Q1: What is your name?
Q2: What is your Ministry Area or Standing Leadership Group Name?
Outreach Standing Leadership Group
Q3: What was the most significant accomplishment or insight gained in your ministry area in 2015?
The Outreach SLG focused this year on a visioning process for our Wellspring outreach programs. Given that a portion of the funds raised through the capital campaign are dedicated to “strengthening our service,” this visioning process was undertaken as a preliminary step in determining how we can position the church’s outreach programs to be sustainable and impactful for the longer term.
The initial part of this process involved holding a number of listening sessions in the spring with members of the congregation in which those attending were invited to share their views on the type of outreach the congregation should sponsor and support. From the five listening sessions with 36 participants, we surfaced the following themes:
o Commitment to homeless ministry: The overarching theme present during all of the listening sessions is that Old First is indeed committed to focusing our outreach ministry efforts on urban poverty, specifically the reduction and elimination of homelessness in our city. Folk expressed the view that the work of the shelter and Saturday morning breakfast cupboard is extremely important and very rewarding, because we’re addressing a serious need in the city. Transformation does happen: Albeit infrequent, there have been people who have come through our shelter and cupboard and who are now independent, employed and living in permanent housing. Old First played a small, but meaningful part in their transition. We do NOT just provide services, we build relationships: Folks also reminded us that one of the things we’re best at is building relationships and making connections with people. These relationships help us address and breakdown myths and misconceptions about homelessness and the people who experience it.
o Outreach is why I joined: Many cited our outreach programs as the main reason they came to Old First and decided to join the church. I myself came for two main reasons: The outreach ministry and the pipe organ. I love the pipe organ.
o Local needs: Folks like that our ministry efforts are primarily focused locally, on the need of people in our communities.
o Direct service and advocacy: In addition to the direct service and hospitality that we currently provide, the increase in advocacy for the urban poor through our membership in POWER is an opportunity for us to respond to larger systemic issues and to hold governments responsible for addressing the most basic of needs of our marginalized brothers and sisters. It was stressed that we can do both: we can pursue advocacy while, at the same time, doing the direct service work. We don’t have to do either or; we can do both.
o Staffing- During the listening sessions with the congregation, we frequently heard expressed concerns about the instability in the staffing of the full-time volunteer position that has supported our outreach programs. Working with the Administration SLG over the summer, we changed the staffing model from a full-time volunteer to a part-time paid staff member, creating an Outreach Minister position. We were fortunate to attract a large pool of applicants for the position, and we were even more fortunate that our first choice for the position, John Bergen, accepted the position. Because John already had housing arranged elsewhere in the city, we were able to use the availability of the apartment in the Fox Building as the basis for creating a second part-time staff position, Program Assistant, and another strong applicant for the original staff position, John Owens, accepted that position. Together, John B. and John O. have brought to the support of our outreach programs a depth of experience and a degree of commitment to serving others that have elevated the quality of experience that guests and volunteers alike have in participating in our outreach programs.
o Involvement of Old First Members Another concern we heard last spring in the listening sessions was that we need to do a better job of creating well organized, meaningful volunteer opportunities for connecting Old First members to the church’s outreach programs. To address this concern and to help fill gaps in staffing produced by the move from a full-time volunteer to part-time staff positions, we have restructured opportunities for Old First members to have ongoing involvement with the outreach programs:
Saturday Breakfast and Clothing Cupboard – We now have two categories of service for Old First members – the Morning Supervisor position and General Volunteer positions. We currently have six Old First members plus the Outreach Minister serving as Morning Supervisors. In addition, we have approximately 10 Old First members serving as General Volunteers on a recurring basis.
Homeless Shelter – In addition to the continuing opportunity to be part of this ministry through preparing and serving a meal to the shelter guests, we have created the position of Shelter Meal Host. Old First members serving in this role welcome volunteer groups who are preparing and serving the meal and ensure that they are fully oriented to the kitchen and the schedule for the evening and then remain to help coordinate the meal service and to interact with the guests.
o POWER (Philadelphians Organized to Witness, Empower, and Rebuild) As noted above, we heard in the listening sessions that Old First’s involvement in advocacy through POWER is seen by some Old First members as an important additional component of our outreach efforts. While we fully expect that Old First will continue to be part of POWER, some members of the Old First POWER Local Organizing Committee did meet with the Executive Board of POWER in December to express frustration with the organization’s failure to remain focused on organizing around education issues, its poor communication with member congregations, and the lack of mechanisms for holding the Board accountable. Members of the Board responded that a consultant has been hired to help in addressing some of these issues and expressed a desire to have Old First remain involved in the organization’s work.
Q4: Where is your group or ministry area stuck? What is your group or ministry area pondering?
POWER — We are continuing to pursue how Old First can work most productively with POWER. If you would like to explore how you might get involved with advocacy efforts through POWER, please contact Mimi Copp-Johnson, Old First’s liaison to POWER.
Q5: Please list the goals of your group or ministry for 2016 with complete descriptions.
o Completing the visioning process — As the next step in this visioning process, we are meeting with other service providers in the city to explore opportunities for increasing the impact of our homeless ministry, possibly through collaboration with other service providers. Once this process is completed, we plan to explore with our shelter and breakfast guests how our programming might better meet their needs. Then, based on the information gathered, we will determine whether we can move forward on our own to refine and reshape our outreach programs or whether we need to hire a consultant to assist us with this process.
o Forming a separate 501c3 Wellspring entity — We have identified a law firm that will assist us on a pro bono basis with the drafting and filing of an application to form a separate 501c3 Wellspring entity, with Old First as the controlling member of the entity. Having a 501c3 Wellspring entity will position us to explore funding opportunities that are not available to faith-based organizations.
o Continuing to build participation of Old First members in Outreach programs — Saturday Breakfast and Clothing Cupboard — If you are interested in becoming a Saturday morning General Volunteer, please sign up through the Signup Genius tool (Saturday Morning Volunteers).
o Homeless Shelter — If you have previously been involved in providing a meal to shelter guests and feel knowledgeable about the process, please consider signing up for the position of Shelter Meal Host through Signup Genius or contact John Bergen for more information.
o Urban Service Camps — Outreach Minister John Bergen is working to reshape the urban service camp experience so as to ensure that participants have experiences that deepen their commitment to service. An important part of the experience is intentional preparation for the service work and guided, meaningful reflection on the service activities performed. Once John has reframed the processes for preparation and reflection, he and the Outreach SLG will be seeking additional Old First members to be involved in those processes with the urban service camp participants.
Q6: What other comments do you have for the Annual Report
The current members of the group include Clark Dingman, Michael Johnson, Mike Wass, Yajeh Ndimbie, Andrew Hartmann, John Bergen, John Owens, and Steve Wilhite (Chairperson), but we welcome additional Old First members who would like to be involved in the oversight and planning of all of Old First’s outreach efforts. Please contact Steve to discuss participation in the group.