This is a story about trying to help young families from being forced out on the street. But it is also one of heartache, joy, and hope for one of Toledo’s oldest and most charitable congregations as it continues to come back from an electrical fire in June, 2009.
Members of First Alliance Church were devastated by the blaze. It ruined the 87-year-old church on Monroe and 22nd streets where they and those before them had worshipped since 1922.
The story didn’t end in October, 2011, when a $3.6 million modern church opened to replace the one that had burned onsite. It began.
And on Monday, the congregation took another step forward. First Alliance owns a nearby vacant lot at Brookwood Avenue and 21st Street, and had been praying for a way to put it to productive use, the church’s senior pastor, the Rev. Keith Sholl, said.
Cherry Street Mission Ministries, which was founded by the church in 1947, approached it with an idea for a duplex that will be used to house two families at risk of becoming homeless on a temporary basis, just long enough for them to get their lives straightened out so they don’t end up on the streets. That length of time will vary, but is expected to be about six months to a year per family, according to Dan Rogers, Cherry Street president and chief executive officer.
“We just felt it was the ‘Amen’ to our prayers,” Mr. Sholl said.
The partnership is seen as a first because of its multiple participants and heavy reliance on private donors. It has knit together skills of church volunteers with Cherry Street’s social services under the guidance of a volunteer general contractor, Jim Moline. Mayor Mike Bell mused how “the city’s portion of this is to stay out of the way.”
Work is to begin in earnest, following Monday's ceremonial groundbreaking and is slated to be done by early summer. Some $54,000 was raised for materials and other costs, $30,000 of which came from about 20 private donors as a result of a campaign headed by Randy Oostra, ProMedica president and chief executive officer, and Mike Hart, president and chief executive officer of Hart & Associates. Cherry Street raised the other $24,000, Mr. Rogers said.
Mr. Oostra is a member of Cherry Street’s board. He and Mr. Hart said they headed the campaign as individuals. They learned about it, they said, through a Cherry Street Bible study class they both attended.
Cherry Street and First Alliance, which also founded Toledo Christian Schools in 1975, will work with families on whatever services they want, such as economic planning, job training, and education. The first families for the duplex through Cherry Street Mission will be chosen in the coming weeks, Mr. Rogers said. There will not be a strict criteria, but selections will focus on families with highest risk of becoming homeless, he said.
“As families move in, our hope is to assist them in practical ways as well as provide spiritual help in their journeys through life,” Mr. Sholl said. “It’s just another way of getting connected to our community in a positive way.”
Cherry Street and First Alliance hope it will be a model for other collaborations between churches and social-service organizations trying to help those in need.
Mr. Oostra called it “a great tribute to a lot of caring people.”
“This project will touch many, many people,” he said.
Contact Tom Henry at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6079.