It doesn’t take long to get a sense of community needs in downtown Spokane and other large Pacific Northwest cities. With a population of well over 500,000, the greater Spokane, Washington and Coeur d’Alene, Idaho area has significant gaps in services available for those in crisis.
Patty Marsh, Upper Columbia Conference urban ministries director, worked with leaders of Total Health Spokane and several other individuals to better coordinate Adventist programs throughout the Spokane area. They applied for a grant through Mission to the Cities, an initiative introduced by the General Conference, to focus on reaching urban areas for Christ and provide funding to help meet this goal.
In early 2020, the grant was awarded to UCC’s new urban outreach collaboration, Renew Spokane. Distributed over the course of five years, the $1 million grant will strengthen Spokane's outreach ministries.
The formation of Renew Spokane tied together the efforts of several existing UCC outreaches supported by multiple churches. Their common purpose is to provide urban centers of influence throughout the city of Spokane and meet the needs of its people with no strings attached.
The grant was originally implemented two years ago, and in that time, Renew Spokane has grown and become increasingly involved in the community.
“To use an old adage, ‘One shoe does not fit all,’” said Marsh. “Our world is changing quickly, and [people's] needs evolve. Health topics are important to some; the needs of children abound, but not all have children. Over the last two years, mental health issues affect many individuals. Refugees face multiple challenges. With these few examples, you see that one outreach alone would reach only a sliver of Spokane.”
One of Renew Spokane’s programs, STEAM Ahead at Discovery Junction, provides free, week-long summer classes for community children. It gives eight-to 13-year-olds the opportunity to learn about Lego robotics, art and cooking. During the school year, children from the local public school come to Discovery Junction after classes twice a week and enrich their understanding of science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics (STEAM).
During the initial COVID-19 shutdown in early 2020, Gayle Haeger, UCC urban ministries coordinator, asked the local public school if there was any way that Discovery Junction could help the students in their neighborhood. “They asked us if we could provide a safe place with wireless internet to help children who were having difficulty staying on task at home,” said Haeger. “We served eight children over several months. The teachers and administrators expressed deep gratitude for that service.”
Another well-established outreach project is the Better Living Center, one of the largest food banks in Spokane. The BLC provides the surrounding area with close to half a million pounds of food annually, as well as holds health and wellness classes that are open to all community members at no cost to them.
God’s Closet is another outreach initiative under Renew Spokane. The program collects new and gently-used clothing and has a Shop Day every three months, where, for a $1 entry fee, families are able to leave with several stuffed bags of clothing for their whole family at no additional charge.
His Travelers, a group of young adults in UCC, assisted Renew Spokane with different outreach programs for children and teens. During the eight weeks they served this past summer, His Travelers led a Vacation Bible School in the park, another popular Renew Spokane outreach project.
“What is unique about Renew Spokane is the collaborative effort,” said Marsh. “There is Holy Spirit power and efficiency in strategically planning and working together. In God’s power, great good can result! Our team looks forward to involving more members and more churches in supporting the ideas and visions of how they can reach out as God opens doors.”
To learn more about Renew Spokane and its many outreach efforts, visit renewspokane.org.