Written by Anthony Moujaes
When Jan Day and Bill Wight first arrived at Washington UCC, they wanted to reach out to the community and make a lasting impact on the congregation's neighborhood ministry. The couple, volunteers in the United Church of Christ's Partners in Service program, have helped Washington UCC work with neighbors to rebuild a destroyed playground, and plan an upcoming community garden that will bring the whole project in line with the UCC's Mission 4/1 Earth environmental campaign to launch in April.
Day and Wight work in the Cincinnati, Ohio neighborhood of Camp Washington with Washington UCC's neighborhood ministry, which includes thrift shops, after-school tutoring for children, community meals and summer work camps.
"We have a new playground and children's garden that will be planted in spring by children in neighborhood," Day said. "Hopefully we'll see the seedlings grow, and hopefully have some culinary program to cook what they've grown and develop the nutritional program."
The playground caught fire on July 4, and the city said it couldn't afford to replace it, so the Camp Washington Development Council proposed a new project to build a new playground and redo the landscaping.
"There were more than 200 volunteers, and we had the whole thing done in one day," Day said. The playground was rebuilt in early November.
Day and Wight began this ministry in April 2012, and have agreed to continue through the upcoming summer. The couple felt that by staying in the area for a year, they could have a stronger long-term impact.
"[Partners in Service lets you] use your talents as partner, and when you find a community church like this, you get to know the people and help these people," Wight said.
The couple, married more than two years ago, is in their late 60s. Their connection with the Partners in Service began with the UCC's disaster recovery program in New Orleans in 2010 and 2011 to help the city recover from Hurricane Katrina. After meeting people who were in the Partners in Service program, the couple applied to join.
"We thought, 'That's kind of neat,'" Day said. "You can go for three months or six months instead of a week at a time like disaster recovery crews work."
The list of locations included Cincinnati, where Day grew up and now home to her grandchildren. She was also familiar with the Camp Washington area because her father worked at a factory there.
Day spent 30 years of her career in non-profit work with family violence, and drug and alcohol recovery programs. Wight worked primarily in parks and recreation in Missouri.
"I think that's what attracted me to become a volunteer for the year, a good use of skills, and that's why we chose here and it's worked out well," he said. "Washington UCC had a number of programs they put on for community. We wanted to work with them on a community luncheon open to community."
Because the area is an urban food desert, Wight said many people in the community are undernourished and become ill. About 30 people each day show up for meals, and Wight said the program has been successful in educating the public about proper nutrition. There's also a homework club for about 50 students at the church, with student tutors from the University of Cincinnati and Xavier University.
"We really enjoy what we're doing, and we recommend people who are post retirement to do this type of thing," the couple said.
Ministry work in care of the environment is a big UCC initiative this year. Washington Park's community garden and the playground landscaping are just a few examples how UCC congregations can get involved in Mission 4/1 Earth.
The United Church of Christ has been working for environmental justice for almost 30 years, and recognizes the opportunity for a shared mission campaign to live out our faith — in unity, as one church — for the sake of our fragile planet Earth.
With the help of UCC congregations everywhere, Mission 4/1 Earth, which begins Easter Monday 2013, hopes to accomplish more than 1 million hours of engaged earth care, 100,000 tree plantings across the globe, and 100,000 advocacy letters written and sent on environmental concerns. Follow Mission 4/1 Earth on Facebook.