A growing movement of collaboration is uniting local nonprofits with faith-based organizations in an effort to maximize community impact by increasing manpower and financial support.
In the past, churches frequently operated in isolation, primarily working within their own denomination. But today, the Capital Region’s congregations are collaborating with secular nonprofits, pooling their dollars and resources to annually pump tens of millions of dollars and thousands of man-hours into projects and neighborhoods.
These burgeoning partnerships have become crucial to many nonprofits struggling to remain solvent and maintain service levels after more than five years of weak revenues and ballooning demands for assistance.
“The faith community does so much, both from a monetary and manpower standpoint,” says Keith Hart, development director for Sacramento Steps Forward, a program that administers services for the homeless. “In 2010, when the county was about to lose more than $1 million in federal funds to support homeless programs, the faith community stepped up and raised over $400,000, paving the way to receive the matching funds we needed to keep the programs going.”
Faith-based organizations have also been partially responsible for saving and sustaining other local programs, including Acres of Hope, a long-term housing program for homeless women with children; the North Roseville Recreation Education & Creativity Center, which provides a healthy and stable environment for the neighborhood children of North Roseville; and Sacramento Loaves & Fishes, which provides homeless survival services.
“Because we are not government funded, we rely solely on churches and other organizations to support us,” says Sister Libby Fernandez, executive director of Sacramento’s Loaves & Fishes. “Our volunteers are the backbone of our ministry. We have volunteers from the Sikh, Jewish, Muslim, Catholic and Protestant communities all serving side-by-side.”
In addition to millions of dollars in aid money, the Capital Region’s largest churches also provide access to service-focused people. The Catholic Diocese of Sacramento, for example, is challenging its 900,000 parishioners to devote 5 million hours to community projects and acts of service over the next four years. And that’s just one organization.
But partnering with faith-based organizations can present challenges too. For example, some school districts are concerned about maintaining the separation of church and state, while other nonprofits are worried about the short-term commitment some congregations offer.
When Richard Pierucci, superintendent of the Roseville City School District, was approached by a consortium of congregations seeking to aid the school district with cleanup and beautification projects, he was initially concerned. But after meeting with the group, his mind was changed. “The volunteers had a lot of energy, and their only desire was to reach out and be community stewards,” he says.
In Hart’s experience, congregations usually prefer to donate small amounts of cash or in-kind goods, or provide small groups of volunteers for periodic acts of service, which are always welcomed but rarely what’s fully needed.
“Most community development activities require regular and sustained involvement in a range of complex processes and tasks to achieve the optimum success,” he says.
Here, we profile some of the region’s largest faith-based organizations leading the way in their collaborative efforts.
Known for its modern messages, dynamic programs and ultra-hip music, the Bayside Family of Churches includes five campuses and affiliate congregations with more than 11,000 people attending one of its 14 weekend services.
Hired to run Bayside Church’s local and global outreach programs, Pastor Jim Holst and his staff take a simple approach. “We don’t want to reinvent the wheel,” Holst says. “We find partner organizations that are already doing a good job with their programs, and then we come alongside them and help them fulfill their goals.”
To accomplish that, Holst and Bayside vet the organizations, reviewing mission statements, evaluating track records and assuring compatibility. After that, they prefer the nonprofits take the lead. “We want the organizations we work with to tell us what they do and how we can help,” Holst says. In some cases, Holst and his staff have found organizations enthusiastically accepting Bayside’s help, but not organized enough to use their volunteers effectively when they arrive. In that case, they take a wait-and-watch approach, and see if it makes sense to try again at a later date.
Bayside Church works with resources of $2.5 million to support its community outreach programs, both locally and globally, including $150,000 for Agape International Missions, a locally founded nonprofit working to end sex trafficking in Cambodia.
Last spring, Bayside partnered with Placer Food Bank and collected roughly 43,000 pounds of food, the largest donation the food bank had ever received from a single group. The church also collaborates with Reading Partners, a Sacramento program that trains and mentors reading tutors who volunteer in Sacramento County schools with a high percentage of children from low-income families. Working in these schools, Reading Partners collaborates with teachers to identify students reading 6 months to two-and-a-half years behind grade level and provides them with individualized literacy instruction. After nine months of 100 Bayside volunteers tutoring at-risk students, many of the students are now reading at grade level.
“We really value our Bayside volunteers,” says Rochelle Reed, a Reading Partners program manager. “They are strong advocates of the program and have spread the word and helped us recruit even more support.”
Last fall, all Bayside campuses shut down for one weekend, encouraging members to serve in the community during their inaugural Serve Day. Seven thousand people signed up to volunteer at more than 120 service projects benefitting more than 100 organizations, including schools and nonprofits throughout the Capital Region. Programs ranged from free community health clinics staffed by volunteer doctors and nurses, pop-up barber shops for the homeless, construction and repair projects at local schools and parks, convalescent visits, prison hospitality and charity yard sales.
Bayside is repeating the effort in May, and several other regional churches are planning to participate.
The Diocese of Sacramento
Bishop Jaime Soto has issued an aggressive challenge: He has summoned his parishes to raise $50 million, serve 5 million hours and spend 5 million more focused on prayer and study over the next four years. Dubbed the ONE Challenge, the program asks church members to take personal responsibility for contributing to the development of healthy communities.
“The bulk of this challenge is about human capital and what we are able to do together as a church community,” Bishop Soto says. “We are investing in children, young people and adults. And people are also investing in themselves with dedication to faith formation.”
As one of the largest dioceses in the state, the Diocese of Sacramento is comprised of 103 parishes and 900,000 members. In addition to the current ONE Challenge, the church has an annual pledge drive known as the Annual Catholic Appeal in which parishioners make a pledge to the church and fulfill it throughout the year. Through the annual pledges, the diocese raises $3 million, helping to support a network of local services that offer low or no-cost housing, food for the hungry, mental health care, and support services for pregnant women and their families through Sacramento Loaves & Fishes, Sacramento Food Bank, Sacramento Life Center and North Valley Catholic Social Services.
Despite the recent economic downturn, the annual pledge fund continues to grow every year, something Bishop Soto is grateful for. “The money that we raise in the diocese helps to sustain vital charitable works in our local communities and in the world,” Bishop Soto says.
In its 30th year, Sacramento Loaves & Fishes serves an average of 650 people a day. It’s an essential organization that the Diocese of Sacramento has helped sustain and one that relies completely on private donations. “Our partnership with the Diocese of Sacramento allows us to continue our vital work of serving homeless men, women and children in our community in the spirit of love and hospitality,” says Sister Libby.
The ACTS Group
No day is the same for Jeff Kreiser. As the executive director of the Advancing City Transformation Strategies Group (ACTS), he may meet one day with a Catholic priest, the next with a nonprofit director and the following with influential business leaders. Under the umbrella of William Jessup University, the mission of ACTS is to bring businesses and churches together for massive service efforts.
In 2011, more than 470 different congregations cooperated to produce Sacramento’s Luis Palau Festival. The free, evangelistic, outreach event drew nearly 75,000 people to Cal Expo and capped off a six-month community service initiative. To leverage the festival’s momentum, the ACTS Group was formed to pick up where the event left off.
Now a coalition of 17 civic, business, education, media, nonprofit and church organizations, ACTS leaders have committed to significant amounts of time to develop new outreach partnerships. The group has completed the first two steps of its four-step, 3-year, $500,000 capital campaign, most of which has come from individuals and large business donors.
“We want to see measurable change,” Kreiser says, “so we are doing our part to identify and empower churches and leaders to work together to be that change in their local community.”
In early 2013, the group launched Serve Sacramento, a second season of service with 129 participating congregations who completed four different collaboration projects. In Placer County, representatives from 14 congregations met with the superintendent and facilities manager of the Roseville City School District to identify top needs.
After touring several of the district’s schools, a list of projects was drawn up and prioritized. The group committed to 10 priority projects, completing all of them before the school year was out, including weeding, cleanup, building a small retaining wall and painting doors, rails and ramps.
“We would definitely be interested in continuing the relationship,” Pierucci says. “It was a win-win for both of us.”
Capital Christian Center
Founded in 1916, Capital Christian Center will celebrate its centennial anniversary in 2016. Led by Senior Pastor Rick Cole, Capital draws nearly 4,000 people to its services each weekend. Working with a budget of $1.5 million for outreach programs, Capital Christian has concentrated the majority of its resources on local communities.
“Our goal is to continue to grow the number of humanitarian efforts we are involved in,” Cole says.
Capital Christian is in its fifth year of partnering with Oakridge Elementary School in Oak Park to provide tutoring, after-school programs, referrals to medical and dental care, clothing and school supplies. Since Capital Christian became involved, the school has seen a significant rise in test scores. And because of that success, the school district approached Capital Christian to assist at John H. Still School in South Sacramento. They also partner with the schools of St. Hope Public Schools.
Out front in meeting the needs of the homeless community, Cole also serves on the Sacramento Steps Forward board, a collaborative group of community members working to tackle homelessness. Capital was also one of the first churches to participate in the now-robust Winter Sanctuary program, a ministry of churches opening their facilities to the homeless community who have been turned away from a shelter. In partnership with Sacramento Steps Forward and Volunteers of America, the homeless are offered a free dinner and breakfast meal, as well as a place to shower and spend the night. Capital connects those they serve with other homeless services, with the goal of moving them out of their current situation into something more stable.
“Working with Capital Christian Center and others in the faith community has been very positive for us in advancing and meeting the needs of the homeless,” Hart says. This year, Capital Christian, along with 30 other participating churches are expanding Winter Sanctuary, offering the program year-round, with each church opening their facility to provide for the homeless.
“Without the support of the churches and our relationship partners, the homeless in this program would be out on the streets,” Cole says.
With the region’s sizeable churchgoing population, local faith-based organizations are expanding their reach, leveraging their dollars and their resources by working with nonprofits to maximize their impact.
“Even if we lived in a perfect society, the church would still be compelled to provide charitable works,” Bishop Soto says. “The kind of work we do as a church is dictated not just by the need, but by who we are and what we are called to be.”
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