2017 Annual Report
2017 was a year of change for the country as President Donald Trump was sworn into office. Yet many of the divisions facing the country seemed to only grow more entrenched by year's end. There continued to be deep divide over issues such as health care, immigration, and tax reform. Federal government activities seemed overshadowed by an on-going investigation with regards to Russian interference in the 2016 national elections. By year's end there was also heightened awareness of sexual abuse by men in positions of power -- with the awareness spreading to those affected in all walks of life by this issue..
Tragically, violence seemed to continue unabated - from deadly attacks on houses of worship - be it in Nigeria, Egypt or the United States - to terrorist attacks stretching from New York to London, Barcelona and elsewhere. While spared from any terror attacks, Washington DC tragically had over 100 homicides.
DC also felt the forces of change pushing at it in all 8 wards as housing prices continued to climb, long time residents faced displacement, and demographic and age changes for the city's population continued. It seemed to be a constant question for many as to whether these changes were good or bad for the city, while many persons grappled as to whether they could continue to afford living in the city.
It was in this context of violence, social rancor and political division that member congregations sought to provide spiritual healing, reconciliation, and outreach to those in need.
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The Cluster's Homeless Services Unit - staffed by Julie Turner, MSW - met with over 175 of the city's most vulnerable homeless persons and families.
The staff sought to meet the immediate, life-threatening needs facing the homeless - offering over 100 referrals for basic services such as shelter, food, and clothing. Over 75 persons were referred for needed medical care. Referrals were made for emergency utility or rent assistance. Over 50 applications were made for basic ID documents - documents that are essential for garnering benefits and services. Almost 50 persons were referred for legal aid - a particular issue of concern was making sure homeless persons were not discriminated against in their housing search. To that end many referrals were made to University Legal Services, Center for Equal Rights and the Washington Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights.
The staff sought to help the homeless to meet the underlying causes of their situation. Ms. Turner assisted with over 150 applications for benefits such as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance, Social Security, Medicaid, or other federal and local benefits. About 100 such applications were successful with many still pending at the end of the year. Almost 40 persons were assisted with seeking job training or placement, of which over 25 were successful. Over 50 persons were assisted with seeking mental health care, and almost 40 with seeking substance abuse treatment. As well, over 60 persons were helped in their efforts to find housing with over 1/3rd being successful - many of these were persons who had been homeless for years.
The purpose of the Unit's work is to meet life-threatening emergency needs, while seeking to permanently break the cycle of need by addressing underlying causes - to restore people and families back to lives of self-reliance and independent living.
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For 30 years WACIF has leveraged the funds of investors - such as the Downtown Cluster of Congregations, a founding member of WACIF - to help develop affordable housing, daycare and community-serving programs, and to encourage and expand small and minority-owned businesses. WACIF currently has assets of over $8 million with the Downtown Cluster of Congregations being its second largest investor as the Cluster and its members seek to put funds to work in the community. In 2017 WACIF closed on 10 loans totaling over $410,000 helping to create over 16 new jobs supporting individuals and families throughout the region. Since its inception WACIF has closed on over 400 loans totaling more than $32 million, helping to leverage over $150 million in financing. It has assisted over 3000 small businesses, helping to create or sustain more than 1,500 full and part time jobs and make possible access to over $55 million in capital for those businesses and community groups it has worked with. Last year WACIF was recognized by the Catalogue for Philanthropy as one of the best nonprofits in the region for its effective work in creating economic opportunity.
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The Downtown Cluster of Congregations leads the city in making requests for service improvements to help make neighborhoods safer by use of the city's 311 system, in addition to requests it makes to federal agencies for services (National Park Service for care of properties, US Postal Service for graffiti removal on postal boxes). Cluster staff made over 20,000 311 requests for services impacting all 8 wards of the city - for the planting of trees, repair of hazardous sidewalks, clearing of graffiti, removal of trash, helping to identify vacant buildings needing to be secured and rehabilitated, as well as other services. The Cluster requested the planting of over 2300 trees in public spaces as well as a similar number of requests for removal of dead limbs and trees. Over 300 hazardous sidewalk locations were reported by staff for repair, along with requests for pedestrian re-striping of crosswalks and repair of curbs and potholes. The Cluster strongly supports assisting elderly to stay as long as they want in their homes in the city's neighborhoods and making the sidewalks and streets safe for passage is a key issue for having successful "Senior Villages". Over 2,900 requests were made for graffiti removal and several neighborhoods saw a tremendous decline in graffiti owing to the Cluster's efforts. The Cluster helped the city to identify many buildings as being vacant. Vacant properties often pose hazards not just to their immediate neighbors due to their neglect but also to the larger community as well as they often might be used for illegal activities.
The Cluster continued its effort begun in 2016 to have street lights properly working - reporting over 1,500 for all types of repair. Tragically again in 2017, in the wake of homicides both on the city's east and west sides, streetlights were found to be out at the location of, or nearby to, where fatalities had occurred. The agency's Executive Director called on the city to replace its decades old electrical grid system with smart lighting so non-operating lights can be immediately identified and repaired and not have to wait for the city to be alerted by someone seeing the light out at night. Hopefully the system can be modernized to provide a safe and effective network for residents and visitors in the near future.
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The Cluster continued to support community initiatives and to link member congregations with activities in the community. It urged member congregations and the broader community to share information on the city's Gun Amnesty Program in the wake of numerous fatal shootings in different parts of the city. The Cluster often spread the news on hiring opportunities - for a Construction Job Fair in Ward 8 sponsored by the Center for Workforce Development, the DC Hires Vets event at the DC Armory sponsored by the Mayor's Office of Veterans Affairs, to a Culinary Arts Training event sponsored by UPO's Anacostia Community Service Center. Supporting training and employment efforts remained a high priority as a key for improving safety and stability for families and neighborhoods. Unemployment continued to be a serious problem in several of the city's neighborhoods despite the booming economy and development activity citywide.
The Cluster promoted to its member congregations and others health fairs and screenings, along with healthy community initiatives on issues such as Kidney Transplants and Living Donation Education, along with lead paint abatement. The agency's Executive Director continued to serve on the DC Lead Elimination and Heathy Homes Committee which engaged in numerous public education and eradication efforts.
The Executive Director served as the impartial 3rd party to tabulate votes by workers in numerous elections held to determine Union representation at companies both in the city as well as in Maryland and Virginia.
The Cluster continued to strongly support pedestrian safety efforts as well given the on-going expansion of varied transit - walking, biking as well as car transit. The Cluster was able to have illegible or missing speed limit signs placed near schools, have heavily crossed intersections re-striped for better identification and awareness, as well as advocated for other sign and engineering improvements to make the city's streets safer.
The Cluster hosted at its meetings the Interim MPD Police Chief Peter Newsham (later to be named permanent Chief of Police) as well as District of Columbia Attorney General Karl Racine to better learn how to assist city agencies in improving public safety. The Cluster continued to strongly urge expansion of "community policing" as a means of engaging residents and youths in order to prevent violence in the city's neighborhoods.
The Executive Director and Rev. Karen Curry of Pennsylvania Avenue Baptist Church were appointed to the city's first ever DC State Athletic Commission with a charge to expand and improve athletic opportunities for the city's youth. This too is another effort to engage youth, instill positive, life long skills and attributes for success, and help make neighborhoods safer for all by having youth actively engaged in positive activities.
The Executive Director was a frequent commentator on local radio, tv and print media on local issues impacting the community.
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Rev. Kendrick Curry, Vice President of the Cluster and Pastor of Pennsylvania Avenue Baptist Church, served on the DC Water and Sewer Authority. Rev. Sid Fowler of First Congregational UCC Church served on the Mayor's Interfaith Council. Rev. Fowler retired at the close of the year. Rev. Vernon Shannon of John Wesley AME Zion Church retired.
St. Thomas Episcopal Church broke ground on building a new sanctuary after decades of planning following a disastrous fire over 50 years ago that destroyed its former sanctuary.
The Cluster was saddened by the deaths of Rev. Cornelius Wheeler, long time pastor of Vermont Avenue Baptist Church and the Rev. Jeffrey Krehbiel, the long time Pastor of Church of the Pilgrims.
The Executive Director Terrance Lynch was inducted into the DC Hall of Fame Society, established in 1998, for the category of religious leader. The Washington DC Hall of Fame Society is a non profit organization widely known for its distinguished Annual Awards Program and Gala created to recognize District of Columbia residents who have had an outstanding impact on the city and other individuals from the region who have contributed to the city in many ways.
Epiphany Episcopal Church had a year long celebration of its 175th Anniversary.
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The staff consisted of Terrance Lynch, the Executive Director, who has now served the agency for over 30 years; Julie Turner is the Senior Outreach Worker having been with the agency for over 25 years.
The 2017 Officers were:
- President: Maxine Maye - Lincoln Congregational Temple, U.C.C.
- Vice President: Rev. Kendrick Curry - Pennsylvania Ave. Baptist Church
- Treasurer: Annesley Schmidt - Epiphany Episcopal Church
- Assistant Treasurer: Daryl Branson - Shiloh Baptist Church
- Secretary: Jennie Hunt - First Congregational Church
A full 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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