Church Takes the Next Step to Help the Needy

Post a Comment » Written on September 2nd, 2009     
Filed under: News
MONROE, WA (September 2, 2009) – Monroe Covenant Church may seem an unlikely place to start a job training and educational support ministry that reached more than 2,700 people last year. After all, weekly worship attendance figures aren’t exactly being highlighted at church growth conferences.

“If we hit 50 people on a Sunday, we’re doing well,” says member Donna Olson.

But the church saw a need to help unemployed and homeless people. So they started Take the Next Step in the church’s vacant parsonage in 2005, offering a hot meal each week, as well as family and job skills training.

Since then, the program has become a registered nonprofit organization assisted by 15 different community groups.

Local churches and a Scout troop provide dinner on Tuesday nights. Afterward, an array of classes is offered on topics such as budgeting, computers, parenting skills, grief management, and Bible study. Take the Next Step also provides bus tickets and gas cards for those who need transportation to work, school, or medical appointments.

The idea for the project occurred came in 2001 when Olson, who was teaching at a local welfare-to-work program, asked if the congregation would offer its basement for graduation ceremonies. The church eagerly agreed.

“Within a year our congregation was fixing a luncheon for the families,” says Olson, who is president of Take the Next Step’s board. “So many of these folks were alone. They didn’t have any place to go where people respected them.”

While the church continued to host the graduation ceremonies, they started asking, “Wouldn’t it be great for these people to get these extra services plus a cup of coffee and people who respect them?” Olson says.

When Take the Next Step was formally organized, it began offering most of the services it does now, Olson says. No one expected it to grow into such a large ministry.

The ministry serves people that Olson was not even aware lived in the area and sometimes in extreme circumstances. “I didn’t even know we had homeless kids out here,” says Olson. “We see about 40 homeless kids a week who come for the sack lunches.”

She notes that a handful of teenagers ages 16 and 17 live in a nearby wooded area. “They were thrilled because we had a tent to give them.” Olson recalls that one of the teens teared up when she asked if he would like someone to be praying for him. “He was a young man who just wanted someone to care for him.”

The ministry has changed the church and solidified its identity, says Olson. “It’s been an experience that has really made us stretch outside our comfort zone a lot,” she explains. “Most of us have not personally known people with felonies or who are drug addicts. We’ve learned a lot about why people are in the situation they’re in.”

Olson is not surprised that the small congregation was able to make the ministry a success. “It’s not about size,” she explains. “It’s about people’s hearts. We’re very blessed to have a congregation that’s filled with compassion, and who go the extra mile. They’re not just sitting around and coming on Sunday.”

Some of those who have received assistance now attend the church. “It’s made our church pretty (ethnically) diverse,” says Olson, who adds, “We live in a pretty Caucasian community.”

The experience has changed Olson’s view of others and her understanding of God. “I used to always think, ‘Why don’t people just pull themselves up by their bootstraps? Why don’t they just try harder? Get with the program—finish school, go to college, get a job.’ That’s what we all did. I didn’t realize life wasn’t a level playing field. In so many cases, there’s no way you can pull yourself up by your bootstraps.”

Olson is grateful for the opportunity to work with Take the Next Step. “I feel like I’ve been very privileged. I know that God’s heart beats for the people who suffer. I’ve gotten to know a lot more about God’s heart. I’m just very lucky that I’ve gotten to be in on that.”

She adds, “It’s very exciting. Sometimes I’m so excited, I can’t get to sleep.”

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