Adventist Community Services: Volunteering With a Purpose
Strong and enduring, yet flexible enough to meet an individual community’s changing needs, Adventist Community Services (ACS) is one of our denomination’s longest-running ministries. While the ways we express Christian compassion must adapt in order to stay relevant as times and needs change, the scriptural principles about loving and serving people in Christ’s name are timeless.
The creativity and dedication of Adventist Church members around the Pacific Northwest in this area of ministry is amazing. We have collected just a few examples to share with you here. We have not been able to include them all, nor have we given any one of them the space they deserve; however, we offer these little reports to help you get creative in your thinking. You may not “go thou and do likewise” exactly, but hopefully you will at least be inspired — and maybe think of something you could do in your community.
A. God’s Closet Vancouver
This outreach in Vancouver, Wash., is open one day each quarter to offer children’s clothing to families. Each family fills two bags with clothing of their own choice. Each time God's Closet is open, about 300 families are served.
A favorite story is about the mom who was looking for a coat for her little girl. A team member brought over a coat in a pink and white camouflage print, with the tags still on it. Tears filled the mother’s eyes as she explained that her husband was currently deployed, defending our country. Only God could have made this perfect match: a little girl who was missing her Army dad and a pink camo coat.
In addition to the dozens of church members who help during each setup day, more than 100 community members converge on the church to help.
B. Tutoring and Mentoring
The plight of Mexican immigrants who make a living through farm labor in western Washington is often hard and traumatic. In addition to poor housing and hard working conditions, many families lack proper clothing and, above all, education. A Watered Garden (AWG) Family Learning Center in Everson, Wash., serves many of these families with a combination of literacy and other services, including tutoring and mentoring, English language learning (ELL), citizenship classes, Spanish education, and a community garden. By giving families the tools they need to build a better life, the AWG staff has become a valuable part of their community.
C. The Free Store
The Kalispell (Mont.) ACS Center, or "The Free Store" as it is locally known, has been serving northwest Montana for more than 40 years. Starting in the basement of the church, the store now has a building of its own. The center is a beehive of activity two to three days a week as volunteers gather to sort, organize and hang clothing on racks in the building. Every Tuesday it opens to the public and is visited by 80 to 100 families that need bedding, clothing or household items. “Many come from communities 20 and even 50 miles away in order to shop freely from the center's shelves and clothing racks,” reports Casey Higgins, Kalispell Church pastor.
D. Joy to the World!
That was the feeling spread throughout the second annual ACS Christmas Gift Giving event in Nampa, Idaho. The parents of the recipient children were thrilled with the huge selection, according to age and gender, of toys, clothes, toiletries, gift cards, blankets, pillows and so much more. There were also candy canes and chocolates for the whole family. Each family also received a new blanket or afghan donated by the church family.
E. Tri-Cities Diaper Bank
Two ladies from Washington's Pasco Church saw a need for women in the community and started a diaper bank in 2011. The diaper bank provides diapers for infants to toddlers (up to 3 years old). State agencies do not provide diapers or money for diapers. Parents are not able to purchase these disallowed "hygiene items" with food stamps.
“We currently work with about 16 agencies who screen the recipients,” says Renee Martin, Richland ACS director. “We are the first Adventist diaper bank and have given away almost 2 million diapers.”
F. Public School Ministry
The nearby Richland Church members are very involved with their local Jason Lee Elementary School, located across the street from the church. Two mornings a week, a group of students comes to the church for the Morning Reading Club, which includes breakfast, tutoring and reading. Teachers and counselors have selected the students who could use the extra assistance.
“We’ve seen amazing results,” the teachers report. “The students' test scores have skyrocketed since they started this program.”
Church members create Friday Food Boxes each week for students who might not receive a nutritious meal over the weekend.
G. STEAM Ahead at Discovery Junction
This after-school enrichment program for neighborhood children was launched in April. The activities include programming in science, technology, engineering, arts and math (STEAM). The first stage of this outreach, which is supported by Spokane Central Church in Washington and Upper Columbia Conference ACS, includes partnering with the nearby public school, Garfield Elementary, which selected the third-grade children who would most benefit. Summer plans include fun with STEAM activities for the neighborhood children.
When retired science teacher Gayle Haeger mixed various chemicals to create “elephant toothpaste,” one little girl blurted out, “You’re a real scientist!”
“Along with impacting the lives of children and their families,” reports Patty Marsh, Upper Columbia Conference ACS director, “STEAM Ahead has offered great opportunities for leaders in this ministry to meet with community leaders and educators.”
H. Raising Money
At the Nampa (Idaho) Church’s recent ACS yard sale, a customer told leaders she had been watching 3ABN (Three Angels Broadcasting Network) for a long time and was delighted to meet some Adventists. She picked up a worship schedule and promised she would see them in church.
Oh, and back to the money: They did raise some — $1,000! These funds help provide food and clothing plus school supplies and even a Christmas party for the children of their clients.
I. Getting the Word Out
Brochures for the ACS Center in Battle Ground, Wash., are being distributed from Washington's Department of Social and Health Services offices; county health department offices; local city halls; local medical, dental and vision offices; Goodwill Job Connections offices, which provide job candidates with interview and work clothing; and eight regional non-Adventist churches without similar services.
Two of Our Larger Centers
J. SonBridge, with eight constituent churches, has been operating for 10 years in the Walla Walla Valley of southeast Washington. It offers a broad spectrum of health services through SOS Health Services, a medical clinic staffed by volunteer physicians and nurses. The dental clinic was launched in 2013 and now has added a paid dentist and staff to serve those eligible for Washington Apple Health (Medicaid). SonBridge’s Thrift and Gift store helps fund these ministries.
SonBridge also offers a strong line-up of life education classes and provides space for Blue Mountain TV and KLRF-FM, as well as Impact and Neutral Ground.
K. Portland Adventist Community Services (PACS) also has eight constituent churches. Services have changed and grown over several decades. The thrift store now generates over a half million dollars in revenue to support the medical clinic and food pantry (which served more than 78,000 people in 2015). A house adjacent to the main campus is being renovated in order to expand services to include dental services as well as an ophthalmology room.
In partnership with churches and other organizations, the PACS mobile food pantry, called the COW (Commodities on Wheels), served more than 4,000 people on location in 2015. Read more about PACS and its services online at glnr.in/111-06_PACS.
L. Disaster Response (DR)
While ACS-DR’s role of donations management gets little attention in the press, it is considered one of the top responders in time of disaster and held in high regard nationally as well as at state and county levels.
With communities in the Northwest placing more and more emphasis on preparing for predicted disasters such as the Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake, the potential of ACS-DR is greater than ever. Preparation is more than what can be done in response to a disaster. ACS-DR includes amazing opportunities to be connected in our communities beforehand through having representatives in emergency management groups and participation in programs like Map Your Neighborhood community preparation.
In addition to the highly publicized disasters such as Hurricane Sandy, when numerous Adventists were deployed, local opportunities are increasing. Here is an example:
M. Mission Trip to Pateros, Wash.
Although Bonnie Jones’ (not her real name) property was spared by the 2015 wildfires in eastern Washington, it was devastated by the resulting floods. Her equipment and animals were vulnerable to vandalism, theft and wild animals. She needed fences around her property reconstructed. Volunteers from Washington and Upper Columbia conferences collaborated for a one-week mission trip that resulted in restoring Bonnie’s fence line around her property and two other properties. Bonnie was tearful in her appreciation of the work done by the team and for the bond of fellowship that developed during the week.
Contributors: Conference ACS directors and local church ministry leaders from around the NPUC