Downtown Cluster of Congregations
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2018 Annual Report

2018 was a year of national discord. There continued to be sharp political disagreement over issues such as immigration, a Supreme Court nomination, as well as other issues all of which culminated in bitterly contested mid-term elections and a shutdown of the federal government at year's end.

As occurred in 2017 with deadly attacks at houses of worship both in the US and abroad, there was the hate-inspired mass killing at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Philadelphia. The year had begun with the tragic mass shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, and then in November there was yet another tragic mass murder in Thousand Oaks, California.

The city of Washington, DC itself suffered from deadly violence, recording 160 homicides, an almost 40% rise from the prior year. A 10-year-old girl - Makiyah Wilson - while getting an ice cream was killed in a spray of gunfire in an apartment courtyard, symbolizing the tragic toll of violence. The year came to a close with at least 6 stabbings and 2 shootings on Christmas Day itself.

As well, drug use continued to exact a tragic toll on DC residents. Opioid deaths in the city tripled between 2014 and 2017, going from 83 to 279. Many of these victims had been long-time heroin users.

It was in this context of national political division, hate-filled rhetoric and tragic violence both locally and elsewhere that the Cluster and its member congregations sought meaningful ways to provide solace, healing, and services to those in need.

Homeless Services Unit

The Cluster's Homeless Services Unit - staffed by Julie Turner, MSW - met with 140 of the city's most vulnerable homeless residents. Over 50% were women. Most of those served were at high risk of being victims of theft or physical or sexual assault ... women, the elderly, those suffering from mental illness (over 40%), as well as other conditions. Many of those served had already been victims of violence at some point in their lives or during their homelessness.

The staff sought to meet the immediate, life-threatening needs facing the homeless - offering over 250 referrals for basic services such as shelter, food, and clothing. Over 85 persons were referred for needed medical care. Numerous referrals were made for emergency utility and rent assistance, for obtaining basic identification documents which are essential for all other services, as well as legal aid and immigration assistance.

The staff sought to help the homeless to meet the underlying causes of their situation. Ms. Turner assisted with over 160 applications for benefits such as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance, Social Security, Medicaid, or other federal and local benefits. Over 100 such applications were successful with many still pending at the end of the year. Almost 50 persons were assisted with seeking job training or placement, of which almost 30 were successful. As well over 60 persons were assisted with seeking mental health care, and 30 persons with seeking substance abuse treatment. As well, over 50 persons were helped in their efforts to find housing with over 25 being successful - either through new housing or prevention of displacement.

Ms. Turner has aided for a number of years Street Sense, a multi-media agency operated by and for the homeless. She has helped the agency's newspaper vendors to seek benefits, jobs, and housing.

The staff helped to edit and issue Moving Forward, a resource guide for making referrals for emergency services, medical care, shelter and housing, employment and other services for those in need or who are homeless. This referral resource is used extensively by local congregations in providing referrals to persons in need.

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.

Washington Area Community Investment Fund (WACIF)

For over 30 years WACIF has leveraged the funds of investors - such as the Downtown Cluster of Congregations, a founding member of WACIF and its leading investor - to help develop affordable housing, daycare and community-serving programs, and to encourage and expand small and minority-owned businesses. WACIF currently has over $6 million in assets that it manages and puts back into the community. In 2018, WACIF closed on 32 loans totaling over $1,400,000, helping to create over 54 new jobs supporting individuals and families throughout the region. Since its inception WACIF has closed on over 430 loans totaling more than $33 million, helping to leverage over $150 million in financing. It has assisted over 4000 small businesses, helping to create or sustain more than 1,500 full and part time jobs. WACIF's work was featured in outlets including Politico, The Hill, Washington Business Journal, Washingtonian, Nonprofit Quarterly, and Next City. WACIF has previously been recognized by the Catalogue for Philanthropy as one of the best nonprofits in the region for its effective work in creating economic opportunity.

Clean, Green and Safe Initiative

The Downtown Cluster of Congregations leads the city in making requests for service to help make neighborhoods safer by use of the city's 311 system. These are in addition to requests it makes to federal agencies for services (e.g. - National Park Service for care of its numerous park properties and graffiti removal from bridges, the US Postal Service for graffiti removal on postal boxes). Cluster staff made over 12,500 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 as well as other services. The Cluster requested the planting of over 850 trees in public spaces as well as a similar number of requests for the pruning of hazardous dead limbs and the removal of dead trees. Over 300 hazardous sidewalk locations were reported for repair, along with requests for pedestrian re-striping of crosswalks and repair of curbs and potholes. Over 2000 requests were made for graffiti removal. Over 450 requests were made with regards to illegal dumping and sanitation enforcement to help the city be cleaner and address its on-going issue of rat infestation in certain neighborhoods. The Cluster identified to the city thousands of illegible to faded signs that could impact safety for pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists and others.

The Cluster continued its effort begun in 2016 to have street lights properly working - reporting almost 900 for all types of repair. The agency's Executive Director continued to call on the city to replace its decades old electrical grid system with smart lighting so non-operating lights can be immediately identified and repaired.

Community Services

The Cluster served as a clearinghouse of information on special events impacting local congregations and others, often as the result of major national events as well as local special events. For example, the Cluster was highlighted in the news with its message that congregations citywide as well as at Lafayette Square Park would be open and welcoming in spite of the 2nd Unite the Right Rally held in downtown on Sunday August 12th. The prior year's rally had ended in tragic violence and death in Charlottesville Virginia when police and others were unprepared for those coming to the event. Cluster congregations would not close in the face of those spreading a message of hate.

It was not just national events either that impacted local congregations, it could be running events, festivals and even street and water repairs as the city continued its complete overhaul of its water and sewer infrastructure. As an example, the Cluster aided All Nations Baptist Church to work with the local Water Authority to determine a means to keep street parking available for several months while work occurred in the Bloomingdale / Eckington neighborhood.

The Cluster sought to address tragic hate language, calling on a Mayoral appointee to resign in the wake of his having organized a rally where anti-Semitic language was used. The Cluster spread word to the residents and religious community of memorial events in the wake of the tragic hate crime massacre at Tree of Life synagogue. The Cluster called on all of the country's leaders, from the President to others, to end the use of racially charged rhetoric that inspires commitment of hate crimes.

The Executive Director served as the impartial 3rd party to tabulate votes by workers in various elections held to determine Union representation at companies both in the city as well as in Maryland and Virginia.

The Cluster worked with clergy from around the city as well as with historic cemeteries and non-profit agencies to try to address the burgeoning rise in water rates, some of which reached exorbitant levels to the point of threatening the on-going operation of some entities. By year's end the city and the Water Authority made a commitment of $13 million in relief to non-profit groups struggling to pay their quickly rising water bills.

The Cluster called on the city's Transportation Director to undertake a citywide review of crosswalks and have all of those where markings were faded to be re-done to better alert pedestrians, drivers and others in the wake of a rise of traffic-related deaths, inclusive of pedestrians, bicyclists and a scooter user. The city traffic-related deaths reached their highest since 2008, including two tourists killed by a tour bus in the heart of downtown. The Cluster also urged enhanced enforcement of traffic violations in hopes of slowing traffic and better educating drivers. Engineering, education and enforcement are seen as the keys to reducing traffic-related injuries and fatalities.

The Cluster organized a seminar with over 20 congregations attending to assist local congregations on how to better utilize their real estate assets as they make critical decisions about selling and moving out of the city, merging, or closing altogether. Numerous churches have sold their properties across the city and moved to other areas, while others have closed altogether. Lincoln Congregational Temple U.C.C. located in the heart of the Shaw Neighborhood closed at the end of September after 149 years of worship, service to the community, and leadership in the city. In addition to a quickly changing neighborhood, church leaders cited the restrictive street parking regulations by the city limiting much of the available public parking space to immediate ward residents only as a reason for its membership decline and decision to close.

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, lifelong skills and attributes for success, and help make neighborhoods safer for all by having youth actively engaged in positive activities.

The Executive Director also continued to serve on the Lead Poisoning Elimination and Healthy Homes Advisory Committee convened by the city's Department of Energy and the Environment.

The Executive Director was a frequent commentator on local radio and tv and in print media on local issues impacting the community.

Special Notices

Rev. Kendrick Curry, Vice President of the Downtown Cluster of Congregations 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. 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 Downtown Cluster of Congregations was saddened by the deaths of Rev. Cornelius Wheeler, long time pastor of Vermont Avenue Baptist Church and the Rev. Jeffrey Krehbiel, the longtime Pastor of Church of the Pilgrims.

Staff, Directors and Financial Reports

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 2018 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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