A Part of the Circle: Another Update on Family Care

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Open Hand Ministries has recently adopted the Circles model to take its family care to the next level. What is Circles, you may ask? Circles is nationally recognized anti-poverty program that works to match neighborhood families wanting to to increase their income and assets (Leaders) with trained middle/upper income mentors (Allies).

Long before we heard about Circles, Open Hand was utilizing a similar approach with our families. Two years ago, we hired Akirah Robinson as our Family Care Coordinator to better oversee our families and their volunteers. When we learned about Circles and realized its similarities with our manner of care, we began to discern its fit with our ministry. After months of research and training, we eagerly agreed to help facilitate a Circles group in East Liberty by partnering with East Liberty Development Inc., East End Cooperative Ministry, and Repair the World.

By our powers combined, we are Circles East Liberty!

From September to December, fourteen families (a large majority being Open Hand families) met weekly at East End Cooperative Ministry and were trained on goal-setting, budgeting, and networking. On December 16th, eleven of these families “graduated” from this leadership development training and will be moving on to the next phase of the program as Circle Leaders.

In January, each of our Circle Leaders will be matched with at least two Circle Allies to help them work their plans and reach their goals. For eighteen months, gatherings will occur about twice a month for Leaders and Allies to connect. During these meetings, dinner will be served and childcare will be provided so Leaders and Allies can work together, uninterrupted.

The structure, tools, and training protocols of the Circles model will enable OHM to create a much larger pool of prepared homeowners and a much stronger network of support. Interested in helping out? We are always in need of dinner donations and childcare volunteers. Email circles@eastliberty.org for more information…or leave a comment below!

Let Us Tell You About Our New (And Exciting!) Transitional Rental Program

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In the six years we have served our community, we have realized that absentee and slum landlord situations are a major obstacle to our community members as they endeavor to break the cycle of oppression. Many of the families we work with are in slum landlord situations—placing them in unstable, stressful, and costly living environments. We have found that these environments represent a significant obstacle for our families, frequently making the already demanding endeavor of credit repair, budgeting, and financial management virtually impossible.

Our Transitional Rental Program is a ministry we are developing in response to this obstacle. Transitional Rental units will be ones that we can offer vetted “in-process families” and will provide, in order of importance:

1. Affordable monthly rent – Monthly rent payments will stay 30% below our community’s market rate.

2. Stability – OHM acting as landlords will be an extension of our family care process and, as such, defined by dignity, mutuality, and respect.

3. Required savings program – A portion of each monthly rent payment will be set aside in an escrow account to be applied at the successful completion of a mutually agreed upon end goal – i.e. purchase of home.

4. Ongoing source of ministry revenue – The rent payments made by families will allow us to reinvest in property upkeep and ministry sustainability.

Providing these four benefits will eliminate significant obstacles for our families as they work with us to repair their credit, develop their financial management skills, purchase their first home, and become wealth-builders in our communities.

Currently we are working with East Liberty Development, Inc. and rehabilitating a home that one of our families will move into next month. Additionally, we are having preliminary talks about purchasing a duplex that would enable us to house two families. We are excited about these opportunities and strengthening the care we provide the families with whom we are in relationship.

Are you interested in getting involved? Check out our Support page for more information.

One Poverty Simulation Down, One More To Go!

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Last month, Open Hand Ministries had the honor of co-sponsoring a poverty to kick off our recent launch of Circles East Liberty. Thanks to the hard work of our co-sponsors and the facilitators at Just Harvest, we are happy to say the event was a huge success! Almost 80 folks showed up to learn more about poverty and the struggles people living in poverty face on a daily basis.

If you couldn’t make our first poverty simulation, have no fear! We will be co-sponsoring another poverty simulation on November 24th at East Liberty Presbyterian Church at 6PM. If you are interested in attending, you can register by filling out this online form.

Pov Sim Nov 2014

Hope to see you soon!

P.S. Diana Nelson Jones of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette also joined us for the event and wrote a very nice article about it. You can read her synopsis here.

Spend A Few Hours In Another Person’s Shoes

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On Thursday, September 18th at 6PM, Open Hand Ministries will co-sponsor a poverty simulation at Eastminster Presbyterian Church with other area organizations. During this event, participants will role play a member of a low-income household and discover the stressors of trying to meet a family’s basic needs when expenses are more than income.

This event will be a great opportunity to learn more about you can get involved with the Family Care aspect of our ministry. You can register for it here.

We hope to see you there!

Poverty Simulations September 2014 JPEG

Coming Together for Financial Peace

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Three of our families recently completed Financial Peace University, a nine-week course that teaches people how to get out of debt, manage their money, spend and save wisely, and invest.

While this alone might not seem incredibly newsworthy, we are ecstatic. Why? Because there is no way we could have successfully hosted FPU without the help of some key folks in our community.

First, Financial Peace University was facilitated by Sharon, a woman who is currently pursuing home-ownership with us. This is the third time Sharon has led the course for our organization and as usual, she did a remarkable job. We feel incredibly grateful for the time, energy, and dedication Sharon puts into each class she teaches.

Second, Sharon was lucky to have an assistant help her teach Financial Peace University this time around. Ryan, an accountant, is a member of the Open Door, one of our member churches. When asked if he would help, Ryan eagerly agreed, wanting to get more involved with the work of our ministry. The expertise of both Sharon and Ryan, along with their unique experiences, made for excellent class discussions each week. Again, we feel incredibly grateful for their productive partnership.

Lastly, all nine classes were hosted in the home we most recently renovated. Our friend Quianna, our latest homeowner, graciously opened her doors to us each week and we couldn’t have envisioned a more welcoming space for our gathering. Talking about finances can be overwhelming for most people, but having a warm and comfortable space to meet made it feel much less intimidating.

While we do help families purchase quality homes in East Liberty and Garfield, our primary focus is to help deepen relationships within our community across a number of barriers. The effort of our class facilitators, hostess, staff, and family participants seemed to really demonstrate what community can look like when we work collaboratively, listen carefully, and share openly. As the African concept of Ubuntu suggests, we need one another to fully be ourselves. Our little Financial Peace Class was certainly a reminder of this.

So, Open Hand Ministries would like to send a BIG thank you to Sharon, Ryan, Quianna for coming together to make Financial Peace University a success this spring, and to all the families who participated. We couldn’t have done it without you.

It Starts With Community

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“They never gave up on me. They always held out hope and believed home-ownership was possible for me. It may take a while…but OHM won’t give up. It’s in God’s time. And that time helped me get myself in check…my finances, my attitude, and my faith.”

The above quote is from one of our families who recently has become a first time homeowner. In her words I find something so essential regarding the work of Open Hand Ministries, yet something so daunting. “…but OHM won’t give up” — such confidence, such a high expectation. In a moment of honest reflection, I wonder if we’re able to live up to that expectation?

I don’t think so.

Not as an organization, in the conventional sense. There is no way can an organization, or a staff, can deliver on that commitment — not in a sustainable and consequential manner.

But as a community…we can…we should. A community that works hard to discover that value in one another — looking beyond each other’s financial status and their current circumstances and seeing, instead, each other’s attitude, character, faith. A community that transcends the borders of neighborhood, culture, and economics.

When we begin to recognize the value and mutual need of one another, giving up is not an easy option. We will become for one another that which enables us to live into the fullness of our potential.

Thanks for joining us online. It’s exciting to be out there — floating around on the Internet among the countless websites, blogs, Facebook, and Twitter accounts. We hope you’ll connect with us in the various ways in which these social networking sites allow. Our hope is to grow the community, not just in size but in depth. Our hope is that these tools make it easier for us to take that first step.