When you find yourself in the midst of what may seem overwhelming need, you can either give up, or muster the courage to respond to that need in dramatic fashion. The Helping Hand Initiative of the LCMS National Housing Support Corporation (NHSC) is designed to provide God’s people in Christ a practical and enduring means to demonstrate God’s love through acts of mercy, while strengthening their neighborhood in the process.
The two communities selected by NHSC for its 2016 Helping Hand Initiative are very different, both in terms of need and opportunity. Unity Lutheran Church and their partner, the Lansdowne Community Initiative (LCI) serves this struggling community in the city of East St. Louis, Illinois. Trinity Lutheran Church and Rebuilding Together Platte Valley East serve a community along the Platte River in the eastern part of Nebraska. Both churches and their community partners have plans to work collaboratively on an effort to provide repairs for homeowners in need in their community.
What these two congregations have in common are pastors who have taken an active leadership role in their community outside the walls of the parish. Pastor David Coe has provided leadership to Rebuilding Together Platte Valley East and currently serves as the organization’s Board Chair. Rebuilding Together provides home repair and rehabilitation services to low-income, disabled, or elderly homeowners. Fremont is a stable, middle-class community, where nearly every household lives above the poverty line (92%). The community looks very much like the “typical” LCMS parish; the residents are mostly white (85%) with a growing Latino population (11%). Hidden in the midst of the veil of stability are many homeowners who struggle, especially in and around the congregation’s Early Childhood Education Center (their former school building) near the center of Fremont.
The Rev. Dr. Willie P. Stalworth is the President of LCI and provides significant leadership for this community development initiative. East St. Louis is community that has struggled with issues of de-population and shrinking economic base, where more than 1/3rd of households live below the poverty line. The community is an example of a community where LCMS congregations have often struggled; residents are mostly African-American (80%) with a small Latino population (8%). Need is evident in the neighborhood, and responding to that need has been a hallmark of the Unity’s work in the community for the past four decades.
The Helping Hand Initiative will provide resources for the congregation and their community partners to address the needs of homeowners in the area, providing critical repair services that would otherwise end up in the category of “deferred” maintenance. Plans are more extensive in Lansdowne where at least eight (8) homeowners will receive direct services and where plans include working with Laborers for Christ to help perform the repairs (alongside other volunteers from the congregation and community). In Fremont a smaller grant will be combined with funding from other sources as Trinity members continue to volunteer and take a leadership role with Rebuilding Together. Helping Hands funds will provide funding for at least two (2) projects this spring.
The Helping Hand Initiative is unique from other home renovation programs not only because it imagines members serving side-by-side with community members on projects. It also includes a mentoring and financial education component which is designed to involve church members. While residents’ physical needs will be addressed, the initiative is designed to facilitate word and sacrament ministry by the LCMS congregation and her people.
Plans include using Laborers For Christ (LFC), a ministry of Lutheran Church Extension Fund (LCEF) that organizes volunteers nationwide to help congregations and other LCMS institutions with building projects, to help perform the repairs. LFC helps put ministry in motion by serving as the hands and hearts to accomplish God’s plan for ministry and the goal of reaching more people. Usually members of LFC assist with a remodeling project, building a brand-new facility, or updating an organization’s physical structure for optimal efficiency.
The Helping Hand Initiative of NHSC is funded by a Mission Grant from the Lutheran Women’s Missionary League (LWML) which approved the grant as a project for this biennium at its convention in June, 2015. The initiative was piloted in Ft. Wayne, Indiana, in the summer of 2014. Seven households were served in the pilot project. Repairs included siding installation, roof repair/replacement, window and door repair/replacement, weatherization, minor carpentry, painting and cleaning. Additionally, one abandoned home next to Emmanuel Lutheran Church was renovated and has been sold to a family from the congregation.
NHSC continues to seek funding and opportunities to expand this Helping Hand Initiative into new communities. If you would like to help with the initiative, contact NHSC’s Director of Resource Development, Rev. John M. Albers, for more information, (800) 248-1317, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.