Providing hope

NESTco con­sists of about 30 groups that join forces to help the needy.

  • Helping hands: About 30 groups gathered at Kingdom Life Christian Center in the Devon Theater to map out their objectives and raise money to support their efforts. MARIA YOUNG / TIMES PHOTO

  • Volunteers at Star of Hope Baptist Church pray before handing out food to the needy. MARIA YOUNG / TIMES PHOTO

  • Ruth Burke helps give out bags of groceries to those in need at Star of Hope Baptist Church. MARIA YOUNG / TIMES PHOTO

Star of Hope Baptist Church has been serving wor­ship­pers of Ta­cony and bey­ond for the last 100 years. Pas­tor Hubert Barnes has shep­her­ded the flock for the last 31 years. Sev­en years ago, the church cre­ated a food cup­board to nour­ish the hungry in its midst.

But un­til a few months ago, Star of Hope nev­er had an ef­fi­cient way to help needy folks with a mul­ti­tude of oth­er so­cial ser­vices.

“I’ve en­countered people who’ve had hous­ing needs or in­sec­ur­it­ies and I’d have to do home­work, do re­search” to get them help, Barnes said. “I’d have to reach out to the coun­cil­man’s of­fice and call around.”

It was very much a hit-or-miss pro­pos­i­tion un­til last fall, when Star of Hope joined about 30 oth­er faith groups, non­profits and in­sti­tu­tions in the com­munity to form the North­east Ser­vices Team, also known as NESTco. On Jan. 28, lead­ers of those part­ner groups gathered at King­dom Life Chris­ti­an Cen­ter in the Devon Theat­er to map out their ob­ject­ives and to raise some money in sup­port of them.

“We wouldn’t turn any­body away, but we’ve iden­ti­fied our tar­get area as the four po­lice dis­tricts (in the North­east): the 2nd, 7th, 8th and 15th,” said Bob Byrne, the NESTco board chair­man and North­east dir­ect­or for the Phil­adelphia In­ter­faith Hos­pit­al­ity Net­work.

NESTco aims to help people who are lack­ing in a mul­ti­tude of ne­ces­sit­ies. Shel­ter, food, child wel­fare and men­tal health sup­port are four typ­ic­al areas of need.

The list of NESTco part­ners reads like a who’s who of North­east re­li­gious con­greg­a­tions, so­cial ser­vice pro­viders and med­ic­al and edu­ca­tion­al in­sti­tu­tions. Cath­ol­ic Com­munity Ser­vices, CORA Ser­vices, Friends Hos­pit­al, Gate­way Health, Ma­ter­nity Care Co­ali­tion, Holy Fam­ily Uni­versity’s Fam­ily Cen­ter and Great­er Phil­adelphia Di­aper Bank are among the co­ali­tion. The May­or’s Of­fice of Em­power­ment and Op­por­tun­ity rep­res­ents the pub­lic sec­tor. Emma Wag­n­er, the com­munity ser­vices co­ordin­at­or for Coun­cil­man Bobby Hen­on’s staff, is the NESTco ex­ec­ut­ive dir­ect­or.

The concept grew out of a con­ver­sa­tion early last year between Hen­on and Rachel Falkove, the ex­ec­ut­ive dir­ect­or of the Phil­adelphia In­ter­faith Hos­pit­al­ity Net­work, which ar­ranges tem­por­ary lodging in churches for work­ing fam­il­ies who have be­come home­less. Falkove ob­served that people in dis­tress of­ten have mul­tiple areas of need that can­not be sat­is­fied by a single or­gan­iz­a­tion.

“The thought was, in North­east Phil­adelphia there are a lot of really good ser­vice pro­viders, but the work is kind of siloed. But if we came to­geth­er, we could help a lot more res­id­ents,” Byrne said.

“Our first meet­ing was in June and maybe 12 or­gan­iz­a­tions were there. And we’ve grown to 30,” Wag­n­er said.

NESTco gained non­profit status in Oc­to­ber.

“People in the com­munity will come to one of our groups or a church or agency,” Byrne said. “If one agency can’t help them in a par­tic­u­lar way, they will refer the per­son to an­oth­er agency.”

For ex­ample, John Gaynor’s Cath­ol­ic Com­munity Ser­vices works largely with ab­used and neg­lected chil­dren. Pat Kennedy’s Great­er Phil­adelphia Di­aper Bank col­lects and re­dis­trib­utes more than a half-mil­lion baby di­apers and adult in­con­tin­ence gar­ments each year. Con­nect­ing the two groups’ work seems a nat­ur­al.

Like­wise, King­dom Life also has a food bank and en­gages in youth out­reach pro­grams. Pas­tor Danette Ray and church lead­ers re­cently vis­ited Eth­an Al­len Ele­ment­ary School in Lower May­fair, where they learned that a lot of young people needed winter coats, hats and scarves. So the church moun­ted a coat drive. Ray en­vi­sions NESTco as a way for the church to identi­fy and fill more so­cial ser­vice gaps loc­ally.

“We want to tell the com­munity about the types of ser­vices we can provide,” she said.

Ray thinks there’s a short­age of so­cial ser­vices in the North­east com­pared to oth­er parts of the city.

“There’s a per­cep­tion that there’s not a need in this area, but that’s a mis­con­cep­tion,” Barnes agreed.

Ac­cord­ing to Wag­n­er, poverty rates in the North­east range from 14 per­cent to 23 per­cent, de­pend­ing on the ZIP code. Gaynor noted that more read­ily avail­able ser­vices might help re­duce poverty. Provid­ing af­ford­able child day­care ser­vice to a par­ent might en­able the par­ent to take a job. Giv­ing a winter coat to a child might mean the dif­fer­ence between that child go­ing to school or stay­ing home.

In the short term, NESTco is try­ing to raise seed money to help off­set its start-up ad­min­is­trat­ive costs and mar­ket­ing ex­penses. This year, NESTco hopes to fund an of­fice with staff­ing. Some of the part­ner or­gan­iz­a­tions op­er­ate from bor­rowed or shared spaces be­cause they don’t have their own of­fices. Even in its form­at­ive stages, NESTco has proven a more ef­fi­cient way to de­liv­er ser­vices.

“Tre­mend­ously so,” Barnes said. “And you get to know the rep­res­ent­at­ives from these or­gan­iz­a­tions, so you have a high de­gree of con­fid­ence that people’s prob­lems will be solved.” ••

Call Emma Wag­n­er at 215-683-9220 or email emma@bobby­hen­on.com for in­form­a­tion about North­east Ser­vices Team (NESTco).

You can reach at wkenny@bsmphilly.com.

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