New Bethany Ministries – Hope Blooms
Over 30 years ago, in 1982, several churches in Bethlehem’s Southside collaborated to form a shared worship and social ministry. Recognizing a community need for support services for homeless families and individuals, the churches, which included First United Church of Christ, Cathedral Church of the Nativity, Holy Ghost Roman Catholic, St. Peter’s Evangelical Lutheran, and Fritz Memorial United Methodist created a thrift shop and soup kitchen, provided mentoring and counseling services, and offered rental and housing assistance programs.
In time, this group of concerned clergy evolved into an informal group, the Program Committee, which worked to establish connections with local, county and state agencies, local benefactors and politicians to gain financial support. After collecting data from a short-term housing pilot program in collaboration with the Southeast Neighborhood Center, the group applied for and was awarded a $75,000 Community Development Block grant that allowed the group to expand its pilot program.
Partnering with the Episcopal Diocese of Bethlehem, which owned a group of buildings on the corner of Fourth and Wyandotte streets, the Program Committee and Diocese began construction on nine family units to house and provide services for homeless families, and in August 1985, the organization was christened “New Bethany Ministries” – appropriate, because “Bethany” is Hebrew for “house of refuge.”
Decades have passed, and this Southside Bethlehem nonprofit has provided refuge to over 100,000 people, according to its current executive director, Diane Elliott. In the past 30 years, the organization has operated a furniture store, provided several different programs to provide housing for singles and families, created the Mollard Hospitality Center, assisted clients through an Employability Program, provided immediate food assistance through its Emergency Pantry, and continually worked to acquire and convert more properties to provide housing and other services to those in need.
“We’ve seen a real change in our clients over the years,” says Brandy Garofalo, deirector of the Mollard Hospitality Center. “When I came here [16 years ago], our clients were generally older men. Now, we see so many different faces.
“Now our clients are in their twenties and thirties. They have mental health and drug and emotional issues. It’s more work, because there are different emotional needs, and the clients have different interactions with each other, but as they change, my role also changes, as I adjust to their needs and what I can provide them.
“People need to understand that the homeless and hungry people aren’t cliché. They’re as diverse a population as any other. Some have lost their jobs and want to work, but can’t find jobs. Others may have a sudden onset of a mental health issue.
“And you need at least $18 an hour to afford a place to live in the area,” Garofalo says. “We have plenty of working poor – in fact there’s a large number of elderly clients who come to us for help.”
To put things in perspective, 2013 saw a 336 percent increase in the elderly population utilizing the food pantry. “2014 saw an additional 40 percent increase, but now it appears to be leveling out,” Elliott says.
“We aren’t sure if it’s a long term trend that’s starting to level off or decrease, but it’s still not making up the 15 – 20 percent increase of clients who do need to come to our food pantry for assistance,” she says.
“It would be great if the trend continues to decline,” says Elliott, “because my goal is to make New Bethany Ministries obsolete.”
Kate Cohen, New Bethany Ministries’ director of development, joined the organization in July 2015 and has been instrumental in identifying needs and also planning the 30th Anniversary Celebration set for Friday, March 18, at 6 p.m., in the Butz Lobby at Lehigh University’s Zoellner Arts Center.
In addition to music provided by two music groups, DJ Cedric Hickerson, and recorded piano music by former client John Machell in his memory, the evening also features a silent auction and a sneak preview by Board of Directors President Roland Kushner of the ministry’s future plans.
Three current clients are also sharing their experiences: Kemisha, a participant of the Restoration House Program; Tommy, who’s been helped by both the Representative Payee Program and Single-Room Occupancy Program; and Connor, another beneficiary of the Representative Payee Program.
Planning for this celebration began in mid-fall, Cohen says, and the “Hope Blooms” theme was designed to invite everyone in the community to learn about and partner with New Bethany Ministries.
“[The celebration] is a wonderful opportunity for us to engage in our partnership with the community,” Cohen says.
The organization hopes that at least 100 people attend to show their support for the Ministries’ work. Tickets can be purchased online at www.newbethanyministries.org or by texting “blooms” to 41444.
Executive Director Diane Elliott and her staff have big plans for this house of refuge.
“I’d like to purchase more property so we can expand affordable housing,” Elliott says. “And I want us to evolve into an organization where we can make people healthy holistically – where our clients can get all the services they need under one roof.
“We are starting to see that happen now. We have a medical clinic two times a month, and we’re developing a ‘mental health wish list’ and identifying other services that area residents need.
“The latest estimates suggest that there are at least 70,000 food insecure people living in the Lehigh Valley,” Elliott says. “I think that number’s too low, but we just don’t know.
“I have a vision that we’ll provide healthy food for everyone – and we’re already working with the supply chain, from farmers to the people we serve.”
New Bethany’s expansion continues as work has already started on a recently acquired property that will provide additional living space allowing families to stay together while they work to improve their situations and another home just a few doors down that will eventually house the emergency food pantry and provide additional single room residences.
Elliott says the plan is to move the community room into the current emergency food pantry room and use it as a space to foster the talents of the people they serve.
She envisions offering classes in painting, music, and other talents her clients have that need nurturing. Elliott mentions a program, “What I want my words to do,” a documentary that features Eve Ensler, who conducts writing workshops for female inmates at a state prison in New York.
“I would love to do something like that here,” Elliott says, “where our clients can write about and share lessons learned and their experiences.
“Ultimately, I’d love to have an event that showcases their talents,” she says.
Meanwhile, New Bethany has partnered with Fig Bethlehem, a hyper-local guide to shopping, dining, arts and entertainment that partners with one community organization per year to help unpack what the organization offers, share its needs with the community, and provide publicity. The publication will begin featuring information about New Bethany Ministries beginning March 15.