After sitting empty for a number of years, a newly-refurbished home next door to St. Paul's United Church of Christ in Fleetwood, Pa., is now a resource that helps struggling families get back on their feet. The New Beginnings Mission House welcomed its first family in 2010 and, after a two-year stay during which the church paid their rent and utilities and provided mandatory budget counseling, the couple and their two young daughters were able to move into a place of their own last month. It's a ministry that met its primary goal - and then some - and is just the type of success story the Rev. Patrick Morris, senior pastor of St. Paul's UCC, was hoping for when his congregation purchased the neighboring property and decided to put the vacant home to good use.
"The primary goal is to take a family who currently is unable to afford housing on their own because of budget restraints and give them an opportunity to catch up financially and become independent," said Morris. "It's a transitional housing mission where we give people a hand up, and give them time to get things in order and be able to afford something on their own."
Each family that applies for housing through New Beginnings Mission House has to meet specific requirements – for example, at least one adult must have a job and no pets are allowed – and go through an extensive interview processes with the church board and the New Beginnings Advisory Team. They are also required to develop an independent living plan with the advisory team, and meet once a month with a volunteer budget counselor from St. Paul's UCC. As the family becomes more financially stable, the budget counselor starts giving them parts of the fiscal responsibilities, like paying the electric bill or a portion of the gas bill, until the counselor feels the family is able to live on its own. While a large part of the program's costs are paid for through a bequest the church received a few years ago, the rest is paid for through member donations.
The additional blessings came from the people of St. Paul's UCC who went above and beyond the program's expectations of financial donations and budget counseling by volunteering their time and talents to offer the New Beginnings Mission House family educational and emotional support. Members provided tutoring to the family's young daughters who had fallen behind in school, a relationship Morris said the young girls came to rely on and enjoy, and coached their father as he worked toward earning his GED.
With the first New Beginnings family now living on its own, St. Paul's UCC is accepting applications for the next tenants. While he waits for the right family to come along, Morris reflects on the dedication his congregation has shown to this project so far and thinks it speaks volumes about the type of outreach they value.
"I think it definitely sends a message to the community about what is important to us from a mission perspective, and that we are open to helping whoever is in need, regardless of what their circumstances are," Morris said. "But I also I think it says a lot about the people in our congregation and their compassion for others. This church really has a heart for this kind of mission."