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LUM Seeds of Vision – Volume 2, Edition 2

Spotlight on Five Noteworthy Regional Programs

The LUM Seeds of Vision is a quarterly electronic newsletter, which provides a platform for Ecumenical Social Service Agencies from across the East North Central region (Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio & Wisconsin) to share their knowledge and experience with each other.

Below is a list of the articles recently published in the latest edition of the Seeds of Vision eNewsletter.

  • Family Promise of Greater Lafayette, Inc., Lafayette, IN
  • Iron House – Guiding Light Ministries, Grand Rapids, MI
  • Smart Choice Market – Westerville Area Resource Ministry, Westerville, OH
  • Soup of Success (SOS) – Church Community Service, Elkhart County, IN
  • Supper House – North End Community Ministry, Grand Rapids, MI

As communities of faith engaged in the hard work of lifting up the “least among us,” there is so much that agencies can learn from others. By coming together and sharing both challenges and our successes — each agency will find new ways to help those in their our community.

To view the Seeds of Vision eNewsletter V2E2, click HERE.

SoV – Supper House

North End Community Ministry

Laura Castle, Executive Director

On a typical Tuesday, at St. Alphonsus Roman Catholic Church cafeteria in Grand Rapids, MI, guests can be found sitting at tables being served by volunteer waiters, all receiving a hot, nutritious meal served with dignity and respect in a restaurant type setting. North End Community Ministry (NECM) maintains that all people have a ‘Basic Right to Food,’ so in addition to their broad range of Food Pantry services they also provide this free weekly meal that’s open to anyone in the community.

When attending, guests can often be found sitting at the same table every week – sometimes a table of people they met through Supper House! It’s a place where people who live alone can find fellowship and support, where members of the community can gather for an informal discussion of important issues, and where friends and family can meet over a shared meal – like the four siblings who’ve been gathering there every week for years.

Supper House also provides an opportunity for the staff from NECM to form deeper connections with the people they serve and to uncover challenges that might otherwise remain hidden. NECM’s Executive Director, Laura Castle, shared the story of a woman who came for dinner and mentioned to diners at her table that she was about to be evicted.  From there, word spread and staff were able to jump in and facilitate assistance for this woman to stay in her home – all because of the connections developed over a shared meal.

The program averages 125 to 150 diners a night.  Sometimes a keyboardist comes by to play music during the meals. On other occasions, nursing students from Calvin University might come to provide blood pressure and blood sugar screenings for the guests. Joy is to be had during the holidays, as a special meal is served at both Thanksgiving time and Christmas, together with gifts distributed to the whole family!

Laura Castle started Supper House in 2003.  She had heard about another program called Supper House in Muskegon and was inspired to start a similar program in the Grand Rapids area. They hired a coordinator and soon had 50 people coming each night. NECM has long maintained relationships with more than 20 local churches that assist with volunteers, resources and financial support for its programs.  It appeared to be a great fit to enlist those churches in Supper House, and all these years later many of them continue to faithfully serve. A few other community organizations also assist periodically.

A church or organization adopts an evening, paying $250 to cover the cost of the meal and providing 10-12 volunteers to set-up, serve, visit with guests and clean-up. Some groups sign-up once a month, others once a year, and on those rare occasions where a date is left unfilled, the coordinators from NECM just need to put out the call and volunteers show up.  At the time the pandemic came on the scene in March of 2020, Supper House was temporarily put on hold, with plans to reopen again when it was safe.  Now, as vaccinations increase and infection rates drop, Supper House is finally back. As of July, NECM’s neighbors can once again be seen streaming in to join their new found friends at the table, where Supper House has long been serving as a focal point for the community.

To learn more, click here – http://necmgr.org/programs-and-services/northeast-supper-house/

SoV – Smart Choice

Westerville Area Resource Ministry

Scott Marier, Executive Director

The Westerville Area Resource Ministry (WARM) was founded in 1972. One of their major programs is the Choice Market food pantry, which distributes the equivalent of 600,000 meals a year. They were one of the first agencies in central Ohio to adopt the choice model, and see it as integral to their mission of treating people with dignity and respect.

Prior to COVID, the market was set up like a grocery store where clients worked with a volunteer to pick out their food. Each person was allotted enough food to provide for three meals per day for a week for everyone in their family, and clients could visit the market twice each month.

With the pandemic, WARM had to revert to a curbside model, providing their clients with small, medium, or large bags of pre-packaged groceries. As the crisis progressed, the lack of choice became a serious issue. WARM responded by partnering with Smart Choice to create an online shopping platform similar to that used by large grocery stores. Clients are now able to sign in 24/7 and select their groceries from more than 325 different items. Those without internet access can place their orders over the phone, and as each item is selected the software automatically removes it from WARM’s inventory.

All orders require two business days to process. Clients have to choose a pick up time when placing their order. Volunteers pull the selected products from the shelves and bring them to a central table where orders are double-checked and sorted for quality. When clients arrive, volunteers greet them, verify their names, and assign them to a parking space. Once parked, groceries are delivered to their car.

WARM makes an effort to offer pastoral care as well. Usually a pastor from WARM’s network of churches is available on site. Clients can have access to support and spiritual counseling while waiting for their food. In addition, clients can make an appointment to speak with one of WARM’s family service coordinators for more in-depth assistance.

While this approach has returned clients to some semblance of choice, WARM’s goal is to reopen the market to in-person shopping. They believe connections formed during in-person shopping are essential to building real relationships and helping people move towards self-sufficiency. At the same time, WARM recognizes that not everyone wants this type of in-depth assistance. Moving forward, their plan is to offer two ways of shopping: in-person for those who are open to case management, and online ordering for those who just want the food.

WARM is working diligently to document the process they developed in setting up this system in an effort to provide a set of simple, user-friendly procedures for other agencies to follow.

To learn more, click here – https://warmwesterville.org/choice-market

SoV – Iron House

Guiding Light – Grand Rapids, MI

Brian Elve, Recovery Director

Guiding Light provides an intensive residential recovery program for men struggling with drug and alcohol addiction in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The free, four month long program is highly structured, providing the men with a combination of therapy, 12 step sessions, life coaching, spiritual coaching, and physical exercise. 

Such residential treatment programs are not unusual.  What makes Guiding Light different is Iron House, their long term sober living housing complex open only to men who have completed the program.

Iron House provides the men with a supportive, transitional community.  The program, which is now entering its ninth year, started with a single four-unit apartment building, but Guiding Light is currently in the process of rehabbing its fifth building, allowing them to house up to 40 men.

The idea came about when one of their clients mentioned how hard it was to stay sober after leaving the structured environment of their residential program. Iron House tries to fill the gap and soften that transition. 

After completing the residential program, Guiding Light works with Goodwill Industries to help their clients find jobs and allows them to continue living onsite, rent free, for several months. After that, men wanting to take part in the Iron House program have to make a down payment of $1,150, which covers their security deposit and first month’s rent.  From there, rent is $450 a month and includes water, gas, and electric. 

Each man gets a room in a two bedroom apartment.  While there, they have to abide by certain basic rules – no drugs, no alcohol, no overnight female guests, at least four AA/NA meetings or sessions with their sponsor per week, and working a 40 hour schedule on a daytime shift.  They do get tested for substance abuse, but far less often than in the residential program, and beyond having access to a life coach for their first two months, programming is minimal.  The average length of stay is 15 months, though some men have been there as long as 3 ½ years.

What makes Iron House work is the community of other men all working towards the same general goal, all struggling to stay clean and sober, maintain employment, and reconnect with their families and loved ones. To date, 77% of the men who went through Iron House are still sober one year out. 

While Guiding Light is a Christian program, they try to be respectful of where each person is coming from, walking alongside them and, when possible, helping to guide them towards a Christian tradition. But the primary goal is to help each client establish a personal spiritual connection to aid in their recovery.

To learn more, click here – https://guidinglightworks.org/get-help/iron-house/

SoV – Soup of Success

Church Community Services

Betsy Ayrea Delfine, Soup of Success Director

Church Community Service’s Soup of Success (SOS) is an intensive 20 week program that provides job and life skills training to women in Elkhart County, Indiana. The class of twelve women comes to SOS every day, Monday through Friday, from 8:45 to 1:15. Half of that time is spent in a combination of individual therapy, group therapy, career counseling, resume building, and classes focused on everything from basic work skills to financial management.

The other half of each day is devoted to working in SOS’s social enterprise business. The women work with SOS staff and volunteers to make and sell a wide range of products, including soups, cookies, dips, candles, shower melts, upcycled mittens, and decorative fabric trees. Those products are sold at some 250 small stores all over the country. 

Through this business the women learn everything from quality control to health department codes, marketing and merchandising, shipping, and customer service.  Money from the sale of their products goes to pay each woman in the program an hourly training wage along with covering the purchase of ingredients and raw materials.

The women in the program get referred to Soup of Success by social service agencies throughout Elkhart County. Most are victims of domestic violence, others were homeless or incarcerated before coming to SOS, and still others are working with the Department of Child Services to get custody of their children. SOS’s only requirements are that they be at least 21,  are clean and sober for six months before starting the program, and are mentally ready to work on themselves.

SOS also provides a graduate follow-up program for the women. They have Facebook groups, reunion nights, and an annual picnic to help the women from each class stay connected and support one another. The women are also welcome to come in at any time to use the computer lab and meet with staff or their therapist.  

COVID presented an interesting set of challenges. At the time, Soup of Success was only selling their products in about 30 stores. Most of their sales took place through church bazaars, and when those got shut down they had to switch gears and focus on online sales. They quickly expanded to 250 stores, but that caused a new set of problems – capacity. The sudden increase in demand made it almost impossible to keep up with production, and they had to stop taking orders for three crucial weeks during the Christmas season. So one of their big challenges for 2021 is building capacity and planning for how to meet the Christmas rush.

The program has seen a lot of successes since opening their doors in 1997. In addition to the many women who have gained employment, one graduate started a cleaning business and now has twelve employees of her own.  Another went from feeling all but invisible to speaking to an audience of more than 500 people. Many of the women have also gone on to further their education, including GEDs, college, and even Master’s degrees. And the staff long ago lost count of the number of light bulb moments they’ve encountered, moments where the women suddenly realize their true potential. That’s part of what makes Soup of Success so incredible.  

To learn more, click here – https://soupofsuccess.com/

SoV – Family Promise of Greater Lafayette

Shelter for Families Experiencing Homelessness

Nakeshia Hedrick, Executive Director

Family Promise of Greater Lafayette (FPGL) is the only shelter in Tippecanoe County, Indiana, providing shelter and support solely for families with minor children who are experiencing homelessness. For the first decade of their existence they operated on a host model, housing families in area churches. FPGL had a small day shelter, but each evening the families were transported to a church. The churches took turns, hosting the families for a week at a time and providing them dinner and a bed.  

In 2018, Family Promise teamed up with several local churches and community groups to open a static shelter on the grounds of the Northend Community Center campus in Lafayette.  The shelter has space for five families and an apartment for a live-in caretaker.  The host churches continued to be involved, but their role changed to providing meals and evening hosts at the shelter three to four times a week.

COVID placed an enormous burden on FPGL.  The executive director, Nakeshia Hedrick, had only been in her position for six months when the first lockdown orders came.  She reduced the number of families they could accommodate from five to three and paid to put additional families up at a local hotel, but her real issue was staffing. One of her staff members had recently passed away, and in short order one went on administrative leave and another quit. Because she’d also had to shut down most volunteer opportunities, for two months Nakeshia was essentially running the shelter by herself.

Since those dark days, things have gotten much better. Realizing that diversion and stabilization provide more holistic help for housing instability, Nakeshia hired a second case manager.  Now one of their case managers focuses on programming for families in the shelter and the other helps stabilize families who’ve already completed the program as well providing preventative assistance to families from all across Greater Lafayette who find themselves on the verge of homelessness.  A live-in caretaker and a housekeeper round out the FPGL staff. 

FPGL has also found ways to welcome their support churches back into the program and provide them with ongoing volunteer opportunities.  In addition to providing three meals a week for the families, volunteers write cards of encouragement that Nakeshia and her staff can give to the families at critical times.  They’ve organized online interactive activities between families and volunteers.  And volunteers have even been helping to purchase housewarming baskets filled with everything from cooking pots to bath towels and cleaning supplies.  When they’re ready to move out, families can “buy” those baskets with credits they’ve accrued from participating in various classes and activities run by their case manager.  

Although, FPGL is not run as a faith-based organization, compassion, hospitality, and humility are at the core of the work and services provided. This makes the work of FPGL an excellent example of ministry in action.  

To learn more, click here – http://www.fpglinc.org/

SoV – Agency Profile – Home Glory

Home Glory Properties

Home Glory Properties in central Indiana is not a social service agency but rather a small business guided by faith that seeks to balance profit with doing good for others. The mission of Home Glory Properties is to rehabilitate homes in need of a second chance, in order to create homes for people in need of a second chance. 

The business was founded by former missionaries, Indira and Doug Hsu, who have personally experienced God’s redemptive work in their lives. Over the years, they have strived to bring that same redemptive hope – and that same second chance – to others. 

Starting with some equity drawn from their own home, they have rehabbed half a dozen properties in Anderson, IN. Their goal is to create homes that they themselves would be happy to live in, to keep rents as low as possible by investing their own sweat equity, and to rent to down-on-their-luck people in need of a second chance.

Some of their tenants come to them as Section 8 clients through the Anderson Housing Authority. Others come as referrals from a local community organization. Still others come to them through Zillow. Doug and Indira are willing to work with people who have bad credit, criminal records, and other issues that usually make it impossible for them to rent from anyone but slumlords.  The couple feels that it is their calling to give these people a second chance. They fill their units with high quality stainless steel appliances and new bathroom fixtures, all while keeping rents low, and have even fronted utilities for people whose poor credit history prevents them from being able to get connections in their own name.

Doug and Indira see their tenants as more than just customers. They do what they can to encourage them, pray with them, talk them through difficult life issues, and help wherever they can. It doesn’t always work out, of course. They had one tenant with severe mental illness who actually called the cops on them. But that was simply a reminder of the sometimes painful road that Christ himself had to walk. 

That same attitude comes to the fore in their relationship with their contractors. Doug and Indira look for people who can do good work, but lack fancy websites or pretty business cards – contractors and handymen who are struggling to make a name for themselves. They share what it is they’re trying to do, and have found contractors who are willing, even eager, to work with them.

Indira tells the story of one contractor they hired who had been struggling with a drug addiction. They gave him a chance. Shortly after hiring him, he was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Instead of canceling the contract and hiring someone else, they gave him the keys to the apartment and let him use it as a refuge while he went through chemo. He continued to work on the unit at his own pace for many more months, finishing the work with a huge sense of pride just two weeks before he passed away. They treated one another like family, and Doug and Indira are still grateful that the Lord gave them a chance to stand beside this man in his time of need.

To learn more, visit https://homegloryproperties.com/

SoV – Agency Profile – Family Network

Family Network of Wyoming

The Family Network of Wyoming, located in a suburb of Grand Rapids, Michigan, was formed in 2004 as people concerned about hunger in their community reached out to several local Christian Reformed churches to create an umbrella ministry.  That ministry was formalized into a nonprofit organization in 2008.  The agency finds its theological roots in Matthew 25, and its members work hard to constantly remind themselves that what they do for the least of us, they do for God.

The agency is actually housed in a former Christian Reformed church that donated the property after declining membership led them to close their doors.  The sanctuary now serves as a warehouse, but they kept the cross as a symbol of their mission.

The Family Network is a small organization with just three staff, one of them part time, and an operating budget of $250,000.  With that, they run three main programs.  The biggest is their food bank, which averages about 10,000 pantry visits a year.  They also offer a durable medical equipment lending program, providing wheelchairs, walkers, shower benches, toilet risers, and the like to some 200 people a year.  Lastly, they run a Christmas store for their food pantry clients.  Each Christmas some 300 children receive gifts through the program.  Local churches and individuals donate the toys, which are marked at about 25% of retail value.  The families pay $10 per child (all of which is re-invested in the program) and are able to spend that on up to three presents worth approximately $40. 

Over the years, the Family Network has built up a loyal base of volunteers, who are essential to their day-to-day work.  Many of those volunteers have established real relationships with the agency’s clients.  People who come to the pantry for food greet the volunteers by name and ask after their families.  It’s a strong bond – and one which helps remind everyone involved that, there but for the grace of God go I.

Like many relief agencies, The Family Network faced a serious challenge with COVID.  The number of people seeking help from their pantry ballooned from less than 1,000 in March to more than 2,500 in April – and all at a time when the agency was down to a single paid staff member.  They were forced to transition their pantry to a drive through model, packing standard boxes of food and providing a shopping cart’s worth to each family – with extra for the largest families.  Given the severity of the crisis in Michigan, and the gaps in the state’s unemployment system, they also changed their rules to allow families to visit the pantry more than once a month.  Only the neediest have taken advantage of this, but each month about 35-40 families make a second visit.  And while COVID has been a struggle, it has also served as a stark reminder of why groups like The Family Network of Wyoming exist. 

Karrie Brown

SoV – Fundraiser – Hunger Hike

Hunger Hike

Hunger Hike is a unique fundraiser with a history stretching back almost 30 years.   On its face, it seems normal enough – an event based around a 3K walk that relies on a combination of corporate sponsorships, teams of walkers, and peer-to-peer fundraising to bring in donor dollars.  But what sets Hunger Hike apart is the fact that it’s actually a cooperative fundraiser in which three Lafayette area nonprofits come together to share both the costs and the dollars raised.

The three agencies are Food Finders Food Bank, Lafayette Urban Ministry, and the Haiti Mission at St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church.  They split the cost of hiring a part-time staffer to organize the event, and each agency contributes volunteers to a joint task force that helps to coordinate planning and oversee fundraising efforts.  Volunteers from St. Thomas Aquinas spearhead outreach for corporate sponsorships, staff from Food Finders write grants to corporate foundations, and Lafayette Urban Ministry volunteers encourage participation among local churches.

The proceeds from the event are divided evenly among the three agencies and go to fund:

  • Food Finders Food Bank’s Fresh Market Food Pantry
  • The Lafayette Urban Ministry Protein Pantry, Emergency Shelter, and After School Program
  • The St. Thomas Aquinas Haiti Ministry at the parish of Baudin, which include the purchase of high yield seeds, clean water collection, a community store, and goat husbandry

Collectively, Hunger Hike has raised more than $2 million since its inception.  But despite that long history, 2020 was a challenge.  The centerpiece of the event is normally an afternoon festival with speeches from local dignitaries, clowns, hot dogs, and a huge Zumba dance party followed by a 3k walk.  Because of COVID-19, none of that was possible, and Hunger Hike had to be re-tooled into a virtual event.  The organizers set up a challenge week – where supporters were encouraged to either make personal pledges, like walking 100 miles or running a mini marathon, or to create challenges for their fundraising teams.  Throughout the week, Hunger Hike staff sent out daily motivational messages and videos.  It was all capped by a livestream event featuring an MC, recorded speeches, and entertainment from Zumba dancers, a magician, and a local improv comedy troupe.  

The result was amazing.  Despite initial fears, Hunger Hike 2020 proved to be the most successful in the event’s 30 year history, bringing in $123,000 from more than 800 individual donors and two dozen corporate sponsors.  That success, even in challenging economic times, is a mark of both the faith that people place in these three agencies and the value of cooperation.

SoV – Agency Profile – ChristNet

ChristNet Services

ChristNet Services is a homeless shelter in Taylor, Michigan, just twenty minutes south of Detroit.  The agency’s history goes back to August 1992, when a young minister at St Paul’s United Church of Christ began getting calls from people in need of food and shelter. After learning that other local churches were getting the same kind of calls they formed a committee to try and handle the problem.  The solution they ultimately came to was a rotating shelter, in which guests were housed in a different church each week.  That first year, they had eight churches in the network and operated from January to the end of February, serving two to three guests a night and using a local ambulance service to transport them to and from the churches.  

Over time, they were able to expand their shelter and keep it open from mid-October to mid- May.  Their network of churches grew to 50, with 33 host churches and 17 support churches providing food, volunteers, money, and transportation.  Together, they are able to serve an average of 27 guests a night.  

ChristNet has three full time staff and a part time van driver.  Two of their staff and a board member are also former clients of the agency, and the board member even created a CD called “Hymns for the Homeless” as a fundraiser.  They operate on a budget of $225,000 a year and lease space from the Taylor Church of Nazarene to run a day center where the guests can wash up, get something to eat, or use a computer.  

Their mission is to meet their guests where they are, to help them achieve the goals they have for themselves, and, where possible, set new goals.  While faith is an important component of ChristNet’s identity, it’s not something they force upon their guests.  They have bible study during their day time program, and guests are free to participate if they choose.   The same is true of the churches, which often offer devotions, bible study, or even concerts to guests who want to participate. 

With COVID, ChristNet had to undergo a drastic reimagining of their program, as churches quickly decided they no longer felt comfortable hosting.  From April through August they leased space in a building owned by one of their host churches and turned it into a 24 hour shelter supervised by a combination of ChristNet staff and staff from the Wayne Metro Community Action Agency. Starting in September, ChristNet moved back into their old building and re- opened it as a day center, while Wayne Metro worked out an agreement with a local hotel.  The guests stay at the hotel at night and Wayne Metro provides staff to manage things on site. The host churches continue to play an important role in providing meals, toiletries, and other things needed by the guests.

It’s been a difficult transition, but Executive Director, Debbie Petri, refused to turn her back on her clients, and the host churches are looking forward to the day they can get back to work. Website: www.christnetservices.org