Crossroad Supervisor Kate Imber is impressed with Defiance College student Taylor Niese’s work during her internship.

At Crossroad Child & Family Services in Fort Wayne, Ind., a Defiance (Ohio) College student is gaining hands-on experience and assisting staff in her chosen field. Emmaus Homes in St. Charles, Mo., is advancing a program to strengthen relationships between clients and volunteers. United Church Homes, based in Marion, Ohio, is holding workshops featuring narrative gerontology. In Northwest Ohio, lay persons, pastors, and CHHSM members will have the opportunity to learn the basics of serving leadership. And all of these programs are thanks to Designated Ministry Partner grants from the United Church of Christ’s Ohio Conference.

The grants, awarded earlier this year, are open to the conference’s designated partners: educational institutions and CHHSM members historically related to the conference. The grants help fund projects and programs that otherwise would not fit into annual budgets. For that reason, all applicants receive some level of grant.

In the UCC, “we are by our very calling bound to each other in covenant,” says the Rev. David Long-Higgins, transitional conference minister. “Our connections are not just historical legacies but actualized ministries. These grants help strengthen those connections.”

In addition to United Church Homes, Emmaus, Defiance and Crossroad, 2019 grant recipients include CHHSM member Trinity Hill Family Services and UCC-related Heidelberg University.

“Our educational institutions and health and human service agencies arose out of the work of local congregations, and partnerships between congregations,” Long-Higgins adds. “That’s the historical context that informs our convenantal relationships.”

Defiance College’s grant is allowing Taylor Niese to work with the staff at Crossroad. The internship is important, says Agnes I. Caldwell, vice president and dean of academic affairs, because “it provides students with a residential social work practicum experience in a UCC-related organization.”

“Crossroad’s unique mission to serve the highest need children is one that resonates with the social work field, and Defiance College’s mission,” Caldwell adds. “We are thrilled to partner with Crossroad and are so appreciative of the designated partner grant that allows Taylor to do her hours there.”

For Crossroad, Niese is a godsend. During her internship, Niese “has been accompanying Crossroad’s home-based wraparound staff to work with children and families in their homes,” says Kyle Zanker, Crossroad’s chief development officer. “She is having the opportunity to interact with children and families while growing her interviewing skills with families as she helps them explore their strengths, challenges, and needs.”

Niese also is learning about Crossroad’s outpatient, alternative education and residential service programs for children with complicated mental health diagnoses. “She is learning the skills it takes to work directly with children and families, including how to create and implement a plan for service,” Zanker adds. “Taylor will be presenting a case study at Defiance College for her finals.”

Supervisor Kate Imber, also a Defiance College graduate, says Niese will be missed when her internship ends, as she has offered valued service to Crossroad staff.

Crossroad also received a grant for its Godly Play program, a Montessori approach to exploring faith and experiencing the presence of God through play. “At Crossroad, we use it to teach bible stories and concepts of love, wonder, and relationship,” says Zanker. “Godly Play nourishes the use of Christian language, allowing children to articulate their experiences in the community.” The program is open to staff as well.

Matthew (right) is one of the many people supported by Emmaus that benefits from its Neighbor to Neighbor initiative.

Emmaus Homes is using its grant for its Neighbor to Neighbor initiative, a way for volunteers to connect with Emmaus clients on a more permanent basis. “This initiative is focused on relationship building, and ‘doing with’ rather than ‘doing for,’” says Shauna O’Toole, Emmaus’ director of development. “We connect volunteers with clients who live together in a home supported by Emmaus and have needs the volunteers can help meet.”

For example, says O’Toole, if people supported by Emmaus want to get out in the community, but need help with moving around a venue using wheelchairs, Emmaus puts them in contact with a group that enjoys visiting local attractions. Or if a client doesn’t get much attention on special occasions, Emmaus connects them with a volunteer who commits to celebrating with them or sending cards.

The grant focuses specifically on “applying the Neighbor to Neighbor principles to long-distance relationships through letters, cards, and possibly small donations to help with little extra things our clients need,” O’Toole says. “Another key aim of the grant is to keep members of the UCC connected with the work that Emmaus is doing as a UCC ministry partner and CHHSM organization.”

Providing resources and support through workshops for congregations with older adult members is the focus of the United Church Homes grant. The first workshop introduced narrative gerontology through the grant. “The stories (narratives) that we tell ourselves can be helpful to give shape to life,” says the Rev. Beth Long-Higgins, executive director of the Ruth Frost Parker Center for Abundant Aging with United Church Homes. “The workshops are an opportunity for participants to experience the connections in our everyday experience, the lives of others, and the natural world.”

The first of the two workshops outlined in the grant took place at Bath (Ohio) UCC in May, and participants experienced en plein writing — writing and then sharing that writing with the group. The next will be Jan. 6, 2020, at United Church Homes’ Parkvue Community in Sandusky, Ohio. Part of UCH’s “Wisdom Conversation Event” series for clergy and lay leaders, the workshop will feature Jan Aerie — a co-writer along with Beth Long-Higgins and others of CHHSM’s Age-Friendly Congregations resource (available here). Aerie will share her experience working with congregations to tackle the issues of aging.

A special [conference] grant will bring CHHSM’s Nollau To You one-day workshop to the Conference. “Nollau to You is a program of CHHSM that is usually done for CHHSM ministries, but our concept was to take it to the people of Ohio,” says Zanker, also an Ohio Designated Ministry Partners team member.

Of the 25 available seats for the workshop, to be held Aug. 22 at the UCC’s regional Northwest Ohio Association office in Tiffin, 10 will represent the designated partner agencies. The other 15 seats are open to lay and clergy UCC members from Ohio congregations.

“Nollau To You is a great way for the wider church and mission representatives to come together and learn the basics of serving leadership,” Zanker adds. “There are seats still available for this great training. We can all be serving leaders, no matter what we do for a living.”

Michael J. Readinger, president and CEO of CHHSM, concurs. “The Nollau To You event for ministry partners and local church members is a brilliant idea, and an event that promises to foster engagement and connections that will last a long time,” he says.

Readinger also sees the designated partner grants as a perfect intersection between the conference office, local UCC churches, and CHHSM members. “The impact these grants make each year is astounding,” he adds. “The opportunities provided by the Ohio Conference helps increase the impact of CHHSM members and UCC congregations on their local communities.”

David Long-Higgins agrees. “How does the gospel get legs to walk around and bring strength to the world? To our local churches, institutions, and communities?” he says. “We provide the extra help that strengthens the life and work of these organizations and the people they are called to serve.”