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SDOP celebrates 45 years, awards 2015 grants

The Presbyterian Committee on the SDOP celebrates 45 years of ministry and disburses $193,000 to 13 self-help projects 

by Margaret Mwale and Cynthia White

Pittsburgh, PA— The Presbyterian Committee on the Self-Development of People (SDOP) celebrated 45 years of ministry at its September 2015 meeting.  At the same meeting, grants totaling $168,000 to self-help projects in the United State were approved. This brings the total to $193,000 with two earlier awarded grants. The money is from the One Great Hour of Sharing offering.

Based on the scripture “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8), SDOP celebrated 45 years of ministry. The celebration began with worship and dinner on Thursday evening. On hand to mark the celebration were members of the Synod of the Trinity and Pittsburgh Presbytery SDOP Committees and community partners including Angel Treats, Family and Friends Garden and Women Empowered for Entrepreneurial Excellence. The Reverend Sheldon Sorge, Executive Presbyter of Pittsburgh Presbytery and Sara Lisherness, Director of Compassion, Peace and Justice in the Presbyterian Mission Agency, joined in the celebration.  The Reverend DeNeice Welch and the choir of Bidwell Street United Presbyterian Church energized the gathering with amazing music throughout the evening. The Reverend Kimberly Murrell, Director of the Metro Urban Institute, preached an inspiring sermon based on her experience as a mission worker in Africa using John 5: 1-15 as scripture. On Friday and Saturday, Bible studies led by The Reverends Drew Smith, Professor of Urban Ministry and Kelly Norris Wilke, respectively, were thought-provoking and motivating.

On Sunday, Committee members and staff participated in worship at congregations in and around Pittsburgh.

The projects and grants:

  • Camden Community Youth Development Center, Inc., Camden, Alabama, $12,000 to support this project located in an economically depressed area of West Alabama. Part of the focus of the participant-driven community center, consisting of 25 adults and young people is on computer training, self-guided tutoring programs for young people and healthy lifestyle programs. The project will allow participants to take advantage of the healthy lifestyle opportunities, computer access for job searches as well as educational activities. A part of the project is to replace computers damaged as a result of a water leak.
  • JUNTOS, Philadelphia, PA, $15,000 to Juntos, a low-income immigrant group whose members have come together through education and building solidarity to avoid being scammed by unscrupulous “immigration experts”.  Juntos will offer workshops in two stages to assist in empowering its members and community residents on how to navigate the immigration system and engage members on critical social issues that affect their communities through a new Community Resource Guide.
  • Hispanic Affairs Project, Western Slope, CO, $15,000 to this group of 128 members advocating for immigrant and worker rights. The project seeks to develop, strengthen and educate its membership by organizing and leadership development so members can advocate for themselves on issues affecting Hispanics in the region.
  • Phat Beets Produce, Oakland, CA, $15,000 for this group of low-income black and brown people who believe they are targets of displacement from their neighborhood. Group members believe the displacement is due to the technology boom, which is pulling in more affluent and not always culturally tolerant constituencies.  Members of the self-help hunger program provide basic nutritional support, micro-loans, grassroots organizing, and employment related information to each other.
  • Providence Student Union (PSU), Providence, RI, $13,000 to Providence Student Union, an organization of low-income high school students who investigate and formulate ways of bettering their schools. The students together with their families are in the process of initiating meetings with school board leaders and local politicians to demand help for basic safety and educational resources.
  • Neighbor to Neighbor – Western Massachusetts, Holyoke, MA, $15,000 for a campaign led by community members to advocate for investment in jobs, education and mental health reform instead of development of more prisons. Rather than offering job training or educational programs, imprisonment has devastated low income communities impacted by industries changing and high unemployment.
  • New Zion City Preservation Associates, New Orleans, LA, $18,000 to support the neighborhood beautification project.  After Katrina, many residents left their property unattended and the city will not force owners of abandoned properties to keep vacant lots cut. Remaining community residents want to improve the area in order to attract new home owners and fixing the park will also give the children a safe place to play.  The neighborhood residents also hope to purchase some of the lots to start small urban farms.
  • Skills Development Project, Davis, CA, $15,000 to this group of developmentally and economically challenged entrepreneurs who have started several businesses individually. The project is intended to assist them in developing business management skills.  Professional business consultants will be hired to assist in development of group member’s business management skills and marketing knowledge that can serve as a catalyst for increasing group member’s business income and economic independence.
  • One DC, Washington, D.C., $15,000 to help this housing advocacy project as it seeks to ensure affordable housing for low income residents of DC. Many of the low income subsidies are expiring without renewal.  Residents are relocating because they cannot afford the new rates. In one community, the residents successfully negotiated an extension. The members are now empowered to organize and advocate in three low income wards to fight for more renewed affordable housing.
  • Southeastern Goat Cooperative, Tuscaloosa, AL, $20,000 to help farmers of this cooperative who are currently raising goats on a small scale. By increasing goat population and selling together, they get a better price at market. All the farmers own their land; they are seeking to expand their farms.
  • Migrante in Partnership with Filipino Community Center, San Francisco, CA, $15,000 to train, educate, and empower Filipino migrant workers to organize and advocate for themselves in response to exploitative labor trafficking. The project also seeks to build a robust anti-trafficking campaign and organizing project.

Self-Development of People also awarded grants to these projects earlier in 2015:

  • Capital Park Women’s Empowerment Project, Columbus, Ohio, $10,000 to enable creation of a cooperative sewing program for a community of refugee women. Participants will be trained to become master seamstresses with the ability to design, produce and sell designer bags, do clothing repairs and participate in training of marketing of these products. This project will allow the group to build economic independence. Presently because of limited English skills, group members can only obtain low paying positions.
  • Rockaway Wildfire, Far Rockaway, N.Y., $15,000 for these community groups working together to get a Community Benefits Agreement package that benefits the group members as developers plan to develop an 81 acre tract of land in East Far Rockaway. With affordable housing, employment and job training needs being among the highest in the country, members of the community are being trained as trainers to lead other members in how their involvement will assist in demanding equal opportunities for group members and residents of East Far Rockaway as the development takes place.

SDOP’s partnership with communities across the United States and internationally in the past 45 years is summarized by one community partner: “As important as the funding was, the tremendous moral support we received from Self Development of People—visits from representatives of the Committee, our phone calls, participation in mutual projects, all gave us the sense of tremendous support by a larger community who believed in our cause, our group and our members.

In all of our dealings with Self Development of People, we have truly felt that we were dealing with Christ’s disciples, whose only concern was carrying out His instruction to care for the poor and others who have been pushed to the margins of our society.”

The work of SDOP is made possible by compassionate and generous members of Presbyterian congregations across the U.S. through their giving to the One Great Hour of Sharing offering.  As Bidwell Presbyterian Church’s Choir led the celebration with the song Celebrate Hope!, let us continue to celebrate all that has been and is yet to be done, that  has brought hope to thousands of people in poor, oppressed and disadvantaged communities through partnerships with the Self-Development of People ministry.


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