Article and photo by Sarah Thompson, Urban Alliance’s Director of Communications & Volunteer Mobilization.
Fifteen years ago, Gillian Hunter’s life looked very different. Faced with a number of personal challenges while raising her children, she searched for somewhere to find connection. Little did she know that when she walked through the doors of Victory Church she’d be taking a small step that would impact every area of her life.
“I started going to Victory back in 2004. It took me a while to not be shy but once I started doing more groups and started talking to people, actually getting to know them and finding out their stories, I began finding who I was as well,” she shared.
Victory Church, whose humble roots began with three people meeting in a living room, is now the church home in Middlefield, Connecticut for nearly a thousand.
“Relationships are the most important part of what we do,” explained Mel Tavares, Pastoral Assistant at Victory.
Tavares works closely with Charles Mitchell, Director of Outreach Ministries at Victory, to oversee the church’s offering of a broad range of resources and help to anyone who needs it.
“It’s not that they need help, it’s that we all need help,” Tavares explained. “I don’t know that there’s one of us that hasn’t needed something at some point in time. We’ve all had something happen where we’ve needed care or physical resources or something.”
Mitchell added, “Personal relationships are so important. If you don’t have a relationship, most of the time people hold back because of the shame they feel for not having what they need. At Victory, we foster compassion and generosity and kindness. When people sense that, they’re more apt to open up and tell you more of their personal needs. And then, we go and fulfill those needs as best as we can.”
Over the years, Hunter has relied on these very relationships to get her through some of the toughest chapters of her life.
“I’ve been through DivorceCare, because I got divorced a few years ago,” she shared. “It helped me in knowing that I could be by myself and not worry.”
She added, “For a while I was out of work. I live with my mom now and we’re on Section 8. I’ve only recently within the past month gotten a job as a server and servers don’t get paid a lot. We need to function on our tips.”
Knowing the challenges she was facing, Tavares reached out to Hunter and invited her to participate in a recent CT Money School financial literacy workshop at Victory.
“It helped me to know the difference between what I value and what may not be as important to me. It helped me know the difference between wants and needs,” shared Hunter.
“Training for CT Money School and grant funding for childcare [for workshop participants] came through Urban Alliance,” explained Tavares. “Every participant said they got enough out of it that it would be life changing.”
And, Hunter received even more than financial guidance that day.
“We had accessed the World Vision Essential Supply Program through Urban Alliance’s support and had picked up three heaters and some other prizes we could give away as door prizes,” said Tavares. “Gillian got a heater. She just moved to a new apartment and said that she needed a heater in her bedroom. It was so sweet to be able to offer that.”
“It was actually an answer to prayer,” shared Hunter. “I was saving for a space heater for the winter because we are trying to not put our main heat on to save on our electric bill. And now the money that I was saving for the heater can go to something else, like the china hutch I’m saving for.”
In addition to supplies, Urban Alliance has provided training and toolkits to help Victory strengthen their community programs and connect the people they serve to resources based on their needs.
“When we come to Urban Alliance, we get the training, the equipment, the resources, and we do a lot with those,” explained Tavares. “We have the community resource table out several times a week. We had it set up at the CT Money School workshop and we talked through the resources, like making sure people could access heat assistance, making sure they had SNAP benefits if they are eligible, basic budgeting and ways to save money and stretch the dollar.”
Mitchell added, “The resource table coming from Urban Alliance has served a really great purpose because the information that’s there might not be seen out in the community. It puts another layer of the foundation underneath their feet. When they come into the church we help them build that foundation and once they utilize these resources, they have another layer of a foundation to stand on, which helps them in their own stability in their lives.”
“My mom likes getting farm fresh vegetables and the resource table has lists of farmers markets and times. It also has lists of food pantries, so when we need something a little extra toward the end of the month we are able to know where we need to go,” shared Hunter.
And for Tavares, Hunter’s story is much like her own.
“I’ve been on both ends of the spectrum, both sides of desk,” she shared. “For a lot of years, I’ve always been the person resourcing someone else, but there was a period of time when I found myself as a single mom and homeless, and needing a lot of resources. It was hard to accept them. But now I know that sometimes a seemingly very small thing is going to make a huge difference. That’s why I’m doing the CT Money School workshops. That’s why I work the resource table. That’s why I go out into the streets and share with people and we give little resource bags. My heart is to resource people. If they’re grieving and they just can't reach God’s full potential for their lives because they’re grieving, let’s work with that. Let’s help them. The purpose of that is so they can become whole and then they can help others. We’re equipping them, we’re resourcing them, we’re counseling them all so they can then be whole and go be who they were created to be.”
Mitchell added, “I was one of those people who had basic needs. Who needed to be saved. Who needed resources because I came out of a life where I didn’t have a silver spoon. I know what it’s like to have to utilize resources such as these. Someone gave me a chance, so the only thing I know to do today is to give back. In my earlier life I took so much and today because I’ve been given so much, now I just want to be giving back. It’s a personal compassion that I have. I’m a beneficiary of someone else’s grace.”
It’s this very value of paying it forward that fuels Victory’s basic needs ministry.
“Once a person’s needs are met then hopefully they can take someone else’s needs and bring it to the forefront and then they can be the spearhead for the next person going forward,” shared Mitchell.
Tavares added, “We are now training a team of people to be well-versed in all of the different aspects of the resource table. One of our biggest components of outreach is pastoral care and counseling. A lot of people are getting counseling services now because we are acquiring support from Urban Alliance. We’re going to train volunteer staff who have a background in counseling so we will be able to expand how many people we can serve each month.”
For Hunter, with a firm foundation of love and support under her feet, she looks forward to making even more positive strides toward her future while helping others along the way.
“I’ve been helped out so much that it would be good to give back and be able to help somebody else who is in need, to relate with somebody who has a similar issue or story,” she shared. “I’d let them know that they’re not alone. They have somebody who can understand and who can help.”
“What would be the point of a story if it wasn’t being told and we weren’t being used to help others?” asked Tavares. “We have a million people in our catch basin area and whether it’s a physical need or emotional need, it’s going to take all of us working together.”
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Urban Alliance has five initiatives—Beyond the Basics, Revitalize, Charis, Next Generation and Thrive—to partner with churches and organizations around identified needs in the community. Click here to learn more.
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