Quarterly Community Meetings Help United Church Outreach Ministry to Better Serve

The meetings help neighbors get to know each other and build a support system.

By Shawn Keener, UCOM program director. Reprinted with permission.

Earlier this year, United Church Outreach Ministry (UCOM) in Wyoming, Mich, invited 20 neighbors from diverse cultural backgrounds to gather quarterly and share their thoughts and hopes for the future. “Getting to know our neighbors” and “building a stronger support system” were just some of the important concerns voiced by the new advisory board.

Many in this group have been impacted by UCOM programs and have also given back in wonderful ways: “Becky’s” family shops at the pantry and comes every year for free income tax assistance. “Mandy” has been using the pantry and volunteering for 11 years. She loves our cooking and financial literacy classes, and the senior commodity program helps her live on a fixed income. “Tamara” remembers being referred to UCOM as a new mom in need of formula. She has been coming ever since and has made some wonderful Vietnamese dishes for past UCOM events. “Daniel” and “Amy” are both members of the walking club and avid gardeners. They help tend UCOM’s plots in our Marquette Park community garden. “Melanie” enjoyed our cooking classes so much that she taught one herself, sharing some delicious vegan recipes.

“Belinda” recently volunteered at our community carnival. She joined our exercise classes, and her husband worked with our employment service program to look for a job. When asked about UCOM’s food programs, the group had high praise for both the farm stand and the pantry. Some of the comments: “I leave with a cart full of food.” “The pantry has a nice appearance.” “There’s something for every palette.” “It gives us a healthier way to eat.”

This neighborhood is not without its problems: rising housing costs, inadequate access to transportation and general safety concerns were a few identified by the advisory board. However, despite the challenges facing this community, it is seen by its residents as a compassionate place with UCOM playing an important role in providing a needed support system. UCOM’s neighbors are so resilient! We look forward to learning more from this group. We are so much richer when we work together to build a stronger community.

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