Serving More: The Old First Foundation

Based on the listening sessions we conducted with the congregation over the past year, we are committed to continuing to serve the urban poor.  Until such time as we are better positioned financially as a church and have in place a separate, externally funded outreach organization, we want to continue our existing outreach programs:

  • Winter Shelter for Homeless Men
  • Saturday Morning Breakfast and Clothing Cupboard Program
  • Urban Service Camps

In a perfect world, we would want to explore expanding the outreach to the homeless by providing assistance with transitional housing, while continuing to provide shelter for the homeless, preferably at a location other than the Old First church building that would include shower and laundry facilities, and possibly expanding the types of clients served to include women and children and those with chronic mental health conditions.  Both of these efforts can only be successful in partnership with other organizations in the city and the region that serve the poor. There is also a desire to be able to expand outreach programming for the homeless to include educational/vocational training support and an array of social services.

Even if the homeless shelter were moved off-site, we would want to continue the Saturday morning programming at the church so as to keep members of the church and our outside partners connected with Old First and its commitment to outreach.  However, greater staffing infrastructure would enable us to better resource this program, especially with regard to having available on a consistent basis sufficient clothing and toiletry items to meet the weekly immediate needs of all guests, as well as counseling and referral services for guests needing assistance with navigating the constricted social services network for poor people.

The Urban Service Camps are seen as potentially the most transformative of the outreach programs provided for those volunteering for service.  There is a desire to expand the program to include more non-faith-based organizations, especially college and high schools, given the increased popularity of service learning in secondary schools and in higher education, possibly through the creation of an Urban Service Center.  To expand this program, increased staffing and new physical facilities are essential.  Increased staffing is needed in order to identify new service site partners and to identify and market to additional organizations seeking service opportunities.  Increased staffing would also be needed to coordinate the service camp activities for a larger number of groups involving greater numbers of volunteers and to ensure that the participants have a structured and reflective experience that is transformative and does not simply reinforce negative stereotypes about the urban poor.  Ideally, this programming would include a take-away curriculum for continued processing of the service experiences.   Such expanded programming would require new dormitory-like space (including shower and food preparation facilities) to accommodate the participants.

There is also a desire to launch new programming focused on education for young children.  This program could include pre-school programming, after-school programming, summer camp programming, and services and programs to assist parents of young children.  This programming can only be effectively offered in an off-site facility in partnership with other organizations.

In terms of identifying partners, we do not have a well-developed list because we are not yet in a position to pursue new partnerships.  With regard to housing, we would expect to continue to try to collaborate with the Bethesda Project, and we would want to pursue conversations with Project Home.  Colleges and universities and private high schools in the region might be interested in partnering with a Wellspring Urban Service Center, and the new Community Schools initiative in Philadelphia might be one source of collaborators on educational programming for children.  We believe that our ability to seek and form partnerships would be facilitated by the establishment of a separate 501(c)3 outreach organization because of the greater flexibility that entity would provide for pursuing grant funding.

Therefore, as a step toward better positioning Old First to pursue these ideas for expanded outreach, the Outreach SLG will be proposing at the Annual Meeting in January the creation of a separate outreach 501(c)3 – Serving More: The Old First Foundation – to assist in coordinating and funding our outreach efforts.  To help members understand the basis for the proposal, here are answers to questions that members may have:

Why is there a need for an outreach entity that is legally separate from the church? A separate entity such as that being proposed will increase the number of grant opportunities to support outreach programming that can be pursued, because religious institutions are frequently disqualified from submitting grant proposals.  In addition, as noted above, partnering with other organizations could greatly increase the potential for expanding outreach programming, and such partnerships are more likely if the Old First outreach entity is not itself a religious institution.

Will the church lose control of its outreach programming? No – the bylaws of the proposed 501(c)3 explicitly give ultimate control of the board that will govern the organization to Old First UCC.  This control includes appointing all members of the governing board and approval of critically important matters such as the budget of the organization.

Does this represent an attempt by the church to “farm out” its outreach efforts to others? No – Old First members will constitute a majority of the board members for the organization.  It is fully anticipated and many of them will be directly involved in much of the Old First outreach programming.  In addition, the current Outreach SLG will continue to exist, and that group will continue its efforts to involve Old First members in all of the outreach programming.  Members of the Outreach SLG clearly recognize that outreach efforts will continue only to the extent they are supported by the congregation.  Currently, our outreach programming is also supported by a large number of groups and individuals who are not members of Old First.  We do not see this as a weakness – rather, we see our ability to involve others from the city, the surrounding areas, and further afield as an important part of our outreach mission.  By developing, structuring, and supporting these programs, we create opportunities for people beyond Old First to become involved in our ministry to the urban poor.  We see the establishment of the Serving More organization as a means of strengthening the infrastructure for attracting more individuals and groups to be involved in this outreach work.

Will the creation of the Serving More organization guarantee more financial support for our outreach efforts? No – in order to use the new organizational structure to identify and obtain financial support from outside Old First will require efforts by both church staff and church members.  These efforts will initially be limited by the church’s ability to fund outreach staff positions and the time that church members with experience in grant writing and developing partnerships will have to devote to pursuing additional potential sources of financial support for outreach programming.  Establishing the new organization will increase the number of potential funding sources for outreach programming; but, until external funding is successfully obtained, the organization will be dependent on the church to provide the people needed to pursue those funding sources.

What will it cost to create the new entity? The cost of forming the 501(c)3 will be limited to the fees required for legally registering the new non-profit organization, as the legal services needed are being provided pro bono.  An “angel” gift has been secured to cover the registration fees for the organization.  Therefore, the cost of creating the entity will not impact the Old First budget.

In January in the weeks leading up to the Annual Meeting, we will hold conversation circles after worship to discuss the proposal for establishing Serving More: The Old First Foundation.  In the meantime, you have immediate questions or want to discuss the proposal one-on-one, please feel free to contact any member of the Old First Outreach SLG.

On behalf of the Outreach SLG,

Steve Wilhite

Other members of the Outreach SLG include:  Clark Dingman, Mike Wass, Yajeh Ndimbie, Stephen Gambino, Andrew Hartmann, Alesha Thomas, and John Owens.