Herald/Steven Doll - Dillard walks through the office area where staffers work with people who come in looking for financial help. Through local churches, CAN offers helps to individuals who are in need.

By Justin Cox

Killeen Daily Herald

Dr. Alvin Dillard says the Christian Assistance Network (CAN) is the best-kept secret in town.

But since only 19 of the area's 200-plus churches are members of the network, it might be too good of a secret.

Dillard works with a handful of volunteers who operate out of the Fourth Street office – three days a week, four hours a day.

In principle, their mission is not unlike many Christian organizations out there – they help a segment of the population that has no affiliation with any church.

But there's a twist.

While many organizations may focus on emotional and psychological aspects of life, CAN does not.

It helps with the practical applications.

And in a struggling economy or in a thriving one, CAN helps folks with the needs of financial survival and getting them moving from one day to the next.

Dillard said CAN works to help people get utilities paid, such as water and electricity, so that the individuals can continue to live in the same homes where they reside.

But more than that, the organization is a financial conscience of churches that may not have the staff, or inclination, to ensure that the money they give goes toward the right things.

In short, they help churches be responsible with their money.

"I tell them all the time, 'We are your staff,'" Dillard said. "They can be assured that the funds they spend would be spent in a responsible manner."

It's perfect for many churches, he said, since most are willing to give money to support low-income individuals who are having a tough time making the monthly payments.

"We are representing the church at large," Dillard said. "In 2002, we were constantly being bombarded by people seeking financial assistance from the churches to help them in one way or another. Electricity, water, gasoline, having their clothes washed so they can do interviews. As churches, we began to realize we didn't actually know them. We didn't actually know if we were meeting the needs."

Dillard said that unfortunately, many of the people they thought they were helping were using the money to feed habits, or may not have really needed the money at all.

He told the story of a man who went around to churches throughout the area and asked for $20 per month. Before long, Dillard discovered the man was taking advantage of the churches' generosity and clearing nearly $2,000 per month in charity and living at a motel.

Stories like that are prevalent, unfortunately, because most churches can afford small doses of charity, though they don't know where the money is going.

That's why the Christian Assistance Network gets some assistance of its own – from the county offices locally.

Every person who goes to the program must first go through orientation at the human services office. Only if that office cannot provide assistance, and only if assistance is deemed appropriate, will CAN step in to help.

But the funds are low. The group can't help with things like rent. Only 15 people made the list of qualified support in January, and just seven in February.

Even so, the three volunteers who give their time as individual case workers do what they can to help.

Volunteer David Smith has been with CAN since 2002. The 76-year-old Smith is retired, but he still gets a great deal of fulfillment out of working with the people on the days he comes in.

"I need something to do to keep me busy and happy, and this is the Lord's work," Smith said. "I get enjoyment out of helping people. One lady who was in here had to go to a funeral out of state. That took money to go there for a week, and she couldn't pay her electric bill."

Smith said most cases involving rent are beyond the group's purview because they are already two months behind. And if CAN paid out $1,200 to someone, that would be the majority of the group's monthly budget.

"We send out bulletins to churches," Smith said. "We try to take care of electric, or gas bills in the wintertime, or help with a job … A lot of people come in, and they can't find a job. We have a little prayer and ask the Lord to help them find a job. You'd be surprised at the number who come back and say 'I got a job yesterday.' It really makes you feel good."

For more information, contact the Killeen CAN office at 634-0178.

Contact Justin Cox at jcox@kdhnews.com or (254) 501-7568.

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