Project URGE connects urban ministries, suburban volunteers - Catholic Courier

Project URGE connects urban ministries, suburban volunteers

ROCHESTER — As she approached Outreach Temple Church of God in Christ on Murray Street Nov. 1, Mary Sweeney recalled going to the building in her younger days, when it was a theater.

Sweeney, who grew up on nearby Myrtle Street, was taking a tour of Outreach Temple’s dining room and kitchen, where volunteers cook hundreds of hot meals for and distribute bags of food to people in need.

The tour was part of an up-close look at city ministries by Project URGE, a Fairport- and Rochester-based program designed to combat poverty by linking urban and suburban churches and ministries. Members of churches from throughout the area took the tour to learn about the ministries as potential new volunteers, donors or partners.

“We have ministries all over the community who are struggling — who don’t have resources,” said Garry E. Manuel, who directs Project URGE and founded it in 2002. “What we are asking people to do is to connect.”

Sweeney, a parishioner of Fairport’s Church of the Assumption, said her neighborhood in Fairport is somewhat insulated from such problems as homelessness, so the tour was eye-opening. For example, after meeting a young mother who was living at a homeless shelter, Sweeney said she was struck by how much like her daughter the young mother was.

“You hear about the need, but I was awed by the need,” Sweeney remarked.

Organizers of Project URGE hope that by seeing the need firsthand, new volunteers will be mobilized to take action. In addition to the participation of parishioners from Church of the Assumption, Church of the Transfiguration in Pittsford and St. Bridget/St. Joseph Church in East Bloomfield, several Catholic ministries have received volunteers and support through Project URGE, including Catholic Family Center’s Homeless and Housing Services and Mercy Residential Services.

Manuel said he initially came up with the idea for Project URGE while volunteering with Kidz Kafe — a Saturday-morning program to feed and care for Rochester children — hosted by Zion Hill Missionary Baptist Church. He wanted to start a coordinated and collaborative effort between urban and suburban churches to tackle the overwhelming poverty in parts of Rochester.

“The relationships weren’t there; things weren’t connected, and that’s what jump-started this,” said Manuel, who lives in Bloomfield and attends Crosswinds Wesleyan Church in Canandaigua.

Glancing around an information fair of Project URGE-affiliated nonprofits prior to the tour, Manuel noted that no matter what a volunteer’s priorities are, there are ministries that fit those priorities. Agencies represented Nov. 1 included a crisis-pregnancy center, a Christian clowning ministry, food pantries, a mothers’ prayer group, a community nursing program, and neighborhood outreach and revitalization programs.

“There’s something here that any church could plug into,” Manuel said.

In addition to the urban focus, other Project URGE affiliates focus on other areas of need, such as those in need in Ontario County and those who are going through difficult times at area hospitals.

Participants in the tour Nov. 1 went to several ministries in one of four different geographical areas in Rochester’s crescent of poverty. The tour began at Grace United Methodist Church in the city’s northwest section. There volunteers showed off the church’s nonprofit offshoot, Grace Community Village, which offers free breakfast for the community on Saturdays, an after-school program, a thrift shop, sewing-instruction classes and a videography program intended to empower youths.

At another stop on one of the tours, Volunteer Coordinator Betsy Weber showed one group around Mercy Residential Services’ supportive group housing for pregnant young women and new mothers. She gave an overview of other services offered, including emergency housing, parenting programs and affordable housing, and spoke of the many ways volunteers can help.

“A lot of groups come in and make food for us,” Weber cited as one example of the work volunteers perform.

Catholic Family Center’s homeless shelters also are in need of volunteers, said Volunteer and Program Coordinator Sue Barnes, who took participants on a tour of Sanctuary House, an emergency shelter for women and children.

“(Homeless shelters are) all at a really high capacity right now, as you can imagine,” Barnes said.

The goal of those who operate the shelters is to move people into more permanent housing, she said, noting that Catholic Family Center has a 90-percent success rate for its transitional affordable housing.

“When people are given some support, people thrive and flourish,” Barnes observed.

EDITOR’S NOTE: To reach Project URGE, call 585-223-8340, e-mail or visit

Project URGE offers variety of programs

In addition to supporting other nonprofits, Project URGE offers several of its own programs, including:

* Bringing baked goods from Canandaigua’s Tops Friendly Markets to soup kitchens and homeless shelters in Rochester.

* Renovating and restoring the facilities of nonprofits, saving the nonprofits the cost of labor.

* Connecting churches with urban summer-camp programs to provide volunteers, snacks or other support for the camps.

* Coordinating more than 400 volunteers to serve area ministries.

* Collecting winter coats and bedding for area ministries.

Project URGE also hopes to launch programs to mentor and provide structured financial support for homeless families, and to connect them with area churches and ministries for the services they need.

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