by Monte Sahlin
By AT News Team, December 27, 2013
After a careful evaluation which included surveys of pastors and lay leaders, the North American Division (NAD) of the Seventh-day Adventist denomination announced last week a significant reorganization and expansion of the domestic charitable and social action programs sponsored by the denomination in the United States. The study committee that oversaw the assessment considered the possibility of creating a United States country organization for the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) as well as the option of merging ADRA and Adventist Community Services (ACS) as was done more than 20 years ago in Canada, Adventist Today has been told by sources that asked for anonymity.
ACS is the largest Adventist social action program meeting domestic needs in the United States. In many nations it consists almost entirely of church-based activities such as the Dorcas Society, although in the U.S. since the 1980s it has largely shifted its operations to other programs. In about two dozen cities, including Dayton (Ohio), Chattanooga (Tennessee), Portland (Oregon) and Denver (Colorado), local ACS agencies have emerged that are managed by professionals while still utilizing thousands of volunteers. The ACS Disaster Response program has also developed contractual arrangements with the American Red Cross and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) which give it a recognized role among the top disaster relief agencies in the country.
The NAD is the only one of the denomination's world divisions that does not have its own ADRA units simply because ADRA's world headquarters in Silver Spring, Maryland, includes all of the functions that would normally be those of a United States country office. This has resulted in considerable confusion among Adventists as to the roles and relationships between ADRA and ACS. As the ACS program expands and becomes more professionally-led in the rest of the world these same issues will increasingly become a global concern for Adventists.
Last week the NAD announced the merging of some programs within ACS and an expansion of staffing, especially for Disaster Response operations. The Hope for Humanity program is now fully under the management of ACS. This is the annual fund raising campaign for community service that replaced the traditional Harvest Ingathering program in the 1990s and has been a department of its own over the last decade or more.
Sung Kwon will continue as executive director of ACS. Wynelle Stevens will continue as his assistant and provide oversight for the Elder Care program. Kati Britton will transfer from the Hope for Humanity program and work with Kwon as communication assistant for ACS.
Sean Robinson has been appointed director of disaster response, including the Crisis Care and Youth Empowered for Service (YES) programs. He is coming to the NAD staff from the Texas Conference. He will be assisted by two assistants who will remain in place at locations outside of Washington with the NAD reimbursing the conference or union conference that employs them for a portion of their time. These include Charlene Sargent in the Pacific Union Conference and Joe Watts in the Southwestern Union Conference.
Maitland DiPinto will be director of community development. He has been director of the Hope for Humanity program and will continue to oversee the annual campaign, as well as community tutoring and mentoring programs and other community development projects. He will have Rhonda Whitney as assistant director, who is based in the Upper Columbia Conference with the NAD reimbursing the conference for a portion of her time, and Sandra Brown, who has been the coordinator for tutoring and mentoring projects at the NAD for two decades. Walter Gibson will also continue as a part-time consultant for community development projects.
Several other individuals will continue to be part-time consultants as they have been for some time: Justin and Laura Vibbard for the YES program, Marilyn Renk for the Elder Care program, and Martin Feldbush and Steve Willsey for the Crisis Care program.
ACS had projects or local units in 1,100 communities across the United States with a total population of more than 30 million residents, according to the most recent Landscape of Giving in the Seventh-day Adventist Church published in 2005. Services were also provided to 2 million survivors of disasters in the previous year and a total of $3.7 million raised, not including funds used in local church community service activities.