There has always been an understanding that “to tame the natives, you send in the missionaries.” The same can be said of the black community. Create a non-profit, 501c-3 organization that tells poor black folks on the West Side that it’s interested in helping to solve our economic/social/educational problems and voila, everything will appear to be all right.

When Bethel New Life got started in 1979 that is what it offered, choosing a passage from the Bible to create its mission statement. If you’re not a biblical scholar, I highly recommend pausing right now before reading this column and looking up Isaiah 58:9-12. Those verses are so ironic (especially the 12th verse) when you think of why they were chosen in 1979 and how current leadership at Bethel has made them a mockery in 2010.

In doing the background research for this column, I found a statement that founder Mary Nelson wrote a few years back. She reflected that choosing those biblical passages for their mission statement would “keep Bethel focused on a combination of justice, compassion, and building on the capacities of its own people.”

Can someone please tell that to the recently hired administrative staff at Bethel? The majority of the outsiders who now run it have less than two years’ worth of experience working there. What “justice or compassion” did Bethel put forth when it fired almost everyone who worked at the supported living facility (SLF) located at 1134 N. Lavergne? The Westsiders who were terminated had 10-20 years of service there, plus they lived right in the neighborhood. I’m not going to be politically correct and say “let go” or “laid off.”

Bethel has reached out with its left hand to get money from both governmental and private groups while its right hand has done all it could to contribute to the very problem that plagues the black West Side – a lack of employment To add to the irony of it all, Bethel recently announced it was going to help create 700 jobs this year. I wonder if all the employees they hired after firing the previous staff will be included in that count.

Bethel screwed over their terminated employees because they were doing a “fine job” with the residents of the SLF. I spoke with quite a few residents and they are in tears over losing those employees because they had come to know, like, and trust them. So much for Bethel “building on capacities.” They claim that, to do the job, the person needs a college degree, yet the new “degreed” employees can’t even manage something as simple as getting the SLF seniors to the funerals of current and former residents. I keep shouting it so everyone understands: College is theory. Real work experience can never be trumped.

Bethel has also screwed over the current residents because they are not nursing home patients. They are independent people who need the security of knowing that help is nearby should they need it. But there is no “help” to send when the new staff is so trifling that they removed photos of the residents from the lobby walls and devastated the activity room by throwing away board games the residents had used to create a community of elders. Now the once-active residents of the SLF, who used to go on several outside trips a week, now make a visit to the first floor television room their main outing.

The residents who used to be very happy with the food are now infighting because some of them got two breakfast sausages while others only got one. When serving utensils are dropped on the floor and workers attempt to use them without washing them off, those who complain are told to “shut up.” The residents who used to have a voice in how their building runs (it is their home) are no longer asked for any input. They’re expected to accept what is offered.

Several residents say the new staff members haven’t even taken a moment to introduce themselves to the residents.

Hey, Bethel, those seniors are not in prison although the treatment closely approximates it. Rather than encourage those seniors to keep their minds active by having them read the morning paper, the new staff has taken to reading the newspaper to them as if they were incapable.

Bethel’s slogan for seniors reads: “Elders living to the fullness of life in community.” The question is who gets to make decisions about that fullness – the elders or the employees?