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SDOP disburses more than $100K in grants to seven self-help projects

National committee visits community partners in Morganton, North Carolina

by Margaret Mwale, Self-Development of People| Special to Presbyterian News Service

Like many southern Appalachian communities, Morganton, North Carolina has a rich and complex history. In this picture, national SDOP Committee and staff learn the history of the Hispanic Community in Burke County from Sharley Mendoza, a staff member of The Industrial Commons and native of Guatemala. (Photo by Erin Kizer of Opportunity Threads)

LOUISVILLE — The Presbyterian Committee on the Self-Development of People (SDOP) approved grants earlier this year totaling $105,000 to several self-help projects. The money comes from generous gifts to One Great Hour of Sharing.

The national SDOP enables members and non-members of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to form partnerships with oppressed and disadvantaged people to help them achieve self-sufficiency.

The projects and grants:

  • Newark Water Coalition, Newark, New Jersey, $15,000. This group of low-income residents seeks to address problems of water infrastructure by training residents to assume leadership positions within community They want to create more decision makers in the organization who can facilitate, organize, and mobilize internally and externally within their community.
  • Gullah Farmers’ Cooperative, St. Helena Island, South Carolina, $15,000. The cooperative operates a well-equipped facility for processing, but they need vital staffing to secure and maintain buyers and outreach staff that will assist farmers onsite with production and management. They are requesting funds for general operations by being able to fill the above vital part time positions.
  • Payson Homeless and Homeless Veterans Initiative, Payson, Arizona, $15,000. Group members seek to help themselves and others struggling with homelessness by learning basic life skills including meal preparation, how to shop for groceries, and how to grow vegetables for consumption. They created the Confidence Kitchen project which consists of four weeks of training in menu planning, food preparation, and cooking classes. At the completion of the program participants will receive a food handlers’ card. Participants will then have a marketable skill when looking for employment.
  • Pima County Interfaith Council, Tucson, Arizona, $15,000. This immigrant community came together with local churches and the Pima County Sheriff’s Department to develop an acceptable form of a church identification card to aid both community members and local law enforcement. Five local parishes were contacted with the idea and undocumented immigrant leaders came forward to manage the program. Once the immigrant community realizes the value of the Parish ID, more persons may be willing to report criminal activity without fear of police presence. The grant will be used for the purchase of equipment and supplies for printing and issuing the IDs, training immigrants on how to use the equipment and for training of community organizers.
  • ARISE Adelante, Alamo, Texas, $15,000. The project seeks to improve the graduation rate of low-income high school youth in the Rio Grande Valley. This will be done by providing them with the necessary guidance and support to enable the youth to graduate from high school and succeed beyond graduation. Upon completion of the program, the high school graduates are expected to return the next year to lead classes and seminars. In this way the program will be self-perpetuating. Topics and hands-on workshops are tailored to participants’ needs.
  • Nuestro Mundo Public Charter School E_STEAM Center, Providence, Rhode Island, $15,000. The project is to develop a community garden whereby students learn how to grow food and market the crops to the community. Nuestro Mundo is in an area populated by a majority of those with Hispanic descent and is considered a food desert. Typically, households are made up of several generations, with the oldest experienced in planting and harvesting crops. The students will learn how to build gardens at home and provide a source of fresh, nutritious food. The project will be managed by the charter school administration as well as parents, with students serving as a conduit to their families to provide good fresh food.
  • The Small School, Chame, Panama, $15,000. The project focuses on the design and preparation of fruit, vegetable and medicinal seed germination stations at group member’s home. These low-income families will benefit directly by selling the produce thus making an income or they can exchange produce. They will also acquire knowledge about the entire process of growing the produce.

National SDOP committee and staff visit with SDOP- funded partner Opportunity Threads, a worker-owned sewing cooperative and manufacturing facility in Morganton, North Carolina. (Photo by Margaret Mwale)

The National SDOP Committee held its first face-to-face meeting since early 2020 this spring. Meetings have been held virtually due to the Covid pandemic. Committee members and staff held a retreat March 16-19 in Montreat, North Carolina, and participated in a learning journey organized by The Industrial Commons.

National SDOP committee and staff visiting with SDOP-funded partner Opportunity Threads, a worker0owned sewing cooperative and manufacturing facility. (Photo by Margaret Mwale)

The first part of the learning journey was with SDOP’s funded partner Opportunity Threads, a sewing cooperative located in Morganton, North Carolina. Opportunity Threads was initially established by a group of Guatemalan immigrants who came together to form a sewing cooperative. The committee and staff also visited the Industrial Commons which was co-founded by one of the members of Opportunity Threads.

The Industrial Commons staff Sharley Mendoza explains how the cooperative converts textile waste into new products that can be sold to generate income for the employee-owned cooperative’s members. (Photo by Margaret Mwale)

According to its website, “The Industrial Commons founds and scales employee-owned social enterprises and industrial cooperatives and supports frontline workers to build a new southern working class that erases the inequities of generational poverty and builds an economy and future for all.”

The Industrial Commons staff member Erin Kizer shares about the cooperative’s housing justice efforts. (Photo by Margaret Mwale)

SDOP’s coordinator, the Rev. Dr. Alonzo Johnson, says, “Our SDOP retreat turned out to be both uplifting and anchoring as we were able to be in person after a several years of not being able to do so due to Covid. This retreat was also healing and helped us focus on how we can continue to do the work of community building and poverty eradication in new and innovative ways.

“The SDOP team visit to The Industrial Commons was truly a delight!” said Sharley Mendoza, operations director for The Industrial Commons. “This visit was different from other funder visits because SDOP was the first group to fund Opportunity Threads, which was the seed from which The Industrial Commons grew from. The SDOP team learned about our many programs and how they all work together to create generational change in our community. The team was eager, full of good energy, and shared resources/learnings with us. We hope they were able to see the impact of their funding on our entire community. We look forward to future partnerships!”

Following a presentation by musician, speaker and activist David LaMotte to SDOP national committee members and staff, LaMotte invited them to sing with him as he played drums. (Photo by Margaret Mwale)

Musician, speaker, author, and activist David LaMotte, who was also present for part of the retreat, says, “I gathered with other people to see the how we can change the world … You know what changes the world? Committees change the world.”

Indeed, the Presbyterian Committee on the Self-Development of People, in partnership with congregations that participate in the One Great Hour of Sharing offering and thousands of our community partners, have been changing the world by our collective positive impact over the past 50+ years locally, nationally and internationally.

SDOP is constantly looking for ways to engage communities of economically poor, oppressed, and disadvantaged people in partnership as well as to promote and interpret the ministry in Presbyterian congregations. For information on upcoming information sessions on our grant process for community-based groups interested in learning about possible future partnerships, to arrange for a member or staff of the SDOP National Committee to visit your church to preach or do a Minute for Mission, or to participate in a webinar on poverty alleviation or an educational webinar on various social and economic justice issues, please contact the national office at:

Self-Development of People, 100 Witherspoon Street, Louisville, KY 40202-1396

Toll Free Telephone:

English (888) 728-7228 X5792

Spanish (888) 728-7228 X5790

Fax: (502) 569-8001

Or visit SDOP’s website.

Margaret Mwale is Associate for Community Development & Constituent Relations for the Presbyterian Committee on the Self-Development of People.

Creative_Commons-BYNCNDYou may freely reuse and distribute this article in its entirety for non-commercial purposes in any medium. Please include author attribution, photography credits, and a link to the original article. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDeratives 4.0 International License.

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