By Stan Friedman
OAKLAND, CA (October 2, 2013) — An independent website that links to news stories involving the Oakland Police Department contains one item after another about criminals being sought, criminals being caught, crime statistics, and the victims who make up those statistics.
But one post linked to a different kind of story. It highlighted the work of First Covenant Church of Oakland and the congregation’s Serve Week, which included making major improvements to the Police Athletic League Camp as well as 14 other projects.
Located in the area hills, the camp is used by police to connect with disadvantaged youth from the city. The camp includes cabins, volleyball and basketball courts, and shower facilities, but they’re in poor condition. On Saturday, roughly 50 volunteers from the church weeded and removed intrusive plants, cleaned the bathrooms, and worked on the cabins.
The reporter referred to the church as having “an evangelical but open message,” referring to the stereotype that those terms are mutually exclusive.
“Evangelicals are often perceived as narrow-minded and inward focused,” said associate pastor Calvin Ho. “Serve Week is something with visibility that will help educate the public about who we are as a church and our involvements in the community.”
First Covenant wanted the community to see that “the church has the greatest reason to serve—we are motivated by God’s acceptance of us in Jesus to love and serve the city around us.”
Serve Week was held September 21–28. Most of the 322 people who volunteered more than 1,000 hours to 15 projects were from the church, said Ho.
Projects included setting up a guided reading library at an elementary school, helping non-native English speakers practice job interviews, and sorting clothes and food at area nonprofits.
Different groups within the congregation sponsored projects. The middle school, for example, sponsored the camp cleanup project.
Many of the projects also were a means for the church to come alongside members who already were involved in helping others. “There are many hidden heroes who pour themselves out into tutoring neighborhood kids and teaching English to immigrants and serving meals to homeless,” Ho said. “They are not recognized in our church on a regular basis. But we have new folks who want to serve and come to ask the pastors how they can help. As their pastors, we feel a strong urge to give these hidden heroes more visibility and also send them people. Serve Week is the perfect opportunity to do that.”
Church member Vincent Tolliver, who is a teacher at Skyline High School, said he was thrilled that others from the congregation would paint the school. “I am proud of my church—that a church would come in and actually do something in the school.”
Ho said the experience fostered new friendships among congregation members and possible new partnerships with other nonprofits.