Helping others is best way to survive rough times in Elkhart

ELKHART — As Elkhart’s African-American community contends with the down economy, slivers of hope, faith and goodwill shine through, countering the tough times.

Michael Walker, who lost his job at a fiberglass manufacturer late last year and continues to look for a new one, mows lawns for a few bucks when he gets the chance. If no one’s paying, he’ll do it for free for the elderly. He’ll even help them with odd jobs.

“Sometimes I do it just ‘cause I’m kind-hearted and free-spirited,” he said outside a friend’s house at the Washington Gardens housing project.

The owners of Visual Designs Hair Studio let customers looking for work use the computer and other office equipment there.

“We’re really trying to reach out and help the community also, especially the clients,” said Denise Gary, one of the salon’s co-owners.

More broadly, the tough times have prompted neighbors and others who didn’t interact much before to carpool and help one another, some African-American leaders here say.

“People are talking whereas people before went their own separate ways,” said Brent Curry, a member of the Elkhart City Council.

Likewise, attendance is up at some churches as those hit hardest look for a sense of community.

“People, they need hope,” said Arvis Dawson, trustee at Agape Missionary Baptist Church and assistant to Mayor Dick Moore. “They need something.”

Cyrus Sinclaire, who’s helping out part-time at a convenience store as he searches for a job, regularly reminds himself that even if he doesn’t have much, he’s got something.

“What I do is count my blessings because I have my health, I have a roof over my head,” he said. “I’m not starving.”

Visit msnbc.com to learn more about The Elkhart Project and to view more stories from Elkhart

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