Chatham COA, Habitat reaching out to faith community

Posted 8/23/19

Surveys and data routinely show that people who are religiously-affiliated in some way are more likely to make a charitable donation than those who are not.

Seeking not only to raise funds and get …

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Chatham COA, Habitat reaching out to faith community

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Surveys and data routinely show that people who are religiously-affiliated in some way are more likely to make a charitable donation than those who are not.

Seeking not only to raise funds and get volunteers but to also offer their own services to those in need, two Chatham County nonprofits — the Chatham Council on Aging and Chatham Habitat for Humanity — have recently held events focused on members of faith communities.

Within an eight-day stretch from Aug. 8-15, Chatham Habitat held two focus groups for members of faith communities and the COA hosted a clergy summit to meet those goals.

The clergy summit, held Aug. 12 in Pittsboro, was part of the Chatham County Aging Plan 2018-2023, and according to Dennis Streets, the COA’s executive director, the event will hopefully springboard future partnerships.

“We really don’t have a lot of businesses — there are some like Mountaire — but one of the prominent resources in our community is the church community, the faith community,” Streets said. “So not only is it a matter of looking to them for resources but we also know that they’re having to fill a lot of needs and trying to address things themselves. I think that partnership is critical to the seniors and the families that we’re trying to serve.”

According to the Giving USA Special Report on Giving to Religion, 62 percent of religious households give to charity of any kind, including religious congregations, compared to 46 percent of households with no religious affiliation. Blaise Mercadante, a summer intern with the COA and Duke Divinity School student, said that’s reflective of many of those individuals’ faith and aligns with the mission of many charities.

“Both the faith community and nonprofits are focused on improving the quality of life for everybody in the community, but particularly for those people who are underserved,” Mercadante said. “More than anything else, they are the ones who bring a sense of care, a sense of belief, that what they’re doing is for the benefit of the people they’re serving.”

The elderly population is a particularly growing one that will need more assistance in the near future in Chatham. The county is projected to have the third-fastest rate of aging in the state by 2030 and be the fourth-oldest county in the state in regards to proportion of older adults. Chatham was eighth-oldest in 2010.

Streets said faith groups already play a big role in the COA’s work, whether it’s helping with Meals on Wheels, volunteering to help with home improvement projects or simply donating financially. He hopes to repay the favor by making churches and religious organizations aware of what the COA can offer to aging congregants.

“A lot of us will need some assistance,” Streets said. “We’d look for family and friends, but we may also look for the church, and then we might look to human service agencies. Again, it’s together that we would help someone.”

While working on planning the Clergy Summit, Mercadante met with Rachel Horowitz, the volunteer program manager at Chatham Habitat, which was founded by St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church in Pittsboro. Habitat for Humanity has a Christian-based history and founding, and Chatham Habitat already has established faith partnerships in the community.

The organization runs a campaign every year called “Apostle Build” to bring together churches and faith groups to build a house. But Horowitz, who is Jewish, wanted to expand the playing field and be more inclusive.

“From the beginning, we’ve had these faith connections with different groups in the community,” she said. “It was important to be to re-frame something that was inclusive of people of any faiths.”

Chatham Habitat is going to kick off a new campaign in January called “Raising Faith.” The goal is to raise $30,000 to use for building homes in Siler City and Habitat’s New Roberts Run neighborhood in Pittsboro. But at the same time, Horowitz said, the nonprofit is seeking to build a more robust Habitat.

To do that, they hosted focus groups on Aug. 8 and Aug. 15 to gather feedback from community members and religious leaders about what’s worked in the past and what they hope to see in the future.

“I think that our faith connections are a very, very important part of what we do, and I think pastors and other faith leaders are looking for clear information that they can give to their congregation,” Horowitz said. “We wanted insight on how to re-frame our faith partnerships to be more inclusive.”

Both Horowitz and Mercadante said they hope these partnerships continue to expand. After all, they say, no one group can do it alone.

“Pastors are focused on their congregation,” Mercadante said. “They’re trained theologically, they’re not trained socially. Hopefully this is a way to broaden for pastors their understanding of the community, and also bring pastors together and pastors together with the not-for-profits.”

Reporter Zachary Horner can be reached at zhorner@chathamnr.com or on Twitter at @ZachHornerCNR.

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