Downtown Cluster of Congregations

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2009 Annual Report

2009 was a historic year. It began with the Inauguration of President Barack Obama.  While the city is often caught up with the excitement of an Inauguration, it was even more so with the occasion of the first African American President to be sworn into office. The city hosted millions of visitors, as it took a break from the drumbeat of news about the war in Iraq, worsening conditions in Afghanistan, and economic recession gripping the country.

The city, however, could not escape the realities that plagued the nation. Its unemployment rate rose to 11.9% in October, the highest level in 34 years, with over 39,000 people unemployed; the city recorded the highest jump in unemployment in the nation in the month of September. Unemployment was far higher in many of the poorest neighborhoods - reaching 29% in Ward 8.  Some 10% of DC borrowers were delinquent or in the foreclosure process at mid-year - double the number from the year before. The city was challenged by charges of mismanagement in human service areas as well - such as governmental response to AIDS / HIV, and service delivery to the developmentally disabled. Even though the number of homicides fell dramatically - by over 20% to a 40 year low, a number of neighborhoods continued to be plagued by gang violence. Such violence tragically continued to take the lives of too many youths, with victims as young as 7.

It was in this context - of a capital city in war time, facing economic challenges not seen in decades, that local congregations and the Downtown Cluster of Congregations sought to serve.

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Homeless Outreach

The region’s daily homeless population was over 12,000 according to the Council of Government’s one day survey taken early in  2009 - of which over 5,250 were people in families, including children
. Over half of all the homeless were counted in the city, with a tally of 6,228. This homeless census does not reflect the large number of persons/ families on the edge of homelessness in the wake of the economic and foreclosure crises. In DC, over 50,000 families were on lists seeking housing assistance.

The Homeless Services Unit of the Downtown Cluster of Congregations served those who were already homeless, and increasingly those in grave danger of it. Basic need requests at congregations were up for all types of assistance - be it food, utility, or rent help, along with basic service needs for mental health care, substance abuse, and other services.

The Unit has 3 full time Outreach Workers. The staff - Julie Turner, Juan Benavides, and Sharon Alston - have been in their positions for over 20, 15, and 10 years respectively - making them the most experienced outreach team in the city. It is owing in great part to this experience, as well as their bi-lingual, multi-cultural capacity and professional training, that has made it possible for them to achieve significant results.

The team rotated between 9 congregation-based sites, as well as canvassed parks, commercial areas, and other public spaces where the homeless live. In addition to serving most of northwest Washington (stretching from downtown through Foggy Bottom, Dupont Circle, Columbia Heights and north to Chevy Chase DC), the staff expanded to serve the Capitol Hill area.  In addition to meeting the homeless at a congregation just off Pennsylvania Avenue, S.E., the staff also combed public spaces around federal office buildings, and along retail/commercial corridors on Capitol Hill in order to offer assistance to the homeless.

Overall, the staff saw 1436 persons - 440 women and 996 men. Women were 1/3rd of those served. The staff provided over 1700 emergency aid referrals for food, clothing, and shelter. The team was able to provide in-depth case-management services to over 175 persons as well as aid in making over 850  applications for Food Stamps, Social Security Benefits, Medicaid, and other assistance. Almost 650 of these applications were successful; numerous others are pending. 184 persons were referred for substance abuse treatment, of which 64 received treatment. About 150 persons were referred for mental health treatment, of which 69 received such care. 425 persons were referred for general medical care. More than 325 applications were made for transitional and permanent housing, of which 49 persons were placed into such housing. 270  persons were referred for job training and placement, of which over 200 obtained jobs and/or training.

The goal of the Homeless Services Unit is to assist each person to meet life-threatening emergency needs, while addressing long-term needs in order to break the cycle of homelessness or poverty. This is achieved by the staff forging a working partnership with each person and family, and allowing them to identify and implement the steps necessary to regain control over their lives.

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Services to Congregations

The Cluster was called upon to assist congregations and non-profit agencies as they sought to provide services. It helped to find a new home for Thrive DC, formerly known as the Dinner Program for Homeless Women. It had been located for many years at First Congregational Church at 10th & G Streets, NW, and during their re-building efforts had been relocated to the east side of downtown. In October they moved to a new location at St. Stephen’s and the Incarnation Church at 16th & Newton Streets, N.W.  

First Congregational U.C.C. was able to identify a partner and financing in order to move forward with its planned re-building project, which received Cluster support. The Third Church of Christ, Scientist at 16th & I Streets, NW continued to oppose historic designation of its 1970's era “Brutalist” building, a designation which prevented the Church from moving forward with constructing a more appropriate, “green”, and welcoming sanctuary. The costs associated with maintaining and heating/cooling the aged, poorly constructed facility forced the congregation to hold its primary services outside of the building. The Cluster continued to support the Church in its efforts to build a new worship center and overcome binding historic designation restrictions.

The staff helped to share news of the re-dedication of the Chinese Community Church at 600 Eye Street, NW - which restored its historic brick exterior and tower.

The Cluster also sponsored workshops on issues critical to members - a workshop on how to adopt more green-oriented technologies for aging buildings, a workshop on services available for the homeless and needy who come to churches seeking aid, as well as a workshop on proposed land-use changes that would limit the ability of churches to build in the city or to provide needed services.

The Cluster highlighted to the public an array of President Lincoln related events hosted by member congregations, as it was the bicentennial year of the birth of President Lincoln, who was closely associated with The New York Avenue Presbyterian Church. Many Cluster congregations served as hospitals during the Civil War, as well as sites on the Underground Railroad.

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Community Services

The Cluster sent public service flyers to local congregations for posting and distribution, as well as to the media, in order to spread the word on opportunities for assistance, health awareness, and financial education. The Public Defender Services’ Annual Community Resource Fair with over 80 local and national social service programs, the DC Public Library’s 2009 Summer Institute Workshops for Adult Literacy and other learning opportunities, the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project’s Free Legal Clinic for families who have member wrongly convicted, and free computer training and computers for low-income Seniors, ages 55 and up sponsored by Byte Back, a local non-profit agency, were amongst the events the Cluster sought to publicize. The Cluster helped to promote the Sister to Sister Foundation’s “Women’s Heart Health Fair” held at the Verizon Center on February, 6th, after which organizers reported it had one of its highest turnouts ever, with many attendees saying they learned of the event through their congregation.

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Washington Area Community Investment Fund (WACIF)

The Downtown Cluster of Congregations, which assisted in the founding of the Fund in 1987,  remained a committed, leading investor in the Fund, seeking to help low-income persons, new immigrants, non-profit agencies and minority and small businesses succeed in getting needed capital, and to assist in acquiring economic skills and services. The Fund aided over 500 persons and small business with technical assistance in 2009 and helped to create 150 new child care slots for low-income children with over $400,000 in loans to child care centers. It helped to put together 7 traditional bank loans, totaling over $2 million. WACIF’s activities helped to create 75 full-time equivalent jobs for low to moderate income individuals in the DC area in 2009. Since its inception, WACIF has provided over 200 loans totaling more than $15 million to an array of housing programs, daycare centers, and local small businesses. Its loans have helped to leverage better than $125 million in other public and private investment funds.

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Graffiti Cleanup Issues

The Cluster reported to federal U.S. Postal authorities “gang-tagged” equipment in need of cleaning and repair. Numerous pay phones managed by various companies were also reported for cleaning, as well as removal of empty phone booth boxes in neighborhoods across the city. Gangs tragically remained a very violent and deadly threat in DC’s neighborhoods, particularly Columbia Heights. Often public space items in these areas are marked with gang graffiti. Cluster staff continued to urge that the city fund effective programs for evenings and weekends at the city’s recreation centers, as a means to engage District youth successfully.

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Special Recognition

The Cluster welcomed as its 45th member: First Church of Christ, Scientist located in Adams Morgan. The Church has sought to expand its involvement in neighborhood and city life.  A complete listing of member congregations is on the agency’s website at

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Support for Congregations' Facilities in the City

The Cluster submitted testimony in support of the effort of Third Church of Christ, Scientist to build a new sanctuary. The city’s Historic Preservation Review Board designated the 1971 “brutalist” design building as a landmark at year’s end, blocking the church from moving forward with a new, more appropriately designed worship facility.

The Cluster also testified on behalf of Soka Gokkai congregation, a Buddhist Temple, to allow construction of its facility on Massachusetts Avenue, N.W. A number of residents in the area had opposed the building’s moving forward claiming it was a community center under zoning and not a house of worship.

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2009 Officers

President: Maxine Maye, Lincoln Temple, UCC

Vice President: Ron Linton, St. Matthew’s Cathedral

Treasurer: Austin Dandridge, Second Baptist Church

Asst. Treasurer: Annesley Schmidt, Epiphany Episcopal Church

Secretary: Jack Womeldorf, Church of the Pilgrims, Presbyterian

Asst. Secretary: Jennie Hunt, First Congregational Church, UCC

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Executive Director: Terrance Lynch;  Senior Outreach Worker: Julie Turner; Associate Outreach Worker: Juan Carlos Benavides; and Associate Outreach Worker: Sharon Alston.

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Directors and Financial Reports

A listing of Directors is available upon request. The Downtown Cluster of Congregations is independently audited annually. Such audits are available upon request.

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