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The Well Community Church partners with local organizations to promote municipal revitalization

Original article published Feb. 12, 2020.

The City of Fresno suffers as one of the worst cities for poverty concentration in the nation. Of the 500,000 residents from around the globe that inhabit Fresno, 28.2 percent live under the national poverty line. Moved by the city’s statistics, organizations gather together to attempt to mobilize the community for action.

Vijay Stephen | The Feather Online

During the Discover Fresno event, Pastor at Image Church Jason Spencer spoke about prayer and involvement during his keynote speech, Feb. 8.

The Well Community Church hosted the second annual Discover Fresno, a one-day event used to inform citizens about the needs of the city and volunteer opportunities for Fresno residents, Feb. 8. Over 250 guests attended the event which included ten breakout sessions and opportunities to engage with the session speakers.

Leaders from Every Neighborhood Partnership (ENP), Live Again Fresno, Youth for Christ, Poverello House, Pregnancy Care Center, World Impact, Housing Authority, Safe Families, Fresno Rescue Mission, ESA Love Inc., Economic Opportunities Commission, Central Valley Justice Coalition and Fresno Interdenominational Refugee Ministries represented their organizations and shared the part they play in revitalizing the city of Fresno.

Discover Fresno follows Cultivate, the three-year campaign put on by The Well to “strengthen this generation and grow the next generation into a deep, abiding relationship with Jesus Christ.”

Discover Fresno promotes the The First Fruits of Cultivate which includes 11 city organizations that will collectively receive $500,000 from The Well to further their service to the community and its people for years to come.

Jason Spencer, pastor at Image Church, initiated the event as the keynote speaker and challenged listeners to “inquire, listen and pray” as they learned from each session. Spencer emphasized the importance of attending events such as Discover Fresno and applying gained knowledge to local communities.

“I think that’s our mission,” Spencer said. “I think our mission is to go make disciples, I think we are the light of the world, the salt of the earth. And so as we go out into our communities, we can impact as a church as a body.”

Youth for Christ (YFC)

Youth for Christ (YFC), a local non-profit organization that reaches young people across the community, equips youth through the influence of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The organization’s Discover Fresno session focused on ways the ways churches can engage Generation Z.

Associate director of YFC Lynette Madrigal spoke on the impact that generational influence has on personal identity. Madrigal primarily focused on the influences of Generation Z and shared steps to engage young people in a Christ-centered way.

“When engaging with young people, it is important to be mindful that today’s generation grows up in a post-modern world that says truth is relative,” Madrigal said. “When I approach students, I allow them to think about who God is in their life and to wrestle with and think deeply on that.”

In the following podcast, junior Jewel Chandler conversed with associate director of YFC Lynette Madrigal about her involvement with the non-profit.

Madrigal discussed addressing anxiety issues by reinforcing God’s sovereignty, demonstrating how the Gospel brings healing and challenging young people to step out in faith. Madrigal also pointed out the effects of living out scripture.

“I can share all that I want and can about scripture, but really what it’s going to come down to is loving them as I love myself,” Madrigal said. “Living out this second greatest commandment will speak more than any word that I say.”

YFC offers volunteer opportunities through event support, leadership and administrative work. For more information, email hello [at] yfcnow.org, call (559) 237-4741 or fill out their new online application.

Safe Families for Children

Safe Families for Children (SFFC) offers a voice to parents or guardians who are unable to supply their youth with a safe home for an extended period of time. The goal of this local non-profit is to keep children out of foster care, prevent abuse and to strengthen families in order to keep both children and guardians together.

Addison Schultz | The Feather Online

During the Discover Fresno event hosted by The Well Church, various organizations presented on issues within the Fresno community and encouraged public involvement, Feb. 8.

Kim Lehner, the programming coordinator for SFFC, informed session attendants of ways to contribute to the family safety cause. Lehner stressed the significance of open homes that welcome children of all backgrounds.

“The program takes on the ability to bring back the care of families to the church,” Lehner said. “I believe it’s our call as Christians to reach out and be available to serve those in need and be willing to step out of that comfort zone.”

For those who are not ready to take on the responsibility of a new family asset, Lehner provided multiple methods of getting involved.

“We have opportunities to support the host family by being a family coach, a family friend which all require an application,” Lehner said. “If you want to support us in other ways we are looking for people who are interested in serving by being a part of our fundraising team we have a leadership team and also giving us the opportunity to come to your small group to share about our ministry.”

SFFC welcomes volunteer help through becoming a host family, family friend or family coach. To find out more about SFFC, check out their website, call 773-653-2200 or email info@safefamilies.net.

Fresno Rescue Mission

Utilizing seven campuses for their ministry, the Fresno Rescue Mission aims to provide short-term and long-term care for those who are “hurting or homeless” in the Valley. Although the mission provides immediate food and shelter, it focuses on spreading the Gospel and building lasting relationships with those who seek their services.

Vijay Stephen | The Feather Online

CEO of the Fresno Rescue Mission Matt Dildine spoke on the importance of relationships during his breakout session, Feb. 8.

CEO of the Fresno Rescue Mission Matt Dildine shared the importance of building relationships in the fight against homelessness during his presentation. Founded in 1949, the Christian-based mission serves Fresno as the only 24-hour service that does not turn anyone away.

“Our effort to change Fresno is in changing people,” Dildine said. “Certainly we are able to provide meals and housing, but our best results are really when we’re changing people. And so with that, we’ve changed the lives of hundreds and thousands of people over the decades.”

Dildine also emphasized the significance of resisting the stereotyping of homeless people as drug addicts or affiliating them with derogatory labels.

“So that’s why it’s not good to label somebody ‘oh, you’re just a drug addict’,” Dildine said. “That wouldn’t be good if you’ve had deep trauma in your life and you’ve made mistakes because of that. You’re not defined by your mistake or by your trauma.”

To get involved in Fresno Rescue Mission’s inner-city work, visit their website or call (559) 268-0839.

Fresno Interdenominational Refugee Ministries (FIRM)

Fresno Interdenominational Refugee Ministries (FIRM) is an organization designed to help resettle immigrants entering the US. FIRM yearly interacts with and influences 10,000 people and provides resources to families that have just arrived in the US seeking asylum or arriving for better economic opportunities.

Zachary Darrah, the Chief Executive Officer at Poverello House in Fresno, spoke at this session. He highlighted his experience at FIRM and explained why he believes that the way to reach foreigners is to reach them with action and words before attempting to evangelize.

While FIRM does contribute to evangelizing people, Darrah has seen that often the best first step is to provide help through service. Moving countries at a young age because of war or other atrocities often causes trauma that people feel for the rest of their lives.

People looking to help out this mission field can volunteer at FIRM or can donate to FIRM on their website. Their main volunteer location is located at 1940 N Fresno St, Fresno, CA 93703.

Live Again Fresno

In 2012, Richard Burrell stopped on Parkway Drive, a strip of 15 motels and the center of Fresno’s gang, human trafficking and drug activities. When he saw children playing in an area with an open sewer because it was the safest from gangs, he decided to come back day after day to play soccer.

Today, the organization he founded, Live Again Fresno, runs an after-school program for 131 kids living in motels. Burrell shares that high school students can make a difference in Parkway by volunteering as a mentor.

“Mentoring is huge,” Burrell said. “When you have first grade through fifth grade students who do not have a consistent male figure in their life, it’s really important to have positive mentors, especially positive male mentors, that these young men can connect to and help to grow past where they’re at right now.”

The following tweet features some additional pictures and information from the Discover Fresno event, Feb. 8.

Burrell realized that before he arrived, the biggest influence on many of the kids’ lives was the sex traffickers or gang leaders who wanted to use them. He hopes that improving literacy and taking the kids on trips outside of Fresno points them to a future away from the violence and substance abuse of their youth.

“Right now so many of those young people who are living on Parkway drive are limited by what they see,” Burrell said. “Their life experience stops at the 99 freeway. My hope is that they’re able to get connected to housing and education and food resources beyond what they have right now.”

Learn how to become a mentor or volunteer at Live Again Fresno’s website or call (559)294-1390.

ESA Love, INC

ESA Love, INC is a local organization whose mission is to help local churches help individuals. They function as a bridge between people with financial needs and churches who want to meet them.

Paul Haroutunian, associate director of ESA, spoke about how building relationships and evangelism are “two sides of the same coin” in today’s world.

“Loving our neighbors seems to be, in this age, a way to build bridges to share the Gospel,” Haroutunian said. “A lot of times we think of evangelism as going someplace else, making an event and giving somebody a tract. We’re trying to encourage people just to be Jesus wherever they are in whatever situation they are.”

ESA operates Love, INC, a ministry that helps churches find families in need of financial help. Their website also maintains a list of volunteer opportunities with local churches and organizations, with roles including reading with kids, mentoring teenagers and caring for the elderly.

Pregnancy Care Center (PCC)

An estimated 132,000 abortions took place in California in 2017 and California is ranked first in all 51 states for total number of abortions. After observing the local abortion crisis, city leaders came together to create an organization that stands in the gap for life.

Pregnancy Care Center (PCC), a local non-profit that provides pregnancy services to individuals facing an unplanned pregnancy, supports the community with always free, always confidential pregnancy tests, ultrasounds, pregnancy loss support and various other resources for expecting mothers.

Vijay Stephen | The Feather Online

The Haitian Bead Project sells handmade beads made of recycled cardboard and paper materials; funds raised support Haitian women and their families.

Grace Bernhardt, college intern at The Well and senior at Fresno State, attended the PCC session to meet other individuals passionate about the issue of life and learn how to get involved on her college campus.

“I think pro-life is a hard stance to take nowadays, especially in college,” Bernhardt said. “I learned about the Fresno State Students for Life organization on campus and I never knew that we had things on campus at Fresno State.”

HOPE Team coordinator for two-and-a-half years at PCC Sammie Chaffin has experienced the affects of abortion on family members and friends. Using her position at the non-profit to promote the importance of life, Chaffin shares the impact of PCC.

“I think the beauty of the ministry of Pregnancy Care Center is the empathy that we show for each individual,” Chaffin said. “Pregnancy Care Center has the ministry past that helps heal the hurt of abortion and share the Gospel of Jesus Christ and that is just such a beautiful thing and that got me interested in the ministry.”

If you or someone you know is facing unplanned pregnancy, contact PCC at 559-765-4128. To volunteer with the center, visit their website.

Central Valley Justice Coalition, World Impact, Fresno Economic Opportunities Commission

Sharing information about human trafficking in the Valley and tips on recognizing it, three women presented the breakout session, “Human Trafficking? In My Town?”

Kim Contreras from World Impact, Sarah Johnston from Fresno’s Economic Opportunities Commission and Megan Weber from the Central Valley Justice Coalition shared knowledge from their own experiences and methods of learning more about trafficking in Fresno.

In the following tweet, ENP shares the main themes of the Discover Fresno sessions, mentioning human trafficking and family safety.

Helping to present on human trafficking, Barbara Herion displayed art made by trafficking survivors that aids them in working through their PTSD. Herion shares the importance of organizations working together to improve Fresno’s community.

“We need to work together instead of separately,” Herion said. “Sometimes organizations become territorial, and just want to do their own thing and are fighting for money. But we need to look at the totality of our gifts and talents.”

An attendee of the sex trafficking session Paula Fabian became a Christian after living in what she considers “the lies of the devil.” Fabian commented on the value of coming to events such as Discover Fresno along with fellow Christians.

“That’s what Jesus has commanded us to do, to love one another and to bear one another’s burdens and help each other,” Fabian said. “So I think that this brings a whole bunch of people that are like-minded and like-hearted and allows them to be able to recognize the need.”

Every Neighborhood Partnership/Housing Authority

Special assistant to the Chief Executive Officer at Fresno Housing Authority Tiffany Mangum and executive director at Every Neighborhood Partnership (ENP) Artie Padilla led the History of the Pain and New Signs of Hope in Southwest Fresno session. The conversation surrounded the revitalization efforts in the area and the southwest’s history.

Padilla grew up in southwest Fresno and lives there today, engaging with the community through ENP projects and networking with city institutions. He prepares to mobilize FC students for their Serve Day in southwest Fresno, Feb. 27.

“I want to make sure the community voice is heard and not just institutional leaders’ thoughts on what is needed in southwest Fresno,” Padilla said. “I’m really trying to blend that community voice with that institutional decision-making voice so that there’s a true realism of what’s happening.”

In the following podcast, junior Addison Schultz discusses the work that ENP does in southwest Fresno with Artie Padilla.

Clif Weinbrenner, youth pastor at Valley Bible Church, witnesses poverty in his church and the surrounding areas frequently. He strives to empower southwest Fresno residents to take part in the actions being taken to strengthen the area.

“I grew up right on the Fresno and Clovis border,” Weinbrenner said. “I wanted to see what it looks like to not just go into a neighborhood and make changes but to actually partner with and empower neighborhood citizens to make that change so that it can be a sustainable change.”

ENP offers volunteer opportunities through literacy mentoring, recreational activities and neighborhood development. To get involved, visit their website, call 559-400-7310 or email them at info@everyneighborhood.org.

Vijay Stephen | The Feather Online

Tiffany Mangum describes red-lining in the City of Fresno, emphasizing the impact on the southwest Fresno area, Feb. 8.

Global Missions

Agape International Missions (AIM), Lanna Coffee Co. and Haitian Bead Project were all represented in a panel during one of the sessions as leaders of The Well explained the church’s global and local impact.

Agape International Ministries (AIM) focuses on halting the cycle of sex trafficking and exploitation in Cambodia, rescuing girls out of sex slavery and providing them with a job and steady income. Victims have the opportunity to make items and sell them to further the organization and break girls out of bondage.

Lanna Coffee also supports people in Southeast Asia by selling coffee grown in Thailand in the US. In a similar way to AIM, Lanna Coffee supplies the Thai residents with a steady job and resource to sell the coffee to.

The Haitian Bead Project encourages creativity, fosters community and offers fair wages to Haitian people through the creation of beads made of “up-cycled materials” like cardboard and coconut shells. The project provides around 60 women with the job of building crafts and souvenirs that are sold in the US, supplying these women and their families with a steady income.

Taking action

Missions director and organizer of Discover Fresno Kyle Guererro encourages attendees to not only learn from, but participate in the work that they heard about from the session speakers.

“Many times the difficulties of Fresno are highlighted, but we don’t talk about how the Good News is affecting our communities or city,” Guererro said. “Our team at The Well started Discover Fresno because we want Christ-followers to be doers and to get our hands and feet dirty.”

To engage or volunteer with the organizations above, visit each group’s website (click on the title of each section) or reach out to Missions Director Kyle Guererro.

Thanks to ENP for republishing our article on their blog, Feb. 20!

To read last year’s Discover Fresno article, check out Discover Fresno encourages engagement with local organizations, pt. 1 and Discover Fresno encourages engagement with local organizations, pt. 2.

For more articles, read Campus cheer team earns Grand Champion title, overcomes hardships and COLUMN: Seniors travel to Israel for a new perspective on scripture.

Addison Schultz, Vijay Stephen, Bryce Foshee, Andrew Rieker and Jewel Chandler all contributed to this article.

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