Up North meets the City as volunteers from northern Michigan work at Cass Community Social Services.
JOHN E. HARNISH
United Methodist Communications
Recently a group of 28 volunteers from the Grand Traverse area worked to make a difference in the city of Detroit with Cass Community Social Services. Under the leadership of Judy Harnish, former staff member at Cass, the team spent four days in the inner city, renovating, painting and cleaning apartments in the Cass housing program. The team included members from Traverse Bay UMC in Traverse City and Frankfort United Methodist Church led by their pastor, Rev. Barbara Fay. Other team members were from St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Beulah, St. Ann’s and St. Philip’s Roman Catholic Churches and the Unitarian-Universalist community of Benzie County.
As most Michigan United Methodists know, Cass Community Social Services began as a ministry of Cass Community United Methodist Church which has been in the business of feeding people and caring for the homeless since the Depression. Today Cass provides significant ministry in four categories: food, housing, health care and jobs. They serve over 1 million meals per year, provide housing for about 300 persons in six different facilities, offer free medical clinics with volunteer doctors and employ almost 100 persons, most of whom are unemployed and would have a very difficult time finding a job because of their personal histories or disabilities.
The newest project is the building of 25 “tiny houses” which will be sold to formerly homeless persons on a seven-year rent-to-own plan. Cass Community Social Services is now an ecumenical and independent faith-based agency supported by a variety of churches, foundations, corporations and federal and state funding with an annual budget of over $6 million and continues to have strong support from United Methodist congregations throughout the Detroit Conference and more recently from the West Michigan Conference.
The members of the Benzie/Grand Traverse group were motivated to go to Detroit when Rev. Dr. Faith Fowler, Cass Executive Director, came to speak in Beulah, Leland and Grayling this summer. The team spent most of their time preparing apartments in three of the Cass buildings for new residents under the “permanent supportive housing” program. Homeless persons who have come through one of the shelter programs can rent these modest apartments by paying 30% of their income while relying on the support of the case workers and staff at Cass to help them move toward self-sufficiency. Rev. Dr. Fowler, who is also the pastor of Cass Community United Methodist Church, says, “Our goal is to see that poor people aren’t poor anymore, that homeless people have a home and that lives can be changed. We couldn’t do it without the help of congregations like these and over 6,000 volunteers who come our way every year from across the Michigan Area and around the country.”
“Jesus said ‘the poor you have with you always.’ Well, poverty is tough, whether it is in Haiti or in Michigan.”
Mike Windover, from Traverse Bay United Methodist Church, understands. He and his wife Carla have served on numerous mission team trips to Haiti, but this was the first time they had worked in Detroit. He commented, “Jesus said ‘the poor you have with you always.’ Well, poverty is tough, whether it is in Haiti or in Michigan. We just want to try to help in a program that gives people hope of a new beginning and a better life.”
This was the second mission team from the Traverse Bay area to serve at Cass. Last year a smaller team from St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, under the leadership of their pastor Rev. Anne Hebert, spent three days working in the recently purchased “World Building” which has become the administrative hub and the center of the Cass Green Industries which include making mud mats and sandals from recycled tires, shredding recycled paper, and selling “Cass Communitea”, an organic tea product. The Green Industries employ developmentally disabled and formerly homeless persons in jobs which pay minimum wages. For many of these persons, it is their first real job and the first pay check they have ever received.
For Rev. Barbara Fay, Frankfort pastor, it was not only the first time she had worked at Cass, but it was the first time she had visited the city of Detroit. She was amazed at the contrast of the resurgent vitality of the downtown and the desolation of many of the neighborhoods. She said, “The New Testament tells us that “faith without works is dead”. At Cass we are literally putting our faith to work in very practical ways, making a difference in “The D”.
Plans are under way for future mission teams from the Grand Traverse region. If you would like more information on ways to participate in future mission teams to Detroit, contact Judy Harnish at email@example.com. To learn more about Cass Community Social Service, go to www.casscommunity.org
~Rev. Dr. John E. Harnish is a retired United Methodist pastor who served churches in the Detroit metropolitan area and has been involved with Cass for 30 years as a volunteer.