The notice on the “Joining Hands Mission” Web page (www.joininghandsmission.org) is brief and to the point:
In a bold leap of faith, the congregation of Community United Methodist Church refocused its efforts to reach out and aid families in the community who are in financial and spiritual distress. This body of Christ ended its old charter and established in its place a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization with a new purpose. Joining Hands Community Mission CEO the Rev. DanCampbell and Mission Director Nancy Dougherty. Photo by Derek Maul.
More complex, however, is the story of how a Methodist church was birthed, burned hot and then burned out in the span of just four decades. But it’s a story—ultimately—of hope, grace and promise.
The Rev. Dan Campbell, CEO of Joining Hands, has been on site since 2005 when he was appointed to Community UMC as a specialist in church transformation.
“Community had a meteoric rise after it was started in 1968,” Campbell said. “Within four years there were 1,000 people in worship.”
The congregation grew quickly as a “retirement” church, but failed to embrace a dramatic shift in demographics as the community transformed with the influx of “working poor” who could no longer afford to live in Pinellas County. By the time Campbell arrived, Community could no longer cover its expenses and was tapping endowment funds to stay afloat.
“There were 20,000 school-aged children within three miles of the church,” Campbell said, “and only three on our campus on a good Sunday.”
The congregation went through a discerning process, engaged the principles of NCD (Natural Church Development), and attempted to tweak its ministry model.
“But nothing made a significant difference,” Campbell said. “What we needed was a completely new vision.”
For Campbell, that meant reconnecting with his own sense of call. “Corporate change follows personal transformation,” he said.
It became evident that the United Methodist witness on Hwy 19 in Holiday was in transition. The 70,000 people who lived within three miles of Community UMC represented low-income, desperate need, and a rising tide of homelessness. Two years ago the Pasco school system identified 1,800 homeless children. The next year the number was 2,400, and the numbers for 2010-2011 are expected to top 4,000.
“We discerned a clear calling to do mission with homeless families and children,” Campbell said. “I became president of the Coalition for the Homeless.”
The church’s traditional Vacation Bible School attracted approximately 14 kids, Campbell said. “It was a half day, it cost us $500, and we had a hard time getting eight volunteers.”
In 2007 Community offered an all-day VBS for homeless and at-risk children, an initiative that included breakfast and lunch.
“We went from 14 to 90 kids, spent $10,000, and had 200 volunteers,” Campbell said. “That was our trigger. The community s
The next year Community established a partnership with Tampa’s Metropolitan ministries. Church membership and attendance continued to decline, but it was obvious a vital mission was emerging.
“This congregation bought into the idea of transformation,” Campbell said. “That’s almost unheard of. Usually churches just diminish until they’re gone.”
At a count of 40 to one, Community United Methodist Church voted to discontinue as a church and to become a mission. Community officially ended as a church as of June 30, 2009. July 1, just a few hours later, Joining Hands Community Mission was established as a 501- (c) (3) faith-based social service agency.
Today, rather than a church with a mission, Joining Hands Community Mission is a mission supported by a wide range of churches, ministries, businesses and individuals throughout the area. The mission is the only year-round satellite supported by Metropolitan Ministries, and is looking towards a complete merger in the next year or so. “Metro’s vision is to create several hubs outside Tampa,” Campbell said.
Metropolitan Ministries’ mission director, Nancy Dougherty, describes herself as a “cradled Methodist.” Dougherty first came to Community UMC in 2006 to work with small groups, and has been an integral part of the re-visioning process.
“We have 50 people from the (old) congregation involved in this mission,” she said. “It used to be frustrating seeing people come to our door. We didn’t have the resources, nobody was trained, and we had no way to deal with verification issues. All churches find this situation. Now we can specialize with enough depth so many churches can have a sense of ownership, and this can be their mission. People can get real help.”
Help comes in the form of a resource center, open every day and manned by trained volunteers, where many resources are concentrated in one single location. Basic needs (such as adequate food and shelter) can be met, families strengthened, children cared for, and healthcare provided.
“We have 30 churches on board,” Dougherty said. “And we have 843 volunteers; 555 of our volunteers provided 4,100 hours over the holidays.” The New Year got off to a fast start, as 115 non-duplicated families were served by Jan. 20. “(Many were) people who had never come before” she said, “recognizing this as a place of hope.”
The resource center serves as triage. “It’s a one-stop place for people not to fall through the cracks,” Campbell said. “It includes DCF (Department of Children and families) processing, Federal stimulus dollars, the rapid re-housing program, homeless prevention, neighborhood stabilization, rehabilitation of homes, all those kinds of things. We also process United Way money for utilities and hotel vouchers, clothes, emergency food….”
Fundamental to the mission’s philosophy and practice is the belief that these resources are to be utilized to help clients take charge of their own future. Neither Campbell, nor Dougherty, nor the 843 volunteers see their work as handing out so much as offering a hand up.
Joining Hands also helps establish mailboxes for people without an address, opening the door for a wider range of help.
In addition to the resource center, Joining Hands offers a state of the art clothing closet, personal shoppers to help with the details, the Metro Market (more like a mini-market than a food closet), school supplies and a hygiene closet.
“Clients choose from the shelves,” Campbell said. “They use a shopping menu. It’s about dignity.”
Other volunteers answer phones, restock shelves, take care of computer input, and work at cleaning.
“We’re expanding our services and our hours,” Dougherty said. “We also offer medical services at certain times, nurses, and behavioral specialists during camp…Each volunteer has a tag with a bar code and they are constantly tracked. Tags are color-coded for contact with children, clients, background checks etc.”
With a budget of around $200,000, plus much more via in-kind contributions, Campbell invests most of his time in fund raising and public relations.
“People and businesses are more willing to give when the cause is local and specific,” he said. “The local Wal-Mart stores are looking at adopting us, and we draw volunteers from many businesses. One key partnership is with the seven local public schools. We’ve been working diligently on that collaboration; they work through us for their food collection and distribution. The principals now have their meetings here.”
Camp, originally half-day for one week, now lasts all summer. This year the program utilized three Florida Conference interns. “What a gift that was,” Dougherty noted. “We’re asking for five next year. We had 120 kids, plus around 80 volunteers.”
“We’re trying to get a grant from the state for their middle school leadership program,” Campbell added. “Five or six gangs are competing for these kids locally.”
Funding and statistics are important, but it’s the triumphant and tragic stories of real people that animate Joining Hands Mission.
Lori Scialpi shared her story with Channel 8 News. When Joining Hands Mission bought the “Box of Hope” supplies project to her church, Scialpi’s nine-year-old daughter wanted to take a box to fill, “For those families…”
“I told her we are ‘one of those families’,” she said. “But we took a box anyway. We’re filling it with what we would like to receive.”
“Now that,” Campbell said, “is real transformation.”
Transformation was also evident in the case of Karen, 57, who gave permission to use her first name. “There are 36 homeless encampments in the woods,” Campbell said. “Karen had been there four years, she was an addict and weighed just 70 pounds. A volunteer got her into a shelter and she lasted two weeks before going back.
“But she had a mail box here. One day she received a check for $12,000. They’d been trying to find her for four years. She probably would have used it on drugs and alcohol. But this volunteer said, ‘Karen, this is your chance. You can go one way or the other…’
Karen flew to her son’s home in Michigan and started over. She sent a letter. “I’m in my own apartment, I see my grandchildren every day. I go to Bible study and I give my personal relationship to Jesus all the glory.”
“She also sent a check,” Campbell said, “twice. She said, ‘I have to give back.’”
“When it was time to vote about the future of Community UMC, Dan stood in the pulpit and asked this question,” Dougherty said. “If the church were to close today, how many people would notice? And, more importantly, would God notice?”
“And,” Campbell added, “if the church closed, would God care? Well, of course God cares about everything. But would God lose any sleep over it?
“But the main thing God loses sleep over is these 4,000 homeless children,” he added. God doesn’t lose sleep over if the church manages to keep the carpets clean.”
Joining Hands Community Mission CEO the Rev. DanCampbell and Mission Director Nancy Dougherty. Photo by Derek Maul.
To view the Channel 8 news story, visit [Click Here].
For more about Joining Hands, visit www.joininghandsmission.org | Joining Hands Community Mission • 3214 U.S. Highway 19 • Holiday, FL 34691 • 727-937-3268
News media contact: Gretchen Hastings, 800-282-8011, firstname.lastname@example.org, Lakeland
*Hastings is executive editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Maul is an author and freelance writer based in Valrico, Fla.