When the Rev. Bill Stanfield and his wife moved into one of the state’s poorest neighborhoods, known for its crime and poverty, they saw not need but potential.

Take an oath for compassionate service

In his book “Toxic Charity,” Robert Lufton suggests those wanting to help others take an Oath for Compassionate service, which includes:

Never do for the poor what they have (or could have) the capacity to do themselves.

Limit one-way giving to emergency situations.

Strive to empower people through employment, lending and investing and use grants sparingly to reinforce achievements.

Listen closely to those you help, including what is not said.

Ask if you are creating dependencies that may erode self-sufficiency. Ask if good deeds might have unintended consequences. Above all, do no harm.

In North Charleston’s Chicora-Cherokee community, they met people rich with gifts and talents. But their promise too often was left to wither, their hope drained — at times by those intending to help most.

Metanoia’s first 10 years

2002: The Revs. Bill Stanfield and Evelyn Oliveira are commissioned by the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of S.C. to begin a year of listening in North Charleston to find ways of reducing child poverty.

2003: Metanoia partners with St. Matthew Baptist and moves into the church building to start its Young Leaders Program.

January 2005: Metanoia leads and wins a campaign to keep Chicora Elementary School in the community. It leads to building a new school in 2014.

August 2005: Metanoia completes renovation and sale of its first two homes to boost home ownership in Chicora/Cherokee. Metanoia later partners with S.C. Housing Finance and Development Authority to begin repairing homes for low-income homeowners.

2008: Metanoia students launch the small business Isoke Sisters Jewelry, followed by Hodari Brothers Screen Printing, allowing students to earn money and learn job skills.

March 2009: Metanoia named one of 10 “2009 Angels” by the S.C. Secretary of State.

2009: Metanoia and North Charleston police win a national award for community police partnership.

2010: Metanoia leverages a $140,000 grant from the state to help build the Zucker Family Production Kitchen at the Lowcountry Food Bank to provide job training and food for students at its after-school and summer programs.

2011: Metanoia and College of Charleston form a program to develop student leaders.

2011: Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke refers to Metanoia in his best practices speech.

Stanfield and his wife, the Rev. Evelyn Oliveira, bought a house in Chicora and connected with its residents to form a faith-based community development corporation. They chose the name Metanoia, a Greek word from the New Testament meaning “to make a positive transformation.”

Metanoia’s funding

Metanoia’s nearly $900,000 total income for 2011-2012 came from:

22% individual donations

16% City of North Charleston

16% Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of S.C.

11% annual jubilee

9% small grants

8% Trident United Way

7% Sisters of Charity of S.C.

6% W.C. English Foundation

5% Sisters of Mercy of N.C.

Their metanoia just turned 10 years old.

Even back then, the couple felt certain Chicora wouldn’t be transformed through traditional short-term charity.

If you go

WHAT: Metanoia’s annual Jubilee Banquet

WHEN: 6 p.m. Dec. 5

WHERE: Embassy Suites in North Charleston

COST: $40 adults, $15 children

MORE INFO: Contact Barbara Kinsbury by 5 p.m. Monday to reserve a spot. Email barbara@pushingforward.org or call 529-3014.

“We wanted to create an aspirational economy in the community based on capability, not providing services based on need,” Stanfield said.

They joined St. Matthew Baptist Church, a massive brick building that stands a reminder of the community’s prosperous days, and of what it can achieve again.

In the church’s extra space, Metanoia launched an after-school leadership program based not on need but on students’ leadership capacity. Its staff and volunteers added an intensive summer literacy project. They repaired homes and opened doors to home ownership and affordable rentals. They offered financial literacy classes to parents and job skills to students.

“We should be thinking about how to give in a way that builds people’s capacity rather than rescuing them on their worst days,” Stanfield said. “Once we begin to see that, we have more of an investment mentality.”

At no time of year does Stanfield spend more energy explaining the need to invest in people than now, when Thanksgiving opens the holiday doors to Christmas, and a season when folks want to give.

Which is great. But he asks them to mull what exactly they are giving.

Season of giving

Metanoia’s phones will ring until Christmas with people who want to offer quick, short-term help, typically by donating new toys to local kids.

It’s a nice gesture but is the kind that actually can hurt a community. In poverty-dense areas such as Chicora, the best of intentions often lead to worse outcomes, Stanfield argues.

He is among a chorus of philanthropists, nonprofits leaders and others promoting a concept outlined in the book “Toxic Charity: How Churches and Charities Hurt Those They Help (And How to Reverse It).” Author Robert Lupton, who recently spoke to sold-out crowds in Charleston, is an urban activist who argues that most charitable work is ineffective and, in fact, harms those it aims to help.

He and Stanfield agree: Free handouts create a culture of dependence and instill the idea that resources come to those who show the most need. It’s a reversal of the idea that people gain rewards through work and cultivating talents.

Back to the phone calls.

Stanfield suggests, for instance, that callers purchase holiday gifts for local parents. Metanoia puts those gifts in a “store” where after-school students can purchase them at low costs for their parents using money they’ve earned through work and studying at Metanoia’s leadership program.

Kids can give their loves ones gifts they earned themselves. And lessons of work and reward are instilled in the next generation.

They are lessons applauded by Michael Brown, a North Charleston City Council member who is on Metanoia’s board.

“We need more people to understand and be part of this change,” Brown said. “It’s got to be a mind-set change for a lot of people. We need to bring in those qualities that make a community grow.”

Stanfield points to typical after-school programs for at-risk students. Students who receive help often are those who “need” it most, or are succeeding least.

So, one of Metanoia’s first, and still critical, efforts was its Young Leaders Program, which accepts 40 Chicora students a year recommended by teachers based not on need but on leadership potential.

Those students, who come to Metanoia after school, can continue through middle and high school as part of its “leadership pipeline.” Older students have created small businesses, including a jewelry and a screen-printing operation, to learn job skills and earn money. They all eat and do homework. They volunteer. They save for college.

Metanoia also launched the Children’s Defense Fund Freedom School, a summer school that offers intensive daily reading and values education for 100 students.

A decade ago when Michelle Taylor received a note about a new after-school program in the neighborhood, she wasn’t looking for charity. Her kids weren’t in trouble or failing.

The note invited her son to join a leadership program.

Demetrie Mazyck, now a junior at the Military Magnet, was among the first to attend Metanoia’s program. His mom wanted a place where he could earn self-esteem and meet peers who share her goals and values.

“It meant never getting in trouble on the streets,” Taylor said. “The program just motivates. It’s beautiful.”

The single mom works 14-hour days or longer handling laundry for hotels. She often runs on four or five hours of sleep. The Metanoia program means not worrying about where her children are going after school. She also served on its Parent Dream Team, which works like a PTA.

Then, just a week ago, her mother, Mattie Wilson, moved into one of Metanoia’s rental homes, rounding out three generations of investment.

“It’s based on so much loving and caring. That’s what makes Metanoia so beautiful,” Taylor said.

Work ahead

Stanfield is most happy when residents refer to Metanoia as “we” and not “they.”

Local residents comprise much of its board. Parents have logged 15,000 volunteer hours at its programs. And Chicora residents maintain and harvest produce from a community garden. A week ago, they helped install a new playground.

The results? More Metanoia students are finishing high school and going to college. The school district plans to build a new school building in Chicora. And local crime has declined. On Eubank Street alone, where Metanoia owns six houses, the crime rate has dropped 64 percent, Stanfield said.

Next, Metanoia is renting houses it owns to keep more money in the community. Today, the vast majority of Chicora’s landlords live elsewhere.

Therefore, all of that rent leaves Chicora to get spent where those landlords live.

It’s called “capital leakage.”

However, in recent weeks, six families have moved into or signed leases for refurbished rental homes Metanoia owns.

Where will their rents go? Back into Chicora.

Reynolds Avenue next

Off Reynolds Avenue, Stanfield unlocks a heavy back door and steps into a hulking vacant building, its walls pilfered of wires and anything else of value. He walks its silent hallways seeing the future.

He envisions an economically revived Chicora launched from this 5,000-square-foot building, which most recently provided shelter to drug users. Fed up with the property, the owner recently gave it to Metanoia.

Now, it is being renovated to house what will be called the Youth Entrepreneur and Volunteer Center, which should be finished around March 2014.

Downstairs will house the leadership students’ businesses and, hopefully, a cafe to employ local students and adults. Upstairs will house volunteers who come from out of town.

It’s promising news to local leaders. “The movement and momentum have started,” Brown said.

Reach Jennifer Hawes at 937-5563, follow her on Twitter at @JenBerryHawes or subscribe to her at facebook.com/jennifer.b.hawes.