CHHSM convened more than a dozen members Sept. 26 to discuss the current situation in Ferguson, Missouri, where Michael Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old black man, was shot by a white police officer in early August.
The incident, which triggered continuing rioting and protests, prompted CHHSM to explore ways members could work together to serve ongoing health and human service needs in Ferguson and surrounding areas.
Several CHHSM ministries have been on the ground providing critical care since the August shooting.
Deaconess Faith Community Nurse Ministries, a CHHSM member providing mental, physical and spiritual health services in the St. Louis area, was one of the first organizations to respond to the unrest, administering health assistance and advocating for equal treatment for all people involved.
“We spent a lot of time getting people hooked to the resources they need, listening, spending time being present with people, helping them with health needs and giving referrals and counseling services,” said Donna Smith-Pupillo, Deaconess Faith Community Nurse Ministries’ executive director.
The organization’s work was featured in a September issue of People Magazine dedicated to the incident.
“We’re spending a lot of time dealing with the trauma of what was happened with people,” Smith-Pupillo said.
Other CHHSM ministries agree that work is still to be done in Ferguson to promote healing.
The Deaconess Foundation recently made a special allocation of $100,000 for community capacity-building to address issues exposed by the event. The funds will focus on youth organizing, community development and other support for young black men.
Every Child’s Hope, a CHHSM member serving children, youth and families in the St. Louis area, is providing crisis counselors for the community, along with support for area police officials and workshops for local teachers to aid them in assisting students.
“Our kids are fairly traumatized,” said Michael Brennan, CEO of Every Child’s Hope. “Some of our families were afraid to leave their homes for several weeks.”
David Carroll, chief program officer at Neighborhood Houses in St. Louis agrees, saying that many young people have expressed mounting fear of the local police.
To combat the situation, Neighborhood Houses is partnering with local police to build relationships between the officials and area youth. The organization has also applied for a grant that will provide funding to launch a new summer program focused in the Ferguson area. The all-day summer camp will serve children in kindergarten through the sixth grade at no charge to their parents.
“It’ll be a huge benefit for the parents to know their kids are somewhere safe and in a nurturing environment,” Carroll said.
As further turmoil is anticipated in Ferguson, CHHSM will work together with members and the United Church of Christ to define congregations as designated safe places for people to gather.
CHHSM is also planning to convene members and both the Illinois-South and Missouri Mid-South Conferences in person to host a Sacred Conversation on Race in coming months. Sacred Conversation on Race is a UCC-wide initiative that seeks to engage individuals in a dialogue on the issue of race.
“We want to take action to continue coming together to not only have a Sacred Conversation on Race, but to equip ourselves, our congregations and our ministries to have those conversations as well,” said CHHSM Program Associate Danielle Bartz.
The meeting will also serve as an opportunity to share resources related to both Ferguson and race relations.