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Ministry nurtures changed lives

by Deidre Jacobson

Central United Methodist Church (CUMC), under the leadership of their pastor, the Rev. Ian Robertson, and member Loli Kalua, has launched expanded services for the homeless, poor and vulnerable in the downtown Spokane area. 

Loli Kalua

Loli Kalua with some of the toys participants are packaging for Goodwill Industries.

The ministry, Change for the Better, empowers individuals to transform their lives.  

The goal is to create an environment that supports change and growth for the whole person, inside and out, physical, mental and spiritual, while coordinating with and accessing the existing system of services and removing barriers to success.

CUMC has served meals to downtown residents since 1994 through the Shalom Ministries’ Dining with Dignity program.  Since August 2012, the program closed to reorganize. 

Ian, who retired as pastor of Spokane Valley Nazarene Church, began serving as three-fourth-time minister in October 2012 and met with church leadership. They agreed to invest in the ministry, providing $100,000 to launch the new program. 

He felt there was a challenge to make significant change for the people in the church’s neighborhood.

Meeting with Adrian Dominguez of the Spokane Regional Health District, Ian saw a study revealing that life expectancy in downtown Spokane is 18 years lower than high-income areas in the state, such as the South Hill in Spokane. 

“This sickness and suffering is not acceptable.  This breaks God’s heart.  We need to find a way to do better for these people,” said Ian. 

Loli, who has a background in acrobatics, youth ministries and missionary work, was recruited by Ian to partner with him at CUMC. 

She had designed a model for sustainability for nonprofits and was anxious for an opportunity to implement it. 

Together she and Ian began to envision Change for the Better.  The ministry would provide a cluster of services, which would move people through stages of healing, growth and stability. 

They recruited an eight-person team, comprised of some formerly homeless people and others with a variety of practical skills and experience.   The team developed policies, procedures and program components.  

Meals continue to be the backbone and bring low-income and homeless to the ministry.  Five breakfasts, two lunches and two dinners are served weekly—providing 5,500 meals each month. 

Participants can access a clothing bank, services from nursing students, outreach from CHAS clinic, mental health services, veterans’ services and legal services on site.

Participants are invited to participate in what they call the Hall of Change—with separate youth and adult groups.  These groups meet to exercise, participate in activities and volunteer.  

The groups have gone on outings, volunteering to clean the downtown area. 

Participants receive rewards including showers for men, a place to do laundry, storage of their things and free items from the store—such as clothing, hygiene products and other donated items.

Change for the Better focuses on “asset building,” developing people’s skills, for example, through piece-work, for which participants are paid and build funds to help with needs related to life improvement. 

Money earned is placed in an individual’s account and can be withdrawn to use for anything that contributes to their goals, such as for ID, a necessity for job hunting, paying fines or housing. 

Change for the Better has a contract with Goodwill Industries to sort and bag toys, said Loli.

It seeks to develop similar contracts with other local businesses.

On-the-job training will be a component of the program. 

Several of the team members have skills to train and oversee participants in various construction and building tasks, providing opportunities for training and future employment. 

A partnership with Gonzaga Law Clinic and the Center for Justice will help individuals seeking to form new businesses and begin the steps toward self-employment.

Another focus of Change for the Better is to increase the amount of healthy, organic and local food served to the guests.

A link between processed food and poor health has been identified, Loli said.

Change for the Better will move toward quality nutrition with a long-term goal of connecting with local providers and other feeding stations in Spokane.

Local leaders and people concerned about downtown Spokane have been excited about what is happening at CUMC, said Loli.   

For example, Judge Mary Logan met with Ian and Loli sharing her dream of forming Community Court, a model similar to the existing drug and mental health court systems, partnering with service providers to overcome barriers and establish a transformative plan for offenders, which could partner with Change for the Better. 

She wants to locate the courtroom in the downtown area, possibly at CUMC.

The Community Court will connect people leaving jail with services and intervene so that they do not end up on the streets and in the same circumstances.

“Life beat them up.  Something happened to them,” said Ian of people he meets at CUMC.  “They need somebody to believe in them. 

“When this happens, the impossible becomes believable and possible, that God cares enough to walk with them every step of the way.  We need good people in the community who want to help, people of all faiths to help break down barriers,” Ian said.

He said there is need for contract work to help people build their assets, and construction projects for on-the-job training. 

Other needs are for volunteers, clothing, funds and community support. 

For information call 838-1431.

Copyright © September 2013 - The Fig Tree