by Tom Sims
Care Fresno has been making a difference in Fresno for over 20 years. From the early days, when Gordon Donoho first introduced the ministry to me, through the leadership of Nick Jones, and now under Randy Mewhirter, there have been many changes, but also much consistency. Care Fresno’s Mission is central to its work: “Training People and Churches to Address Poverty by Investing in Under-Resourced Communities and Mentoring At-Risk Youth and Families!”
This is accomplished through:
• Relationship-based Ministries and Programs
• Asset-Based Community Development
• Indigenous Leadership
• Local Missions & Church Partnerships
A year ago, Gabrielle Wong was living, with two other Care Fresno Ministries members, in the Summerset Apartments. They were conducting after-school programs for Care Fresno under the leadership of then-Director Nick Jones, and also working with Fresno International Refugee Ministries (FIRM). Living as missionaries among Southeast Asian families in a dense complex, they were aware that the apartments had been without gas for almost two weeks.
They reported this problem to FIRM; phone calls were made; and for the next month, the Summerset crisis was a leading story in the news. The community came together; thousands of meals were served; gas service was restored – all because of three Care Fresno workers living in community among the poor.
Gabrielle blogged about this experience. Here is an excerpt:
“My roommates and I fully expected the gas to be turned on the next day, and we maintained that mindset every day for a week. When we reached the one-week mark, people began bringing their complaints to FIRM. After that, we were spurred into action, prodded by the knowledge that this situation was affecting over 1,000 vulnerable people.”
Later, she says:
“My roommates and I began participating in disaster relief efforts before the Mayor made the gravity of the situation official by signing the document declaring an emergency, providing access to additional resources. FIRM and Care Fresno staff, interns, and volunteers, with the help of many churches, organizations and individuals, bought and distributed blankets, electric space heaters, electric water kettles, and clothes for Summerset residents. Portable showers were also brought into the complex. Hot meals have been provided to residents by numerous volunteers since Saturday, November 21, and I am so thankful for the outpouring of generosity and support from local churches and the community.”
Recently, Nick Jones left Care Fresno to become pastor of a significant church. Veteran community faith-based organization leader, Randy Mewhirter was called in as the new Executive Director.
I asked Randy what changes we might expect. He told me that he had not come to make big changes, but to learn, to grow, and to build relationships. Changes will happen as the organization adapts to needs and discovers its unique resources. Currently, that happens in eight sites where there is a great deal of concentrated poverty.
“I’m not here because we walk with the poor, “Randy observed. “I am here because of relationships.”
“Care Fresno is relational,” he continued, “Poverty exists because of broken relationships.”
Build healthy relationship and teach others to do the same, and people can grow out of poverty. Care Fresno
employees an Asset Based Community Development (ABCD) model that Nick Jones taught in churches and to his staff. ABCD teaches that the assets for community development and problem solving are already in existence within the community. What allies can do is to help people discover those assets and build upon them. Communities know what they need, but ABCD focuses on the strengths first.
Randy anticipates developing more adult services for this reason. “Adult programs impact the family. Otherwise, life change is limited.”
He sees this work as “a continuation of what has been going on since 1970 when I gave my life to Christ.”
Randy was the area director for Youth for Christ for many years. Later, he left Fresno to supervise YFC work in 10 states for five years. Recently he has been working to develop leaders, and nurture the capacity of young people for healthy relationships. His passions are in the areas of evangelism, parenting, and marriage, especially, “lifetime life change.”
Randy leads by serving his staff. “I serve five people who serve 27 people who serve 625 people,” Randy said.
“We need to have high impact on eight sites,” and that is driven by what he calls a “passion for neighborhoods to be safe.”
He is actually wearing four hats at the same time:
• As a Life Community Church pastor
• As a Chaplain Training Certificate Training leader
• As a leader of his organization, “Relate for Life”
• As Executive Director of Care Fresno
When I arrived I Fresno in 1996, Care Fresno had been in existence a little over a year. Fresno Deputy Chief of Police Darrell Fifield proposed that the police department run the criminals out of high-crime apartment complexes and that church leaders run the churches in. With that, a partnership was born which lasted for an extended season. I saw this partnership in action and participated.
The Fresno police department, pastors, non-profits, and local apartment complex owners formed a collaborative whose mission was to create safe and healthy communities throughout Fresno County in apartment complexes, community centers, and schools. Thousands of children and adults were served.
According to the Care Fresno website, “In 1996, the prestigious Peter Drucker Foundation presented Care Fresno with the nationally recognized Peter Drucker award for Non-Profit Innovation. In 2000, Care Fresno was one of the two Featured Programs who helped Fresno achieve the All-America City award.” Some of the programs have included:
• After-school tutoring
• E.S.L. classes
• Job training programs
• Art classes
• Mentoring programs for at-risk youth
• Sports programs
• Block parties
• Neighborhood watch meetings
• Apartment manager meetings for local communities
For seven years, Care Fresno has been able to take busloads of children to Care Camp in the mountains. They are able to do it at a very low cost and only ask $10 per child from the families. Last year, over 200 children attended, and 100 shared that they had, at camp, begun a relationship with Jesus Christ.
A bit of history: In what is now called the Granny’s Park Community, Marilyn Claverie was sponsored by her congregation, Northwest Church, to do ministry in the Amber Way Apartments. The owner donated an apartment and Marilyn, then in her mid-70s, tutored young people, counseled parents, collaborated with local churches such as mine, and sent kids to camp every summer. Now in her 90s, Marilyn is still actively in touch with, and engaged in, the lives of some of those families. She is one of many.
Later, the capacity of Care Fresno began to dwindle through reductions in funding from the police until one day, after Nick Jones came in as Executive Director, it was suddenly and completely dropped. Nick scrambled and raised all of the money needed to keep Care Fresno viable with no dependency on any government funding. It remains that way today.
Young adults and others are recruited to lead the eight sites where programs are offered, usually in partnership with churches and agencies. Care Fresno is back at Granny’s Park, for instance, running an after-school program three days a week in a city community center managed by 4141 Ministries.
Stories of high impact are collected and told each month in the blog that Gabrielle Wong writes on the Care Fresno site and Facebook page. Recently, Gabrielle wrote about coming to the end of one year of programming and asking the children to share what they had learned. She wrote:
“There are days when I wonder if the kids have heard a thing I’ve said, if what we are sharing with them has any impact on their lives. Reading what the kids learned over the course of the year teaches me to claim God’s promise that when God’s Word is shared, it will work in people’s lives and not simply bounce back and return without accomplishing its purpose, even when I can’t see the returns to the investments I make by faith in these kids. I am responsible for sharing God’s Word, but God is responsible for ensuring it will not return to Him having failed at its job, and I am thrilled when God gives me glimpses of His Word at work.”
She concluded with this verse: “So is my word that goes out from my mouth: it will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.” Isaiah 55:11.
Reflecting on the crisis at Summerset, which could not have been planned or programmed, Gabrielle wrote:
“We are experiencing a new way of loving our neighbors. Living in community and sharing life with those we serve who are our literal neighbors is a big part of why my roommates and I [was sic] were planted in Summerset. A lot of truly awful things have happened and there have been many frustrating, annoying, and exhausting moments and hours these past few weeks.
“There have also been moments where I have seen God work, moments that remind me that I’m right where I need to be. I believe that God led my roommates and me to move to Summerset at this time, knowing that we would be present for this manmade disaster and available to serve as each step unfolded.”
Because Care Fresno and FIRM were already in the community with presence and relationships, they were able to step in at the right time and make a difference. That underscores what Randy Mewhirter was telling me. It really is all about the relationships.
1940 N. Fresno St.
Fresno, CA 93703
P.O. Box 8147
Fresno, CA 93747