On May 3rd, Michael Johnson, a member of the Outreach Standing Leadership Group (also known as the Outreach Team), presented during worship the following summary of the group’s visioning process for Old First’s outreach programming.
When the capital campaign for Old First was launched, it was agreed that a portion of the funds received for the campaign would go toward “strengthening our service”, our Outreach programs. The most consistent thread in Old First’s outreach efforts since relocating to 4th and Race has been a focus on urban poverty, specifically, homelessness. There have also been other efforts throughout the years as well, for example providing educational and recreational opportunities for city children and youth. We realize that the physical, economic, social, psychological, and spiritual needs associated with living in poverty are manifest, and for that reason those of us on the Outreach Team want to be sure that we are focusing our efforts on programming that is widely and strongly supported by the members of Old First.
Our first idea was to hire a consultant, who would work with the Outreach Team to envision how we can more robustly support our outreach programming. However, back in February, when the Outreach Team got together to begin planning what that engagement might look like, the team felt it was necessary take a step back to first solicit input from the congregation with regard to the type of outreach that the church feels called to sponsor and support. So, during the past two months, we set up five separate “listening sessions” where we invited you to share your thoughts, perspectives, concerns, and questions on the outreach programming we should be sponsoring.
These listening sessions are part of a plan that we believe will prepare us to implement and execute a newly envisioned Outreach program.
Listen : The purpose of the listening sessions described above is to determine the vision for outreach at Old First
Learn: From what is gathered during these sessions, the Outreach Team will then propose a unified vision for Outreach at Old First.
Lead: The Outreach Team will then most likely draft a Request For Proposals (RFP) for a consultant to advise us on how to best proceed to achieve this newly articulated vision and direction.
It is important to note that this is an iterative process: We’re currently on a train that has us committed for the next year to continuing to deliver three major Outreach programs: the Winter Shelter for Homeless Men; the Saturday Breakfast and Clothing Cupboard; and Urban Service Camps targeted primarily to youth groups. However, it is too soon to make assumptions about the longer-term future of these programs. We need a better sense of whether we should continue to focus on these programs, perhaps through new or reconfigured partnerships with other organizations, or whether we should pursue different programs that would address urban poverty and homelessness in other ways. Once we have made this preliminary determination, we may want to hire a consultant to help us determine how we pursue the desired high-quality programming in a financially sustainable manner.
We’re still listening: Although the listening sessions are over, you are still welcome to share your thoughts, feelings, and reflections with the team for consideration. The Outreach Team should be seen as an instrument for shaping and executing the church’s vision for its outreach ministry.
Results of the listening sessions
We hosted five listening sessions in which 36 people from the Old First community participated.
During the listening sessions we asked three basic questions:
What do you like about our current outreach programs?
Committed 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.
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.
Local needs: Folks like that our ministry efforts are primarily focused locally, on the need of people in our communities.
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.
What don’t you like about our current outreach programs?
Need a full-time staffer: In every session, we heard that the effectiveness of our programs suffer because we don’t have a dedicated, full-time staff person managing day-to-day operations. Our current team, which is entirely Old First volunteers, simply does not have enough bandwidth to do the job as well as we’d like it to be done.
Connect Guests to resources: We should be connecting our shelter/cupboard guests in a more substantive way with a variety of resources/services that we aren’t able to provide.
More volunteer opportunities: More folk at Old First would like to get involved but are unclear about the opportunities that are available. With that, we must do a better job of creating well organized, meaningful volunteer opportunities for families, children, and even our guests. Several of our most dedicated volunteers in fact are former guests of our shelter and cupboard!
Collaborate with other groups: We want to work collaboratively with other organizations in the city who are working to end homelessness. Currently there are over 50 such organizations in Philadelphia. We also want to strengthen those partnerships that we already have, with organizations such as Bethesda and Philabundance, with the several church/social groups who volunteer regularly and with regular service camp congregations, such as Good Shepard UCC.
Wear and tear on the building: Another concern was the wear and tear on the building. Our aging building has definitely taken a beating in recent years.
Capacity/financial resources: The concern of capacity and resources. All of this cost money, and with an already lean budget, we’re going to have to come up with creative solutions, leverage partnerships, and make tough decisions, in order to ensure the financial sustainability of our programs and the quality and consistency of services that we expect and that our guests deserve.
What else might Old First be called to do in response to needs of our neighbors?
Some folks expressed the desire to pursue other programs.
Reading/education programs for children/adults.
Some folks would like our homeless ministry to also include, if possible, medical attention, or homeless prevention efforts. This is an example of where partnership becomes key.
Even as the Outreach Team continues with the visioning process, we are also focused on supporting the continuing outreach programs. Toward that end, we want to make you aware of the following three developments:
- Saturday morning Outreach Leader – To help insure consistency of services provided, both to the 80 guests served each week and to the volunteer groups who regularly prepare breakfast and organize and distribute clothes, we now have in place a system of having present each week an Old First Outreach Leader. Our aim is to have enough trained leaders such that no one leader has to be present more than one Saturday a month. Positive feedback from our regular volunteer groups indicates that having this corps of regular Old First leaders is seen as a very important symbol of Old First’s commitment to the Saturday morning programming.
- Outreach Coordinator – At the suggestion of the Outreach Standing Leadership Group and with the agreement of the Administration Standing Leadership Group and Pastor Michael, we are currently recruiting locally for a new staff member to serve as the Outreach Coordinator. This represents a change in how we are filling this position. In the past, individuals serving in this role were recruited through the UCC’s national Partners in Service program. Interviews of applicants will begin soon, with the aim of having the coordinator in place in early August.
- Outreach Summer Intern – Because of the vacancy in the Outreach Coordinator position, a summer intern was hired to assist with outreach programming, especially the summer Urban Service Camps. As has been reported previously, Old First member Yajeh Ndimbie is serving in this role, and she is providing to the Outreach SLG very helpful suggestions for better preparing youth groups for their service experience.
We Need Your Help
During the worship service at which Michael Johnson presented the preceding summary of the outreach visioning process, members of the congregation were asked to write on puzzle pieces ways they could participate in Old First’s outreach efforts. Thirty of you wrote that you will engage in outreach activities. Examples included making food and providing hospitality in the shelter, serving food at the Saturday morning breakfast, helping with the Clothing Cupboard, working more with POWER, facilitating conversations with Service Camps, and volunteering where needed. Five of you wrote that you will contribute funds for outreach ministries, and eight of you wrote that you will pray for our outreach programs. We certainly welcome your monetary contributions to the church and we greatly appreciate your prayers. But, WE NEED VOLUNTEERS. To find out how easy and rewarding it is to be an Outreach Volunteer, get in touch with any one of the following Outreach Team members (whose contact info. is available in our REALM online directory or from the church office):
Steve Wilhite, Hannah Cartwright, Clark Dingman, Andrew Hartmann, Michael Johnson, Yajeh Ndimbie, Mike Wass.
Thanks for your interest, prayers and efforts towards in strengthening our service.