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2010 Annual Report

2010 would be defined in the city by two major events -  the on-going, national economic downturn with its impact on families, neighborhoods, and government services, and the Mayoral contest between incumbent Mayor Adrian Fenty and City Council Chairman Vincent Gray. In many ways the Mayoral campaign reflected the economic, racial dynamics of the city ......those that were secure with jobs and living in safe, well-to-do neighborhoods, and the many that were not. Unemployment in late 2009 climbed to new heights in the city - over 12%. The level of unemployment in a number of neighborhoods - such as in Ward 8, ran as high as 30% throughout 2010. As well, while school buildings were being modernized and playgrounds, fields, and recreation centers were re-built across the city, there was rising anger over the layoff of public school teachers. The city's school reform effort became the subject of national scrutiny as the city's Public School Chancellor Michelle Rhee became a national figure. While education reforms seemed to result in improved test scores and increases in public school enrollment, controversy rose over both the Mayor's and the Chancellor's style of governance and management of the city and schools.

It was in this context - being the capital city for a country that continued to find itself in the midst of a prolonged war and a seemingly deepening recession - leaving many desperate - that local congregations, their Pastors, and the Downtown Cluster of Congregations sought to serve. 

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The 2010 Census

The Executive Director served on the DC Counts Committee, to seek a full accounting of all DC residents in the 2010 U.S. Census. Federal allocation to the city based on the city's census count totals over $2 billion, meaning $3,500 per person. It is estimated the city had lost tens of millions in dollars and hence critically needed services from an undercount of its actual population in 2000. By year's end, the city's participation rate was at 72%, far exceeding the 60% participation in the 2000 Census, and very close to the national average of 74%. This was considered a tremendous improvement and would result in more funding for needed services.

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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 in January - of which over 6,500 were DC residents. Over 100,000 participate in the Food Stamp program - a 22% rise since 2007. The lines at food pantries were just one symptom of the recession's impact .......record rates of home foreclosure were being reported in all parts of the country. The increased demand for services it emergency aid such as food and utility assistance, was combined with an actual cutback in services being provided by many non-profit agencies owing to staff reductions and fewer resources. Fortunately, the Downtown Cluster of Congregations did not suffer any staffing cutbacks as it sought to continue to respond to the rising level of need.

The Homeless Services Unit of the Downtown Cluster of Congregations served those who were already homeless, and increasingly those in grave danger of it. 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. As well, two of the staff have earned their Master's degree, and one a Doctorate, in Social Work. It is owing to their experience, training, and their bi-lingual, multi-cultural capacity, that the Unit continues to achieve significant results even in the midst of increased demands and fewer resources.
The team rotated between 10 congregation-based sites, as well as canvassed parks, commercial areas, and other public spaces, where the homeless live. The staff worked out of service-based congregations stretching from Capitol Hill, through Chinatown and downtown, to Foggy Bottom, Dupont Circle, Columbia Heights, and on to upper Northwest, where many homeless live on the edges of Rock Creek Park which runs through the Northwest section of the city.

Overall, the staff saw almost 1300 persons - 390 women and over 890 men. Women were 1/3rd of those served. The staff provided over 1400 emergency aid referrals for food, clothing, and shelter. The team was able to provide in-depth case-management services to over 225 persons as well as aid in making over 600 applications for Food Stamps, Social Security Benefits, Medicaid, and other assistance. Over 475 of these applications were successful; numerous others are pending.  Over 150 persons were referred for substance abuse treatment, of which 60 received treatment. 121 persons were referred for mental health treatment, of which over 70 received such care. Almost 275 persons were referred for general medical care. More than 300 applications were made for transitional and permanent housing, of which 60 persons were placed into such housing.  Almost 300  persons were referred for job training or job placement and over 225 obtained jobs and/or training.

The staff also assisted local congregations with training on how to respond to requests for assistance. A training workshop was arranged that included mental health experts and other government personnel to help church staff and volunteers to best know how to respond to the broad array of needs and situations they were facing. Lists of free shower and laundry facilities were distributed, as well as hypothermia hotline numbers and other useful information.
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. In the fall of 2009, it had helped DC Thrive to re-locate from its location in downtown to a new home in Columbia Heights - St. Stephen's and the Incarnation Church at 16th & Newton Streets, NW. By the end of 2010 the Center - a hub of support for food, employment training, and services for homeless and needy women, had settled well into its new home, meeting many neighborhood and city wide needs.

The Executive Director worked with the new Director of Street Sense to help refine its objectives and lead the agency to embrace new goals for more independence and complete services for those homeless selling its papers. The staff also worked the staff from Neighbor's Consejo and from Hope and a Home to help them address their funding challenges while continuing to provide critically-needed services.

First Congregational U.C.C.  was able to identify a development partner and garner financing in order to move forward with its planned re-building project, which received Cluster support. The project broke ground and by year's end was well underway. Completion is hoped for October, 2011.

The 3rd Church of Christ, Scientist at 16th & I Streets, NW continued to oppose historic designation of its 1970's era "Brutalist-design" 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. A large skylight fell from the decaying building into the sanctuary during the course of the year! The Cluster continued to support the Church in its efforts to build a new worship center and overcome binding historic designation restrictions. By year's end, after prolonged negotiations, hopefully agreement had been reached between historic preservation groups, the church, and interested re-development partners that would allow a new, welcoming Church sanctuary to be built.

The Cluster helped as members celebrated anniversaries and major events - such as the 150th Anniversary of the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church's location at 1313 New York Avenue, NW, and events surrounding the 200th Birthday of Abraham Lincoln that touched upon the history of local congregations.

A significant effort included helping to maintain the right of local congregations to build sanctuaries in almost all areas of the city, as well as expand and maintain their worship facilities as has been the practice in the city since its founding. This was achieved during the City Council's review and update of the Comprehensive Plan, an effort that happens about once a decade. The Plan helps guide regulatory decisions over what uses are allowed in all parts of the city.

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Community Services

The Cluster organized with Wesley Seminary, Mt. Vernon Place United Methodist Church, and Asbury United Methodist Church, the No Child Left Outside Summit. This was held in October after a year of organizing by the Cluster to address the growing number of homeless DC school children. The Summit brought together city officials, agency leaders, church members, and those who were homeless to explore new means of housing the estimated 1,000 plus homeless school children in the city.

The Cluster worked vigorously to keep public space clean and safe. Efforts related to this included radio appeals to the public to get involved in partnership with police to solve tragic violent crimes, asking for home fire prevention inspections in Columbia Heights and Mt. Pleasant in the wake of deadly fires, to getting the US Postal Service to clean up gang-related graffiti from US Postal boxes. The Cluster's staff also succeeded in getting payphone providers such as Verizon to clean graffiti from payphones. Cluster staff helped to organize and participate in a comprehensive service "walk through" in Chinatown - identifying vacant houses being used for drug dealing and drug use, and urging better lighting and police patrols of alleyways known for criminal activity. As the year came to a close it continued to seek to build partnerships between residents, civic groups, businesses and city agencies to improve neighborhoods through implementation of "community policing" - police partnering with residents, small business owners, and civic groups to reduce all types of crimes, as well as enhancing the maintenance of public space areas by encouraging tree plantings, installation of bicycle racks, garnering public trash removal, and other civic improvements.

The Cluster also spread the word to its 45 members, other local congregations, and the general public on an array of community service efforts - such as The Faith-Based Forum on Preparedness sponsored by the DC Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency, community re-entry job training programs, financial fairs for persons facing all types of financial needs, job fairs, bone marrow registry drives, and other services benefitting the community.

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Vacant Properties

The Cluster continued its effort to get large, vacant properties back into productive use. It helped to organize the Franklin School Coalition, to urge the return to use of the long vacant and significantly deteriorated national historic landmark, the Franklin School located at 13th & K Streets, N.W. The building's long vacancy was seen as a potential hazard to surrounding buildings, and a loss of economic vitality and a detriment to public safety for the neighborhood. The Cluster helped to organize public awareness efforts to encourage its return to use, possibly for educational purposes as originally designed. As well, the Cluster also met with officials of the Government Services Administration (GSA) to discuss the lengthy vacancy and deterioration of the historic Webster School at 10th & H Streets, NW. The Cluster was asked to have representation on an oversight committee committed to the building's preservation and promotion of awareness of its historical legacy.

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Special Recognition

The Cluster welcomed 2 new members in 2010. The Pennsylvania Avenue Baptist Church, located at 3000 Pennsylvania Avenue, S.E., became the Cluster's first member congregation located in SE Washington. Also Wesley Seminary - newly located to downtown Washington - joined in membership.

The Cluster mourned the passing of Rev. Jack McClendon, Pastor Emeritus of the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church, and a driving force behind the founding of the agency in the early 1970's.

The agency's Executive Director, Terry Lynch, was feted in April upon having achieved his 25th Anniversary as Executive Director.
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2010 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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