First Presbyterian Church of Fort Worth, community partners served more than 450 guests on April 27
by Emily Enders Odom | Presbyterian News Service
LOUISVILLE – If robins are commonly recognized as harbingers of spring, then “Pastor Robyn” is widely acknowledged in Fort Worth, Texas, as a harbinger of spring’s — and Easter’s — promise of new life.
And of new beginnings, especially for the city’s homeless men and women.
Pastor Robyn — who is better known as the Rev. Robyn Michalove, associate pastor of Mission and Family Ministries at First Presbyterian Church in Fort Worth — has long been the church’s primary organizer behind the city’s Project Homeless Connect. The spring event, which has been sponsored by the city since 2007 and held by First Presbyterian for the past six years, provides ways for the homeless to connect with social services and supportive help as they seek to move off the streets.
In 2018, the leadership of the event — which had been shared by the city and the church — will be transferred entirely to First Presbyterian with the city continuing as a partner.
“It is so amazing to see the church energized about this ministry,” Michalove said of the mission, which garners tremendous volunteer support. “Our church members love this day — and not just our church, but other church communities come too. They love it because you’re able to have a conversation with someone. You’re able to see even small transformations right here on our campus. They’re also proud to be members of a church that’s open.”
Held this year on April 27, Homeless Connect offered upwards of 450 homeless women and men the services of barbers, optometrists, physicians, veterinarians, social workers, potential employers and — new this year — municipal judges. Representatives of the Tarrant County Court worked with guests to do on-site reconciliations of past tickets in an arrest-free zone.
Also new this year was an on-site food handler license training class, which helped prepare one guest for his new job at Waffle House, which was recruiting at the event.
“One of our guests got a 40-hour-a-week, full-time, $10-an-hour paying job as a result of the connections he made here,” Michalove said. “That’s huge. It’s also very exciting. He just started coming to the Wednesday night Bible study that I teach at our Community Crossroads Outreach Center.”
Michalove said that the event’s many volunteers — “who do everything from greeting guests when they arrive, to serving lunch, to giving directions, to handing out numbers for the haircut lines” — also do an evaluation at the end of each event.
“Volunteers sit down with our guests and look them in the eye and ask them what was the best thing about the day, ‘What would you like to see for next year?’” she said. “That’s meaningful for people because that’s the relational connection, not just a piece of paper necessarily.”
According to one of this year’s evaluations, a highlight of the event was the pet services. Many guests brought their animals for free on-site microchip placement, vouchers for spaying and neutering, food giveaways and on-site pet-sitting. Michalove estimated that up to 25 dogs attended the event with their owners.
“Just having a companion, someone to care for, means a lot to folks who maybe don’t have family and don’t have a place to direct that caring and compassion,” she said.
Another success story was the Women’s Boutique, which — similar in nature to the national “Support the Girls” campaign — offers bras and feminine hygiene products. Guests at the boutique were also invited to choose a special item from among scarves and jewelry, “things to make you feel better about yourself,” Michalove said.
The Women’s Boutique also benefited from the volunteer efforts of teenage church member Rebecca Galloway, who enlisted the Feminist Club at her school, Paschal High, to contribute to the event by conducting a drive for bras and feminine hygiene products.
“This is the kind of event that other churches could easily get involved with because it is part of a national movement,” Michalove said. “If you don’t have one, start one. That’s how we got involved with the MLK Day of Service. I heard about it on the radio, saw that Tarrant County didn’t have one, and said, ‘We could totally do this!’ So now we have a big ecumenical MLK Day of Service. That’s how it works!”
Read a related article in the July/August 2016 edition of Presbyterians Today.
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