publicly shamed because their parents could not afford to pay for their textbooks, LUM fought for and won state funding to provide those books for free.
  • When I asked you if I could run for state office, you gave a resounding “yes.”  “What better way,” you said, “to help move Indiana forward on behalf of the children and families LUM serves.”   As a result, Indiana’s minimum wage increased, full day kindergarten was implemented, tax laws for working families became more progressive, funding for school children in need of summer remediation grew and Indiana’s 21st Century Scholars Program was expanded. Consumer protections were strengthened, death rates for teen drivers decreased and our community found a tireless advocate for Purdue University. 

Thank you for allowing me the honor and privilege of serving as the first social worker elected to the Indiana General Assembly. Thank you for choosing to touch the future, with your fierce urgency of now.

And oh how LUM has cared for children.  We have lovingly sent them on their journeys to more hopeful futures…

  • When working parents told us that they needed safe, affordable after school care, LUM sprang into action.  Now, under the direction of Kristi Hogue, more than 100 children each year are provided educational enrichment in a fun-learning environment each day.  It happened because Nanette & Arthur Avery chose to entrust their generous legacy gift to LUM.
  • When we learned that the academic achievement gap separating low-income children from their more affluent peers widens further during summer recess, LUM started 5th Quarter. Our students are academically better prepared to return to school in August.
  • When Jud Dolphin organized LUM’s first Seeds of Vision Conference in 1980, keynote speaker Rev. Don Blakely asked why well-meaning church people need to play hero with poor children at Christmas time — and LUM’s Jubilee came into being.  No longer does LUM arrange for volunteers bearing toys to walk through a family’s front door during the holidays. Instead, we empower mom and dad to be the heroes. Over the span of four decades, Jubilee Christmas has served more than 60,000 families! Thousands of church members have gotten to know those parents and children by name. Relationships have been built and stereotypes about the poor have fallen.

And then there is LUM Camp —  LUM’s very first program with roots going all the way back to the 1960’s and the Neighborhood Development Project at Hope Chapel Presbyterian Church. At camp, LUM provides the tools children need to navigate the challenges of growing up. Our campers make new friends, experience new activities and are exposed to a world of possibility. As the week progresses, you can literally see each child grow. Our time spent together with children at LUM Camp might just be the most important thing we do to change the world for the better. The author Neil Postman says that

Our Children are living messages we send to a future that you and I will never know.” 

But perhaps, just perhaps, LUM Camp has allowed us to glimpse that future first hand…

  • LUM Camper Marlena Edmondson grew up to become a social worker. After her graduate school internship at LUM she went on to help troubled youth in the Tippecanoe School Corporation.  During her summers, she now organizes and helps to direct LUM Camp.
  • LUM Camper Eddie Opperman received his accounting degree from Purdue and is now CEO of his own CPA firm here in Lafayette.  For the past 10 years he has so ably conducted the Lafayette Urban Ministry’s annual audit.
  • LUM Camper Glen Patton was exposed to percussion instruments at camp.  Throughout his school years Glen honed his skills on the snare drum as a member of the 42nd Royal Highlanders. Then he entered the US Army and was chosen to become a member of the President’s elite Old Guard Fife and Drum Corp.  I will never forget watching Glen on national TV marching in President Clinton’s Inaugural Parade in Washington.
  • And anyone could see that LUM Camper Dustin Keller was destined for greatness.  This scrappy, tireless, fast-as-lightning 9 year old camper went on to play wide receiver for Lafayette Jeff, then the Purdue Boilermakers, then the New York Jets, then the Miami Dolphins.  Today Dustin owns more than 70 McAlister’s Deli restaurants located throughout the southeast United States.

The great abolitionist Frederick Douglas reminds us that it is far better to build a child than to have to repair a broken adult.

And you and I have served together on the front lines in the fight for racial justice and equality.

  • In January of 1991 LUM became the very first not-profit, church or business in our community to offer its employees a paid Martin Luther King Jr holiday.
  • We passed a Racial Equality Action Plan that guarantees minority applicants equal access to employment at LUM and minority owned companies equal access to LUM’s business.
  • You enthusiastically voted to permanently house, here at the LUM Ray Ewry Youth Center, this consequential library of 500 children’s books written by minority authors. There was a time, in parts of our nation that it was illegal to teach a person of color to read. But now here at LUM, children of all racial and ethnic backgrounds are taught to read and to love books, to glimpse a future of racial diversity. Thank you Cindy Eberts for your vision, hard work and generous gift of the LUM Eberts Diversity Library.
  • LUM staff chaperoned a group of racially diverse high school students who traveled to our nation’s Capital to march during the 50th Anniversary of Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech.  
  • And it was the honor of my life to personally visit Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina. On your behalf, I extended words of friendship to a congregation that struggles every day to cope with the mass gun violence and unspeakable hatred that was inflicted upon its members.

In 1995, LUM geared up for our Touching the Future Campaign. Together we planned, worked, financially sacrificed, and raised $1.4 million dollars to build this program center and homeless shelter.  In 2008, when LUM needed to grow again, we raised $3.3 million dollars more to build this youth center and to purchase and renovate our new program offices. In 2017, LUM was looking for creative ways to invest our resources, so we purchased four beautiful houses enabling four beautiful low-income families to know the pride and stability of living in a safe home, in a stable neighborhood community, with a fair and attentive landlord as their partner.  In 2018, we raised $110,000 and flipped the solar switch so future generations would know of our fidelity to God’s creation.

And how about LUM’s social media presence?  When it became clear that the way the world communicated was rapidly changing, LUM hired Pablo Malavenda to help us navigate social and electronic media.  As a result, our volunteer base has expanded, online fundraising has ballooned and our reputation as a trustworthy, innovative and forward-looking ministry now reaches well beyond our own community.  MSW Online Magazine named the Lafayette Urban Ministry one of the 99 most effective non-profit organizations in America!

Yesterday, LUM’s Executive Council received the good news that we once again finished the year in the black. It marks 30 years in a row that you and I have guided LUM to a year-end budget surplus — 30 years in a row. Let that sink in for a moment. LUM’s record of fiscal health is the envy of our non-profit neighbors. It has allowed us to focus on fulfilling our mission rather than navigating crisis.  LUM has zero debt.  We have no operating loans.  We have no mortgages. We have no liabilities.  Let that sink in for a moment as well. Together we raised LUM’s starting wage for hourly employees to $15 per hour. Together, over the years, we have fully benefited LUM’s professional staff.

We need to recognize Eileen Weiss, Gayle Koning, Susie Riley, Tricia Sembroski, Marilyn Zerbes, Jo Johannsen and Ron Smith.  They have conducted their fiduciary duties with transparency, integrity and an abiding sense of accountability to LUM’s donors.  Due to their hard work and dedication, LUM is fiscally sound and poised for a new future of faithful service. 

Jo Greathouse Micon.  We met on the very first day of graduate school in 1983 at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland Ohio.  I misread the class schedule, arrived a half-hour late and was summarily chastised by Dr. Chatterjee in front of everybody.  From your desk across the room I saw you trying to hide your bemusement.  So during class break I went over to see what was so funny – and the rest is history.  A dedicated professional with a demanding career of your own, you have worn the mantle placed upon you by my public life so very graciously.  You have not only been my wife and the mother of our children, but my best friend.  I broke my ring finger at LUM Camp 10 days before our wedding.  We got the swelling to go down, the ring went on – and it hasn’t been off for a second since. How many times throughout the years have you reminded me of that wonderful quote from Jackie Kennedy:

If you bungle raising your children, I don’t think whatever else you do matters very much.

Katie Micon Stewart has grown into such an amazing woman and Jonathan Joseph Micon, into such an  amazing man.  They are both thoughtful, kind, smart, humorous and filled with passion.  They are making their own mark upon the world and changing it for the better.  Of all that Jo and I have done, we are most proud of the two of them.

To Mark Thomas and Joan Low: thank you for doing such an unbelievable job of leading and presiding over LUM during this time of transition.  For the past two years you have listened, not only to the thoughtful vocal voices on the board, but also to thoughtful reserved voices.  And you reached out to the wider LUM family, so that volunteers, donors, staff and community leaders could share their visions for LUM’s future as well.  When the next successful chapters of LUM’s story are written, we will all have you to be thankful for.

To the amazing, dedicated, tireless members of LUM’s staff:  I feel so very lucky to have been able to spend my days together with you.  Without exception, you have been enthusiastic, intelligent, collaborative, creative, and fiercely committed to LUM’s important work.  I cannot begin to thank you for your years of service.  How lucky we all are that you have chosen to share your considerable talents on behalf of those LUM serves.

LUM’s work has always been embraced by the faithful arms of volunteers – thousands of them each year.  They have fed the hungry, sheltered the homeless, nurtured children, prepared tax returns and even argued cases in Federal Immigration Court.  They have hosted Jubilee families and helped those with addiction to find the strength and courage to change.  LUM’s volunteers have been a powerful force for good.  They have been love in motion.  My heartfelt thanks to each of you.

And nothing at LUM would be possible without the generosity and sacrifice of those who share their dollars.  Stewardship is an honorable practice among people of faith.  And through the years we have gathered such a faithful community of donors to LUM – donors who believe fervently in LUM’s mission, who are passionate about our programs and who believe that there is nowhere else that their dollars will have a greater impact for good.  To each of LUM’s 4,000 generous donors – thank you.

I would like to share one last story.  My friend Jeanie Williams has lived on the north end of Lafayette pretty much her entire life.  Along with caring for Larry, her disabled husband, Jeanie raised 15 children, virtually on her own. 

Or maybe I should say Jeanie and the Lafayette Urban Ministry.  Over the course of 40 years, every one of those 15 children has attended LUM Camp.  Every one of them was regularly enrolled in Jubilee Christmas.  Every one of those beautiful 15 children was nourished by food from the St. John’s/LUM Food Pantry.  Every one of them lived in a home that was supported by rent and utility assistance shared from the Good Samaritan Fund.  But that’s all just the “helping children and families today” part.  Here’s the “touching the future” part…..  Against all odds, each one of the 15 Williams children enrolled in college.  To date, 6 of them have graduated and one daughter is enrolled in Ball State University’s graduate school. So far, Jeanie Williams has given us a registered nurse, two elementary school teachers, a son who owns his own successful landscaping business and another son who is CEO of his own marketing company.  Grandson Jahsiah Kirk Williams is a 6’3”, 176 lb basketball standout at Lafayette Jeff.  Keep an eye on Jahsiah – just sayin’.  When Jeanie and I visited last week, she asked if I would extend her deepest gratitude to you, members of the LUM staff and board.  She shared that it really does take a village and that LUM, in her mind, has always been the very best part of this village we call Greater Lafayette.  And now that virtually all of those 15 children have left home, Jeanie Williams has herself entered the workforce.  She helps older workers to update their job skills and build work experience so they might live with greater economic security.  Glory hallelujah.

So what better way to conclude our time together, to celebrate our accomplishments together, than with the words of a country song?  In his 2008 ballad commemorating the election of Barack Obama, Brad Paisley asks us to…

Look around – it is all so clear.
Wherever we were going, now we are here.
So many things I never thought that I would see,
Are now happening right here in front of me.
Every day is a revolution; Welcome to the future!
Go wake up Martin Luther; Welcome to the future!
Glory, glory, hallelujah; Welcome to the future!
Glory, glory, hallelujah; Welcome to the future.

Joe Micon
Executive Director

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