Even as its record-breaking numbers continue inching upward, the UCC's Mission:1 campaign is counting among its blessings the generosity of low-income senior communities across the country.
At the center of it is the Retirement Housing Foundation (RHF), headquartered in Long Beach, Calif. Founded in 1961 by two UCC clergy and a layman with a vision and $7,000, the RHF is one of the nation's largest nonprofit providers of housing and services for older adults, persons with disabilities and low-income families.
"I am UCC, and more than half of our board members are required to be members of the UCC," said the Rev. Laverne Joseph, president and chief executive officer of RHF, which comprises 165 independent-living, assisted-living and skilled-nursing communities. "Right now, that number is 80 percent."
A recognized ministry of the UCC and a member of the UCC's Council for Health and Human Service Ministries, the foundation is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year –– and its members' collective heart was into Mission:1. As of Nov. 25, more than 14,345 food items had been collected from 70 RHF communities.
One of the most notable acts of kindness has emanated from Capital Court in Corydon, Ind. Residents of the 50-unit apartment building –– for residents 65 and over with a maximum annual income of $22,050 –– collected 600 food items for Harrison County Community Services.
"We thought Mission:1was a great thing to get all our communities across the country involved with, and a number of them partnered with UCC churches in working on this project," said Joseph.
A longtime attendee of the UCC's biennial General Synod, Joseph said he learned of Mission:1 last summer during the denomination's meeting in Tampa, Fla.
"Sometimes we participate in various programs of the UCC," said Joseph. "We raised money for the big drive for Japan earthquake and tsunami victims, and we also put word out to our national headquarters about Mission:1."
Janette Cooper, service coordinator at Lowell Place in Bakersfield, Calif., said residents there collected 248 items to be donated to Here's Life Inner City-Bakersfield for its "Box of Love" Christian Outreach. Lowell Place is an 80-unit affordable community for 65-and-older with maximum annual income of $20,050; or those 18-and-older with a mobility impairment.
"We received all kinds of food –– canned vegetables, canned fruit, dried goods, rice, macaroni and cheese –– that people donated from their cupboards," said Cooper. "There was quite a bit of excitement about it. These have been hard-working people. They're very vibrant, very giving. They are always wanting to help each other and other people."
"They range in age from 64 to 94 and are all independent and in their own apartment," Cooper said. "This was a chance for them to get a little jump start on the holiday spirit, and give something."
Among other leading food-raisers among Retirement Housing Foundation communities were:
- Mesquite (Texas) Gardens and Crescent Manor, collecting 273 items donated to Mesquite Social Services.
- Redding (Calif.) Pilgrim House, collecting 242 items donated to Shasta Senior Nutrition Program's Food Bank.
- Independence Square, collecting 282 items donated to Lutheran Community Outreach Center Food Bank in Evansville, Ind.
- Park Place, an assisted-living community for low-income individuals in Seattle, who partnered with Bethany UCC in a letter-writing campaign to Congress, sending 139 letters.
RHF has been awarded $40.6 million by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to build and operate four additional communities for low- and fixed-income seniors: two in Los Angeles, one in Houston and one in San Antonio.
"That's the good news," said Joseph. "The bad news is that Congress is zeroing out the new construction project for this year. In the big cities, there are 10-year waiting lists for people to get in."
Over the last 50 years, HUD's Section 202 program has provided over 400,000 affordable homes for very-low-income elderly individuals, including capital advances and operating subsidies to nonprofit sponsors to construct and manage properties.