May 6, 2004
By Kathy L. Gilbert*
Pa. (UMNS)—When the Rev. Fred Smith and his wife, Emma, moved from
Atlanta to the economically depressed area of southwestern Pennsylvania
three years ago, “the despair and disappointment was so thick you could
feel it,” he says.
The steel mills and bridge companies had left the industrial urban area and “taken away all of the hope.”
“All that was left was the very old and the very poor,” he says. “The most acutely affected were the children.”
came back into the neighborhood when Fellowship United Methodist Church
turned a beautiful old Serbian Russian Catholic church and elementary
school into the Center for Hope.
the opening worship service of the 2004 General Conference an offering
was taken in support of Mother/Child Survival Advance Special
(#982645-1) and for ministries to children and the poor in the Western
Pennsylvania Annual Conference.
United Methodist Church, Erie Alliance and Connellsville Area Community
Ministries were the local ministries selected to receive support. The
offering request was made by the Bishops Initiative on Children and
Poverty and the Council of Bishops. More than $7,200 was received, and
Fellowship will receive around $1,200, says retired Bishop Donald Ott.
Finding help and understanding
Tuesday afternoon a blue and white van goes out into the communities of
Aliquippa and Ambridge and comes back to the Center for Hope with
precious cargo. More than 30 children come to the center for help with
their homework and to find an understanding adult who will take the time
to listen to their problems.
Majesta Johnson, 12, says her mentor, “Miss Linda,” listens to her and teaches her about Jesus Christ.
“I talk to her about a lot of stuff and she helps me,” she says.
Williams, 8, says he especially enjoys learning about Jesus. He also
likes to dance in the Sunday worship services and looks forward to
practicing with his friends after homework and a meal at the center.
of these children come from dysfunctional families,” Smith says. “They
are children of children; many live in foster homes.” Through the
tutoring and mentoring program offered at the center these children are
learning there is another way of life.
“They leave here with Jesus, they learn they are not bound by the place where they came from,” he says.
To prove that point, he asks Majesta what she wants to be when she grows up.
bishop,” she replies, without blinking an eye. Isaiah wants to be a
cardiologist, because “I want to fix hearts before people die.”
Hoehl, a tutor and mentor for the center, says the most important thing
to her is to let the children know “someone cares, someone loves them.”
“These children are under a lot of stress, they need to know someone is behind them and can give them direction.”
Hoehl says she was compelled to help because she saw how much her own children were helped by being in a strong church group.
Center for Hope works with many partner organizations and churches to
offer, among other things, a food pantry, clothes pantry, adult literacy
program and computer classes.
partnership with the University of Pennsylvania, the center offers free
computer training to help “bridge the digital divide.”
of the classrooms in the center is packed with old computers, monitors
and printers that were destined for the dumpster. Thanks to the North
Pittsburgh Macintosh Users Group the computers are being refurbished and
given to the community.
Sevick, a leader in the users’ group, stresses the computers are not
free—potential owners must first complete a training program and pay a
$5 fee. The fee is basically for a new battery, he says.
“If you know the word processor or the spreadsheets, you have a marketable job skill,” he says.
Hand up, not handout
says the people in the community were mostly used to being given
“handouts.” He wants them to learn how to take care of themselves.
“This is a tremendous facility, this is God’s building,” he says. “It has been entrusted to us as stewards.”
E. McAliley, president of the church’s administration council, points
to a wall hanging in the church that says “God Kept His Promise.”
“It is true,” he says. “Other churches have embraced us and we are blessed.”
has plans to provide a summer lunch program for 65 children in the
neighborhood. He has many other dreams, such as providing a 24-hour
He also has no doubts that all his dreams will come true.
“God loves Fellowship United Methodist Church because we love God,” he says.
*Gilbert is a United Methodist News Service news writer.
News media contact: (412) 325-6080 during General Conference, April 27-May 7. After May 10: (615) 742-5470.