Wednesday, April 16, 2014

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Community of Celebration, an Intentional Community

Have you ever wondered who Aliquippa Impact rents its building from? Well wonder no longer; it belongs to the Community of Celebration. The row houses near AI also belong to Celebration, which rents out many of them to low income families. According to Bill Farra, Celebration’s primary guardian, their mission is to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ by living in community and offering themselves in service to the Church and to the world. He says, “We are committed to seek and serve Christ and all persons, loving the neighbor as ourselves, to strive for justice and peace among all people, and to respect the dignity of every human being.”

The Community of Celebration’s origin can be traced back to the 1960’s in Houston, Texas. The minister of an Episcopal Church, Church of the Redeemer, and several lay people met to discuss how they could address the needs of the decaying neighborhood. They made a plan to create ministering households and invited their troubled neighbors to live and worship with them. They also helped them find work. As Bill Farra explains, “We became an intentional community. We share everything in common: all of our income, our assets; and we have a common ministry over the years that has changed quite a bit as circumstances, who is in the community, and needs around us have changed.”

In the early 1970’s, the group was invited to come to England and Scotland to see if the approach they started in Houston would be effective at churches there. They stayed there for 13 years until they felt that God was calling them to seek out a more urban area to minister to. Two members left Scotland to search for such a place in the United States. Upon hearing their intentions, the bishop of the Episcopal Church in Pittsburgh invited them to see if any areas in his diocese fit their criteria. After touring Aliquippa, seeing the row houses on Franklin Avenue, and taking note of the city’s needs, they came to the conclusion that this was where God was leading the group.

Arriving in 1985, Celebration has been in Aliquippa for nearly 30 years. Besides renting the row houses out to low income families, the group was also instrumental in starting the Uncommon Grounds Café. In fact, its founders John and Allison Stanley lived among the group for 13 years. The Community of Celebration has partnered with Aliquippa Impact since it first started. For the first three years of the summer program, one of its houses was used to accommodate workers.

Music is also a large part of Celebration’s ministry. They’ve put together several song books and made over 40 recordings of worship music. Because of their connection with music, Farra affirms Aliquippa Impact’s incorporation of the arts in its summer program. Here kids can express their talents in music, photography, and drama. He comments, “They’re always trying to develop and mature gifts that the kids have. It shows respect for them.”

Since Celebration has been in Aliquippa, they have witnessed change in the community. Bill says this of Aliquippa Impact, “I’ve seen the rapport that they have established particularly among the youth of Aliquippa. I know the high profile ministry is the summer camp, and that’s important, but also the mentoring and the one-on-one with kids. I’ve seen some of those kids really make some changes.” He’s seen more kids seeking to be peacemakers rather than feuding.

Bill feels that the Community of Celebration and Aliquippa Impact have a similar view of ministry. He says, “Aliquippa Impact’s approach to ministry in the kind of environment Aliquippa is-very needy-is very much what we aspire to as well. It’s not a ministry of middle class people who live outside the environment, who come and try to do a good thing for the poor people of Aliquippa. They live among the people they minister to and they show deep respect and attribute worth to the people that they are in ministry with. It’s not so much ministry to as ministry with.”

 

 

Not Just What They Do, But Who They Are

Michelle was born and raised in Aliquippa. She lived in Pittsburgh for a few years, but then returned to Aliquippa where she lives with her children, Chad and Margo. When Aliquippa Impact first started out, members handed out fliers and talked to people in their neighborhood, explaining what the organization was. This is how Michelle first learned about AI. Now both of her children are involved in the various programs. Chad participates in youth group, is part of Steve Rossi’s cohort, and meets with a mentor on Fridays. He also attended AI’s summer camp until he reached the age limit. Now his younger sister, Margo, goes to the summer camp and has a mentor of her own.

Michelle’s favorite Aliquippa Impact program is the one-on-one mentoring. She says, “That’s one of the best programs they have. It’s like the Big Brother Big Sister program, except to me its better. It’s more involved. It’s been a blessing for my kids to be a part of that.” She also likes that her children are taught how to respect others. “Home is where they learn this first, but they learn even more about this in the programs.”

What Michelle values most in life are God and her children. She wants Chad and Margo to be secure and have a good education. AI’s programs have given them many opportunities to learn. Chad and Margo get to test out a variety of activities that they never thought they would be interested in. Michelle recalls some of her kids’ favorite activities, from baking and cooking to building handmade airplanes. For Michelle, what makes AI a wonderful ministry is not based solely on the opportunities it provides. She says, “It’s not just the things they do for them, it’s who they are, what they teach my kids.”

Chad is currently a 6th grader at Aliquippa Elementary School. When he’s not shooting hoops with the school’s basketball team, he enjoys riding his bike and being a part of AI’s programs. The best lesson he’s learned so far as part of the cohort is how to set goals for the future. His personal goal is to learn to speak in another language, preferably French.

Chad has been a part of Steve’s cohort for about a year now. He comments, “I like spending time with Mr. Joel and the other Impact people in the cohort.” Michelle agrees, “They are wonderful, great Christian people, trustworthy, and great role models for my son.”

 

   

The Backing of Prayer

Nick Shust has had a connection to Aliquippa since birth. Growing up in a bordering school district, he used to play hockey with friends in Aliquippa. His father, a graduate of Aliquippa High School, would take him to Aliquippa football games and talk of the glory days of the city. Nick grew up loving Aliquippa, at least the Aliquippa he knew. “Every story of Aliquippa that I heard was good (from his father’s glory days). I had no idea of the depths of Aliquippa. I grew up loving Aliquippa but loved what I knew of Aliquippa.” A tour of the city and learning the needs of Aliquippa that AI meets gave him a heart for the current state of Aliquippa and a love for it.

Nick graduated high school with Steve Rossi and grew up attending the same church as Steve and Joel Repic, founder of AI. He moved to Atlanta area in while in college, and still resides there today. He has known about AI from the beginning but did not know much.  As Nick’s relationship with Joel increased, he learned more. Nick and Kim, who have partnered financially with AI since the beginning, started due to “a heart for what Joel is doing and a heart for the city, out of support for my hometown and my friend. As I gained more exposure and saw what was going on and the hope of Jesus that is going on in Aliquippa, it increased my interest and my love.” Nick joined AI’s board of directors last year and is the first long distance member. “I am excited for the opportunity to be more involved in what’s happening and more exposure and to provide whatever I can to support those who are on the street. “

Nick supports AI because “there is always hope in Jesus. Aliquippa needs the hope of Jesus and AI is providing that.”

Nick is excited about the stories he has heard and youth he has seen who have been brought up from the beginning. “Parents are saying that Aliquippa Impact is the reason that their children have an opportunity, that they are where they are today. AI provides opportunities to the kids and has a positive impact on the kids.”

Finally, Nick values the backing of prayer at Aliquippa Impact. “Prayer is a necessity in making AI work and succeed. To see the leadership being aware of that and making prayer a priority; what drives their decisions and vision is what I noticed the most.”

 

   

An Organization That Can Meet You Anywhere

Chris Depner is inspired by the outcome that God creates through Aliquippa Impact. Chris was first introduced to Aliquippa Impact through attending a reception about five years ago held by Amy Sullivan where Joel Repic spoke on who AI is and what AI does. When she heard “the difference between one summer either on the streets or in summer day camp can be the difference between leading a drug-free life or a life-long drug addiction”, she realized the impact that AI has on its community. Chris and her husband, Devin, then began contributing to AI financially. Although her husband Devin, an eye doctor, has an office in Aliquippa, Chris was not aware of the full extent of need in Aliquippa. Her heart was broken when she realized that her next door neighbors were living this way. Being a mother of four and working part-time did not allow for Chris to serve in a capacity that she wanted to (one-to-one mentoring), but she was glad for the opportunity to serve Aliquippa by giving financially to AI. In her words, “Even when I didn’t have time to give, I saw where my money was going.”

Chris was very excited when the opportunity to be involved in school-based mentoring was available to her this year. It is an opportunity to serve that fits into her life schedule. She mentors a third grader and they enjoy playing games and building their relationship. Just showing up and being there can make a huge difference in the lives of the youth, so they know that someone is there who cares about them. Chris feels strongly about wanting to teach kids to use their gifts and resources that God has put in their lives. She feels that we should “use what we have to give back, and this gives me an opportunity to do that.”

Chris loves the stories that come out of AI’s ministry. She is amazed by the growth/outcome from the cohorts. Also, after witnessing the summer day camp program first hand, she is inspired “just to see the hope that comes out of the community, and to see the success that comes out of the programs despite the surroundings.”

Chris values the opportunity that AI gives, both to the youth of Aliquippa and to those who want to serve Aliquippa. “There are many ways to be involved, so many ways to help, from praying, taking a meal to summer staff, to serving as a mentor.” As her life situation changed, she was able to serve in a more extended way. “There is space for everybody. Aliquippa Impact is an organization that can meet you anywhere. There are ways to help no matter what life situation you are in.”

 

   

God Calls Pastor Larry to Ministry

When looking at Larry Bettencourt’s past, it’s apparent that ministry has been a big part of his life. His journey with ministry began his freshman year at Geneva College when he volunteered with Young Life at Blackhawk High School. He was part of Young Life throughout his four years of college where he shared the message of God’s love with teens. After graduation, Larry returned to his home in New Orleans, LA to take up a coaching and swim teaching position. Not long after, he came back to Beaver Falls where he coached football at Geneva College and served as a part-time youth pastor at Concord United Methodist Church in Beaver Falls.

About three years later, Larry became a youth pastor at Victory Christian Fellowship in Cranberry Township. He and his wife Kim remained there for 13 years. Then Larry and Kim felt that God was calling them to start their own ministry. So, they founded Finish Line Ministries, which mentored new youth leaders. God’s call did not stop there. In 2011, Larry and Kim made the decision to return to Chippewa Township and establish Champion Life Church. According to Carrie, Office Manager at Champion Life Church, “Larry felt called to come back to the place where he started his ministry with youth when he was at Geneva.”

Every Sunday, Champion Life Church has a service in Blackhawk High School’s auditorium. The purpose of this non-denominational church is to share the message of God’s love and goodness as well as to encourage others to have a personal relationship with Jesus. Larry and Kim invite people to live spirit-led and faith-filled lives. They envision their church as a place that people can worship comfortably and have fun so people can dress casually.

The church encourages both servant-evangelism and servant-leadership. In particular, they are invested in helping youth so they support local organizations such as Network of Hope and Aliquippa Impact. Carrie says, “We definitely believe in Aliquippa Impact and what they are doing in the community. We love the fact that they are touching the lives of children and youth. This is definitely our heart at Champion Life.”

 

   

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