United Church of Christ

Transformational Stories

Neighbors in Need is a special mission offering that supports works of justice and compassion in the United States and abroad. Two-thirds of the Neighbors In Need receipts support program initiatives and direct grants offered through the UCC’s Justice and Witness Ministries.

Neighbors in Need makes available annual grants. To that end, this page highlights some of the ministries who have received a grant and how they found success with it in their communities. We are excited to share these stories of faith and transformation with you and hope you find value in their witness too.

For more extensive information about Neighbors In Need or the NIN grant process, visit the NIN homepage  or email nin@ucc.org.

Hope StationHope Station Nogales to provide reverse sanctuary to deportees in Mexico

A United Church of Christ sanctuary church offering immigrants refuge in the Arizona borderlands will soon be offering a place of hospitality, support and hope on the Mexican side of the border for people who find themselves deported from the United States. The Shadow Rock UCC Sanctuary Action Team and the Rev. Ken Heintzelman, in an extension of the spirit and intent of their ministry of sanctuary in Phoenix, are in the process of establishing Hope Station Nogales, in Sonora, Mexico.

The thought is Hope Station, which was funded in part by a $10,000 grant from Neighbors in Need, can be a place of transition, a place where people who are deported but have family in the U.S. can find a meal, safe lodging and assistance.

Read more via UC News.

A Tiny House aims to provide big solutions for South Carolina LGBTQ community

When LGBTQ individuals near the campus of Clemson University, in the areas of upstate South Carolina unexpectedly find themselves without a home or a place to feel safe, Peace Congregational United Church of Christ will be ready to meet them.

Congregation members and the Clemson community are working side-by-side in the design and construction of a tiny house, a mobile residency for a person in the LGBTQ community who is no longer welcome in at home. The $20,000 project is in progress with the help of a $10,000 Grasstop Grant from UCC Justice and Witness Ministries. The first occupant could be ready to find refuge there in January.

Read more via UC News.

Open Table & Free2Be LGBTQ Advocacy & Youth Services

Every weekend, a congregation of the United Church of Christ in Alabama opens up space for LGBTQ teens to feel safe. Ordinarily, these teens might not step foot on church property, explains the Rev. Ellen Guide Sims, pastor of Open Table UCC in Mobile, Ala., because they may have been hurt by the message of some churches that they are unwelcome.

But Open Table, with the help of an LGBT-advocacy organization in the state and a $10,000 grant from UCC Justice and Witness Ministries, is showing these teens that there is a place where they can be themselves.

"This is a safe space we provide every Saturday for LGBTQ teens in Mobile," Sims said. "No exceptions." The church has been able to provide that space for the last 16 months.

Read more via UC News.

Mano en Mano | Hand in Hand

Formally incorporated in 2005, Mano en Mano | Hand in Hand is the “go-to” agency in Downeast Maine for Latino/Latina, immigrant, and farmworker issues.  As a 2010 Neighbors in Need grant recipient, Mano en Mano provides a wide variety of direct services in English and Spanish. The three general programmatic areas are:

  • Educational Services & Scholarships comprise the bulk of our programming and the heart of our mission.  From free English classes, to college scholarships, to one-on-one tutoring and after school support, Mano en Mano believes that education is a tool that can make dreams possible and realize social justice.
  • Outreach & Community Events ensure that Mano en Mano can effectively reach and serve their constituency while building bridges between various and diverse communities.
  • Affordable Housing provides farmworkers who want to settle in Milbridge, ME with an opportunity to live somewhere that is safe, decent, and designed with their needs in mind.

Mano_e_mano.jpgProgram Director, Bethany Woods shares “when we first started adult English classes several years ago, the goals were based on language acquisition. But the project has evolved into much more, providing social resources that are not often readily available to new immigrants.” Ms. Woods further states, “Our adult students attend every week after long days working, exhibiting a high level of dedication to their own progress. The social activity and community development that has grown from these English classes is just as significant. Even more importantly, our students have become resources for one other, offering a supportive environment to encourage each other's learning and look out for their fellow peers.”

In service to their clientele, Mano en Mano | Hand in Hand believes in removing barriers within their community. This philosophy is similar to the core values of United Church of Christ: changing lives, continuing testament and extravagant welcomes. To learn more about Mano en Mano visit http://www.manomaine.org/.

San Francisco Night Ministry

Taking a stand against poverty and injustice, the San Francisco Night Ministry (SFNM) strives to be living crucibles of Christ’s care, compassion, and concern for those who find themselves on the streets, or in bars or coffee shops, alone, afraid, and hopeless. As a Neighbors in Need 2010 grant recipient, the SFNM mission states that they will provide middle-of-the-night compassionate non-judgmental pastoral care, counseling, referral and crisis intervention to anyone in any kind of distress every night of the year.

churches-united.jpgAssociate Night Minister, the Rev. Thom Longino reports, “Many nights I start my nightly walk by going to a Burger King near our home base of operations. I have gotten to know several of the guys who panhandle there. There is one in particular, “Mason,” with whom I have had extensive conversations – sometimes over coffee and donuts, but mostly standing there while he panhandles at the drive-thru.”

Rev. Thom further adds, “Mason panhandles for money to pay bills, and to have money for food. Since I have known Mason, he has gone from sleeping on the streets and sometimes on friends’ floors, to having his own room in a residential hotel. Mason has also started to think about what he wants to do for money by not panhandling. Mason is thinking of gardening or working as an in-home health aide.  I do not claim responsibility for this. However, Mason has said that our on-going conversations have often been the impetus for his thinking about his future. I am just being faithful to the call God has put on my life to love, talk and walk with our sisters and brothers.”

The San Francisco Night Ministry staff endeavor to witness and example the teachings of Christ Jesus. This crucial witness is akin to the core values of United Church of Christ: changing lives, continuing testament and extravagant welcome. To learn more about SFNM visit http://sfnightministry.org/.

Church of the Apostles United Church of Christ (COAUCC)

Understanding their call to work and witness for justice and peace, 2010 NIN grant receiver, Church of the Apostles United Church of Christ (COAUCC) of Lancaster, PA uncovered a new purpose. They discovered in the local newspaper a ministry to at-risk adolescents as an alternative to street gang membership. The ministry, DigIt, teaches life skills through youth centered programs with a focus on sustainable agriculture. Following the prompting of the Holy Spirit, contacts were made, relationships were built and a partnership ensued.

Dig-It.jpgIn March 2010, COAUCC offered part of their 21 acre green space at no rental fee to DigIt so the organization could add gardening space to grow, harvest, and sell more produce while transforming the lives of area youth. COAUCC fertilized, plowed and tilled the soil at no cost. DigIt promotes gardening without chemicals and pesticides. Harvested vegetables are sold in the city. Produce is also taken to urban low cost housing communities and sold at affordable prices door to door.

According to COAUCC Senior Pastor, the Rev. Rebecca Meyer transformational experiences arose within the church from their work with DigIt. “Three distinct generations shared gardening space and social interactions began. Relationships developed slowly and intentionally. We are taking small successful steps. Regrettably, we note that racism is alive and well. So as God transforms our congregation, God continues to nudge our conscience toward loving ‘the other’. Change takes time. We know it will come gradually with lots of ‘God moments’ which were not part of ‘our plan’. This serves to let us know that God is still speaking and if we watch and listen, the transformation in us will be revealed.”

The enterprise between Church of the Apostles UCC and DigIt underscores the core values of UCC: changing lives, continuing testament and extravagant welcome. To learn more about COAUCC visit http://www.apostlesucc.org/. For more info on DigIt visit http://www.thresholdpa.org/.

Just Economics

Just Economics (JE) is a small non-profit, advocacy organization whose mission is to educate, advocate, and organize for a just and sustainable local economy in Ashville, NC.  JE works on issues of economic justice primarily centered on root causes of poverty including wage disparity.  In 2010, Just Economics received a Neighbors in Need grant for their Economic Justice program entitled Voices. Voices is an eight-week leadership training program designed to help low-income people find their Voice and advocate for themselves and others.

Voices_for_Economic_Justice.jpgExecutive Director, Vicki Meath, tells of a student advocate named Bea as a reason that JE works tirelessly to end economic injustice. Vicki states, “Bea moved to Asheville with a very young son to escape a dangerous domestic violence situation.  She was unable to live near her family for safety reasons. When Bea first moved to town, she lived on the streets with her child. Bea often felt very alone and vulnerable; sometimes they stayed at the Salvation Army, other times they slept in a doorway or under a bridge.” 

Vicki further shared, “Eventually Bea moved into a public housing development.  She was unable to receive certain services because North Carolina policy requires a single mother to file for child support in order to be eligible. Bea refused fearing that the man who repeatedly beat and threatened to kill her and her child in the past, would find them.”

“Bea felt trapped in a system that often seems hopeless. She joined a Voices class in 2010.  She soon found community and felt inspired and empowered.  Bea learned about community organizing and the slow road toward creating systematic change, but she felt like if she was not part of working for change, she did not have a right to complain about what was wrong. Soon, Bea found herself addressing Asheville City Council members in a meeting where they were discussing living wages for City contractors.  She spoke eloquently during the public comment period about extending the living wage requirement to workers on City contracts.  That night, City Council approved the measure! Bea continues to find her voice. Her leadership skills have blossomed. She has assisted with the Full Plates project which dramatizes America’s wealth disparities.”

Just Economics staffs bear witness to the core values of the UCC: changing lives, continuing testament and extravagant welcome. For more info on JE visit http://justeconomicswnc.org/.  

Indy Kids

Indy-kids.jpg“A free paper for free kids”, is the slogan for IndyKids, a progressive news publication for young people. Educating and informing kids about issues of social justice, racism and human rights, IndyKids encourages them to form their own opinions.  Founded in June of 2005 and based in New York, NY, a group of independent journalists, students, parents, teachers and activists, with the help of the NYC Independent Media Center, recognized the need for kids to be exposed to progressive current events news. It was the desire of this group that the material would be presented in a way that would interest and engage young people between the ages of 9 to 13 (or in grades 4 to 8).

xAs 2009 a Neighbors In Need grant recipient, IndyKids Editor, Ms. Amanda Vender, states that since the publishing of issue #1 in the fall of 2005, “IndyKids has grown into a vital current-events resource for teachers, parents and students. IndyKids currently produces 15,000 copies of every issue. IndyKids also reaches kids in 30 states across the nation through more than 200 classroom and individual subscriptions.”

Additionally, IndyKids can be found and followed on social networks such as Facebook and Twitter.  There people can connect and learn more about current events and the newspaper.  A recent magazine featured important articles that focused on issues tagged as Supreme Court - “Choosing a New Justice”, Immigrant Rights - “Arizona Law Sparks New Fight for Immigrant Rights”, and Environmental Spills - “Oil Spill Out of Control in Gulf of Mexico”.  Moreover, each publication often contains book reviews, history lessons and letters to the editors written by the kids addressing current events. To subscribe or read past issues, visit www.indykids.net.

Workers Interfaith Network (WIN)

Workers-interfaith-network-march.jpgUnderstanding their mission is to witness for justice, Memphis, Tennessee’s Workers Interfaith Network (WIN), is a humble, yet powerful group of people who assists workers protect their rights as employees from exploitative employers. WIN has developed a reputation in TN as the organization that can assistance a worker recover monies when they have suffered “wage theft” by an unjust employer. Unfortunately, wage theft is becoming a common act of withholding an employee’s wages by the employer. When employees these face economic hardships at the hands of their employers, it is their family’s that suffers this unimaginable injustice as their basic needs are no longer met. This forces some to further struggle to move out of hunger or poverty.

As a 2009 Neighbors In Need grant recipient, WIN’s goal is assist workers learn their rights, even that to organize and form unions.  Currently, they are collecting hundreds of petition signatures to present to the County Sheriff, urging him to recognize wage theft as a criminal offense.  Workers Interfaith Network’s Executive Director, Rev. Rebekah Jordan Gienapp, reports good news. “WIN demonstrates to a vulnerable population that when workers and people of faith join together, we are a powerful force for justice. We enabled to eight workers to recover over $113,000 in unpaid and workers’ compensation payments.”

Furthermore, Workers Interfaith Network was honored as one of ten grassroots organizations nationwide that received the 2009 Harry Chapin Self-Reliance Award. The award provides a $7,000 grant to groups who have been “judged outstanding for the innovative approaches to fighting domestic hunger and poverty”. For more information about WIN visit www.workersinterfaithnetwork.org.

Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement (CCI)

Taking a stand against injustice, Des Moines, IA’s Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement (CCI) is a grassroots organization that empowers and unites grassroots people of all ethnic backgrounds to take control of their communities. CCI involves them in identifying problems and needs and in taking action to address them; and to be a vehicle for social, economic and environmental justice

Iowa-Citizens-for-Community-Improvement-group-shot.jpgExecutive Director, Mr. Hugh Espey, states that “CCI has helped thousands of its members across Iowa from all walks of life – whether urban or rural, black or white, immigrants and lifelong Iowans - we work together to get things done.  CCI staff has over 100 years of combined experience to provide training and expertise.  However, it’s our members that provide the focus and the leadership and the power in numbers”.

Furthermore, Mr. Espey shares that as CCI celebrate three decades of assisting ordinary people transform their own lives we are “one of those organizations that is truly by the people and for the people. We believe you don’t have to stand by and just let things happen, which is probably why were growing so much.”

As a 2009 Neighbors In Need grant recipient, Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, whose current slogan is “We talk. We act. We get it done.”, understands that their success hasn’t anything to do with money; it isn’t titles; it’s the power that comes from thousands of citizens standing together and getting things done.

In April 2010, the series finale for PBS’s “Bill Moyer’s Journal”, a weekly public affairs program, featured a 20 minute segment about the powerhouse known as CCI. You can follow CCI events on Facebook and Twitter. For more information about CCI visit www.iowacci.org.

Erase the Hate

Erasethehateoledo.jpgBeing an intentional witness for justice, while envisioning a world free from discrimination and oppression, Toledo Area Ministries (TAM), the Erase the Hate (EtH) Campaign is a growing collaboration of Toledo, Ohio area religious, educational and community organizations and agencies working together to develop programs that promote a their vision of a community where all races, religions and cultures live in peace, harmony and mutual respect.  Moreover, the Erase the Hate mission is to encourage an appreciation of diversity even as they work to eliminate discrimination and racism. 

As 2008 Neighbors In Need” grant recipient, TAM Executive Director, Rev. Stephen D. Anthony, is focused on taking the Erase the Hate campaign to a new level.  “We are trying to reach more individuals and recruit more organizations to join in our efforts.  We have leased six billboards displays within the Toledo area, printed 2500 campaign fliers  and produced over 1000 EtH buttons and t-shirts which are handed out at our events”, he states.  “Additionally, we are looking to present ourselves on social networks such as Facebook where people can connect and learn more about EtH.” 

The Erase the Hate message has been spread for more than eleven years.  It is the goal of Rev. Anthony to reach more church youth groups, high school and junior high youth via EtH poetry, media and art contests which will take place during the spring of 2009.  Fortunately many businesses within the community of Toledo, including a newspaper, a television station as well as the Toledo Art Museum, support the campaign with advertising and workshops to help promote EtH efforts. For more info visit: www.erasethehatetodelo.org

Urban Mission Experience/St. Louis

urban-misson-experience.jpgUnderstanding their call to witness for justice, Urban Mission Experience/St. Louis, a program for youth in grades 6 -12, strives to implement to provide youth groups with a meaningful “mission” experience within the city of St. Louis, Missouri.  New program coordinator, Ms. Sue Kupfer, confesses that several incidents have moved her heart during her brief tenure.  Furthermore, she is “touched by the youth that come to work with us and the transformation that occurs for some as they experience how God's love and grace touches lives”.

One such story is that of seventh grader, "Josh".  Sue shares that “Josh was part of a middle school group from a St. Louis suburb.  The group worked in food pantries, a low income day care center, and a shelter for woman and children of domestic abuse.  Additionally, they took part in a walk through downtown St. Louis that depicts, in a small way, the path a homeless person would need to travel to have their basic human needs met.”  

After “walking "The Trail", Ms. Kupfer writes, “Josh wanted to talk about how he felt.  He stated that after this experience he would not view people in the same way.  When noticing a person walking around with a backpack, he would not assume they were a student, and when noticing someone carrying a suitcase he would not assume that they were a traveler.  With tears in his eyes he said very softly, "They could be homeless and need our help".  Josh’s message brought tears to my eyes.  It meant that he "got" what we hope that the youth coming to UME/STL will understand.”  As a 2008 Neighbors In Need grant recipient, UME/STL’s goal is to try to open the eyes of young people to things that go on in their city; issues of poverty, hunger, oppression and discrimination. For more information visit: www.umestl.org.

Poverty Initiative

Taking a stand against injustice, New York, New York’s Poverty Initiative (PI) is a program “dedicated to raising up generations of religious and community leaders committed to building a movement to end poverty”.  A key element to this program is that it’s “led by the poor”.   PI Program coordinator, Dawn Plummer, states “we seek to train and network grassroots antipoverty, church and community leaders in to re-ignite the “Poor People’s Campaign” and finish the unfinished business of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  Given the unfolding economic crisis, such training and opportunities to join poor people’s organizations and struggles together are needed now more than ever to strengthen work on the ground to end poverty and hunger.”

povery-initiative.jpgMoreover, Ms. Plummer believes that “new victims of poverty will increasingly turn to those positioned at the community level to best meet their immediate needs, point to the moral outrage of poverty, and demand its end.”  During 2008 -2009, Poverty Initiative Scholars Program will train over 150 people from more than 35 low income communities.  The training sessions will be convened over a series of three, four day “Strategic Dialogues” in New York City as well as a weeklong “Leadership School” which takes place in Charleston, West Virginia. 

The signature event of Poverty Initiative is the Poverty Truth Commissions which are inspired by the Truth Commissions held in South Africa and elsewhere.  As a 2008 Neighbors In Need grant recipient, Poverty Initiative is determined to “finish the unfinished business of Rev. Dr. King” to eradicate poverty.  Additionally, in 2007-2008, PI commemorated the 40th anniversary of Dr. King’s, “Poor People’s Campaign” during which numerous educational and public events were sponsored.  Visit www.povertyinitiative.org for more information.

Center for Artistic Revolution

In 2007, Center for Artistic Revolution (CAR), an organization that works tirelessly for Fairness and Equality for All Arkansans, saw many successes.  They were able to see a three-year campaign win the removal of all American Indian culture and imagery that was used as mascots.  CAR served as an anchor group in the coalition to defeat SB 959 within Arkansas legislative session.  This bill would have prevented lesbians, gays and unmarried heterosexuals from adopting or providing foster care.  It would also have prevented these individuals from adopting their blood relative’s children. 

Center-for-artistic-revolution.jpgBeing a witness for justice, envisioning a world free from discrimination and oppression, CAR co-hosted the 1st Annual Arkansas Queer Coalition Conference continues work to increase the capacity and participation of LGBTQ Arkansans.  Their work with the Citizens First Congress generated an HIV/AIDS Minority Task Force being appointed by the Governor to examine and then make recommendations regarding the disparities in access to prevention, treatment and other resources experienced by People of Color. 

The organization’s youth program, Diverse Youth for Social Change (DYSC) is open and affirming to all youth and young adults 14-23 regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, ability, etc.  Currently, DYSC has over 65 members who work in an intergenerational model that shares the power and decision making for the organization.

This “Neighbors In Need” grant recipient, partnering with their sister organization, Arco Iris Earth Care Project, will work to see that the Earth School Project is built on a land trust managed by Arco Iris.  Together, they will implement rural micro enterprise projects, Child of the Earth Camps that focus on sustainable living practices and permaculture, retreats for community members, activists and organizers, a natural healing clinic, and a training school for organizing and advocacy skills. For more information visit: http://www.artisticrevolution.org/content/index.php.