Friday, October 20, 2017

What makes a church special?

A couple of Sundays ago, Program Director Karen Holloman gave a "moment for mission" at Bering Drive Church of Christ, promoting a volunteer workday at CCSC. It was her first time to worship at this church, and when she got in the car to leave, she paused and sent me a text to let me know how much she loved being there. This began a back and forth between the two of us, waxing poetic about Bering Drive.

There are other CCSC churches that are equally special, churches we walk into with an agenda - to staff a booth or speak to a group - and leave feeling we were somewhere special. Places that are touched by God; places that make you feel you were in a sacred space.

What makes a church special? There are some who would say it's the theology. And while the beliefs that hold a community together are the foundation of ministry, I've seen strong churches that are progressive as well as those that are conservative. I also don't believe it's the type of worship service (high church vs. low church) or music (church organ vs. a band) or program offerings, although all those things matter in selecting the right church for you.

In spending a lifetime in a wide variety of churches, I believe it's the people who make a church special. Karen's initial text to me that morning used words such as "warm and friendly". That doesn't describe the building or the pews, but the members who welcomed her and made her feel she belonged.

She also mentioned the pastor's message that morning as touching her. Dr. Jeff Christian has a great way about him, and his messages are grounded in scripture, while being relevant to one's daily life. He's pictured below, in the black t-shirt with members of the church who gave up their Saturday morning to put together personal hygiene kits for families in need and organize our abundant Harvey donations.

Thank you to Bering Drive as well as the other CCSC churches that serve as a witness to the love of God, the value of organized religion, and the discipleship that Jesus calls us to live out each day.

Friday, September 1, 2017

And then there was this gift

Right before we opened one of the food pantries - a day or so after Harvey moved east - the first client walked in. Except he wasn't a current client, but a past client. We had helped his family a few times in the last several years, and now he was stable. He was also dry and safe and hungry to help someone else because he knew exactly what it felt like to be vulnerable.

So he reached out to the place that offered him solace and hope and tangible help - CCSC. He walked in and handed us an envelope marked "anonymous donor". Inside was a $100 bill, which will now be reinvested into the life of another.

Many have stepped forward, and we are grateful for the wonderful response we've received. The food and financial support is coming in at a generous pace as we serve people. The Christian Community Service Center is here for the long haul - after the national news turns its attention to other matters, we will still be helping people who have been impacted by Harvey. This work will be ongoing for months and months.

Thank you to all our friends, with a special shout-out to our anonymous friend.

Friday, August 25, 2017

From client to employer - success!

“Alma” was referred to CCSC's *Martha’s Way program by her mother, who was a graduate and believed the program would be beneficial for her daughter.  Alma attended college at the time and was looking for a way to pay her daily expenses and tuition fees.  She graduated from the program in July 2009 and began her business. In addition to school and work, she carved out time to volunteer at Martha’s Way, serving as an ESL instructor.

In the past few years, she graduated from college and became an elementary school teacher.  Soon after, she was offered a position as a counselor at the school and loves working with the children and supporting their educational goals. 

Alma has since returned as a guest speaker at a Martha’s Way reunion event, where she encouraged clients to build their businesses and pursue their dreams.  She is now happily married, and they recently purchased their first home.  With busy schedules and a new home, they made the decision to hire a housekeeper to help them, so Alma called us to hire a recent graduate so she could help someone else the way she had been helped.

*Martha's Way is a vocational training program which teaches women to become small business owners in the field of domestic housekeeping. Some students need it as a bridge income, and some need it to sustain their families; some are married, and some women are single mothers; some women are exiting homelessness, and some are fleeing domestic violence. This program is a strong tool in providing financial security no matter what circumstances bring a woman to our classroom. For more interest in hiring a graduate, click on this link:

Thursday, June 8, 2017

What happens if your refrigerator dies?

More importantly, what happens if you have a chronic medical condition that requires daily medication that must be refrigerated? The important detail to note is that if you pay to fix or replace your refrigerator, you will not be able to pay your apartment rent. Hence, you might become evicted.

This veteran's only solution was exactly what I might have done: he bought a small, new refrigerator to ensure his immediate health. And then he sought out a church, correctly assuming that the church would want to help him through this crisis, rather than allow him to become homeless because his refrigerator broke.

His church referred him to CCSC, and we were happy to help him, not only because his situation was exactly why our organization was created, but also because it was a privilege to help someone who fought for our country.

This man's story affirms to me one of my strong beliefs: the church is the place to go when hope seems dim, and you simply need help.

Friday, May 5, 2017

This was a near-miss

A few years ago, our staff became aware that a bee colony had made its home near the roofline of our administrative office. It seemed like a small hive, but as we spoke to experts, it became clear we needed to hire a real beekeeper to remove this small hive. The beekeeper we hired actually filmed the removal, and members of our staff were entertained (and horrified) by what we saw on video.

It was not a small hive: 100 pounds of honey were extracted, and we were told the hive had been there for years. And that we were incredibly, incredibly lucky that no one was hurt as this was an active African bee colony. So as we're watching this video, the main beekeeper says this, "I'm not a religious person, but someone has been watching out for these people".

God's providence. There are probably different opinions on how God's providence works. As for me, I don't have to understand it to trust that it's there, and God will provide what I need for any situation.

Here's something else I believe: people can become instruments of God's providence, and in watching the video (I did smile at the beekeeper's comment), I naturally thought that CCSC has been God's providence for thousands of people through the years. We are God's providence when we hear a family's distressing situation and help formulate solutions, when we help an elderly person stretch their social security for that month, when we give an at-risk child needed prescription eyeglasses, when we empower an unemployed person with new skills, and when we communicate authentic caring and love.

So while we can wonder how exactly God's providence works, we can also become God's providence to another by simply reaching out and helping.

Note: this was originally published in CCSC's newsletter and posted here by request.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

A mild Easter debacle

Our microwave oven died Easter morning, just as I was heating up the sausages for brunch. We were feeding 10 people, and luckily it was family. Everything else was cooked, so we had a good meal with lukewarm sausages.

We've ordered a new microwave, but are living without one until the new oven arrives, and it feels like I'm roughing it by cooking dinner using the stove and wall oven. I almost feel sorry for myself. But we have food. And electricity. And a new microwave coming. My grandmothers would be aghast at my pity party.

It's just past the middle of the month which means working families living at or near poverty levels are scraping by and facing upcoming bills. Rent will be due in two weeks, the utility bill is coming, and food is a daily necessity. And if there is an expected expense (sick child, flat tire, school field trip, etc...), then these families are in crisis quickly.

The two food pantries of the Christian Community Service Center are there for these families. If the flat tire needs repair, and you have to use your food money to fix the car, then we can replenish your pantry. Or if your child needs medication, and you cannot afford it, we have a referral system with a local pharmacy. In fact, we have lots of referrals and agencies we work with to connect clients to resources beyond our own programs.

Unfortunately we are needed, but gratefully we serve. Call us if you would like a tour or would like to learn more about our work.

Friday, March 17, 2017

A young family needed us

A young couple in their early twenties came in with an 18-month-old baby. The father worked while the mother stayed home, and all was well until the father was in a car accident that crushed his leg. While receiving medical care, he lost many weeks of work; his employer held his job for him, but the time off was unpaid.

When he walked into CCSC, he needed help in paying his electric bill. As he signed in, he said very quietly - without making eye contact - that he had never been in this situation before. The volunteer responded, saying she was glad he had come to us. Her graciousness relaxed him.

Another volunteer listened to their story and coordinated payment of the bill. This young father was overcome by the kindness he experienced more than the financial help we provided. With deep emotion, he said he hoped to one day help our ministry.

I share this story to illustrate not only the clients we help, but also the compassion our volunteers impart. Mr. Rogers said, "There is a space between the needy and the person who is asked to help. That space is holy." In all work areas, the CCSC volunteers enter into that holy space and do God's work.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

The face of hunger mirrored mine

For dinner, my 15-year old son ate three large hamburgers, a pear, and a serving of grilled potatoes. He finished it off with an ice cream cone, and then an hour later he was foraging in the food pantry. He's all arms and legs and appetite. Our food bill is creeping up.

A CCSC client's teen son also has an insatiable appetite, but she has a limited income and is a single mother. She came to us during her lunch break because she simply needs more food for her son's growth spurt. I was humbled to hear her story.

There are many faces of hunger: the elderly, working families, and teenage boys. Last year, CCSC gave over 30,000 food packages to the hungry. Last week, we fed over 200 families. Today was busy. Tomorrow will be also. Thanks to all who support our work by volunteering time, conducting food drives, and sending in financial gifts. All are needed, appreciated, and put to work.

Monday, January 9, 2017

We're here to help

One of CCSC's goals this past year was to help more people find work and increase their income, and we have positive results to share.

In the JobNet program, we helped 43% more clients than in the prior year. And we expanded services by adding a "coach", someone to work with people to achieve goals that would help stabilize their lives. Some of those goals include finding more affordable housing, reducing expenses, become banked, earning a GED, etc... Over 200 clients opted for this service, with nearly 50% achieving either short- or long-term goals.

Some of the jobs found include accounting assistant, truck driver, payroll coordinator, as well as jobs in medical records, healthcare delivery, and administrative positions in the energy sector.

Notably, we had a 355% increase in the number of clients receiving computer tutoring, therefore becoming fluent in office technology.

In the Martha's Way program (vocational training), we had a 16% increase in the number of graduates, which means the Houston-area now has 242 new entrepreneurs launching their small business. This training program helped increase household wages for these families, with the latest survey showing the average graduate earning about $24/hour. This helps the nearly 500 children living in those homes to have food, a roof over their head, and other basic needs met.

At CCSC we pay attention to metrics, but we also care about the individual people behind the numbers. So I'm grateful for one of the JobNet clients who stopped me in the hallway to tell me how much we've changed her life.