Beltsville, MD, Church Social Services Branch Office Offers a Hand Up, not a Handout
by Debbonnaire Kovacs
On September 5, 2012, Pastor Glenn Holland, Associate Pastor of the Beltsville, MD, Seventh-day Adventist Church, reported through the Potomac Blogs that his church had just opened a branch office of the Department of Social Services, which would offer temporary cash assistance in emergencies, food stamps, and medical assistance. In that article (available at https://www.pcsda.org/Stories/social-services-branch-office.html), Holland had this to say:
“Our church wants to serve our community. Having an office at our site will be a useful benefit to the residents in this part of Prince George’s County. Traffic, long lines and distance to the Hyattsville office have created a substantial barrier to services in this part. More importantly, this service allows us to be positioned to form relationships with people in need near our church, which goes far beyond simply opening our doors to a government agency.”
As the church neared the end of its first quarter in this service, Adventist Today called and asked how it was going. The answer to that question was that it’s going amazingly well and growing all the time, despite the fact that they have done almost no actual advertising or publicity. It simply grows by word of mouth, through referrals from a local health organization which does advocacy and referral, the Department of Social Services agents available in the branch office, and referrals from in the local clergy association, in which Holland is active.
“Networking with these pastors has been a huge advantage to me personally,” Holland adds. “Each church appreciates that other churches know about them and care.”
Then we asked, "What makes you different from other social services agencies?"
One of the things that makes this service a definite assistance to the government department is something called a “crisis counselor.” Crisis counselors, Holland is quick to explain, are not licensed counselors. They are church members, most of whom have had life crises of their own, who understand and can help someone work through their difficulties and find real solutions. The most important service they provide is listening, and often simply another viewpoint for thinking things through. They also offer to pray with each guest, and are rarely refused.
“I can’t say enough about our crisis counselors,” Holland says. “80% of the people who come are coming to see DSS agents. 30% of those are referred to our crisis counselors, because our people have much more time to spend with individuals than the DSS agents have.” He explained that often the people who are in need are the working poor and don’t actually qualify for government services. They just need a hand because of a temporary crisis. Beltsville church wants to make that a hand up, not a handout. Crisis counselors have the authority to spend a certain amount of money if they need to, and there is a food pantry where people can be given a punch card that entitles them to six months of food without further paperwork, to get them through a temporary crunch. After that, they can reapply, but crisis counselors will try to find them ways to get out of the situation for good, so that they will not continue to need assistance. Some of the church’s offerings are “Financial Peace University” and “Jobs For Life.”
This is hugely encouraging to the people they help. They are not seen as helpless or as takers, just as people who are in trouble, and long-term ways to fix those troubles are always sought. Sometimes all that is necessary is another pair of eyes from outside a situation; for example, recently a stressed-out man who had lost his job in middle management left excited, because he hadn’t realized he could withdraw from his 401(k) for an emergency.
The church recently received a letter from a guest who was overcome with gratitude for the services she received. Holland has permission to share her letter, without her name. Here is an excerpt:
I am writing you regarding the excellent and heartfelt support I received from your 7 Day Adventist community outreach office in September 2012. I have secured part time employment in the last week, and things are improving for me. But, when I first came to you I was at wit's end and really needed the reassurance, financial support and wonderful advice given to me by your new unit. Words cannot adequately express my gratitude.
It is a blessing and a delight that you are now opening your doors to the Beltsville community (and beyond) during this time of great economic upheaval in our country, and psychological pressure. Everyone I encountered at the outreach center (receptionist included) was not only warm, Christian and wonderful but professional, inspiring and enlightening.
Special thank you to Mrs. Dorothy Muse. I have gotten a great response from the rewritten/updated resume she was kind enough to create for me. Also the praying in her office touched my soul and reaffirmed me and my belief in my walk with God. I enjoyed attending your church (Mrs. Muse invited me) and plan to visit again.
“People ask about our services—we don’t advertise that; they have to ask,” Holland added. “Then we say we meet on Saturday. Several have come several times; they like the services and like the people they meet.” In fact, the social services office gained a part-time volunteer nurse that way. She is not a member of their church, but is now on the community services board and has joined Pastor Holland’s growth group.
“Our Mission Statement,” says Holland, “is ‘to connect people with God, with each other, and with our community.’ The church has historically done well on one and two, but not so well on three.” Beltsville, MD aimed to change that. And they are.
Beltsville Church Website: www.beltsville22.adventistchurchconnect.org