Joseph Fehlen and the people of South Everett Foursquare Church in Washington, where he and his wife, Christy, have pastored since 2007, are proof positive that you don’t have to have a huge church to have a huge impact on the community. The congregation of approximately 75 has spearheaded some of the most successful community outreach efforts in the city, affecting the area’s most poverty-stricken and at-risk citizens.
Through a non-profit ministry called Start Out Right, the church comes together with local schools, community groups, police and others with a heart for their community to conduct an annual giveaway of backpacks filled with school supplies to the residents of Casino Road—a two-mile stretch of high-density apartments and low-income families. More than 72 percent of the students in the Casino Road neighborhood are classified as low income, according to state statistics.
Department store giant Fred Meyer recently awarded a $10,000 grant to Start Out Right, which Joseph says has been used toward this year’s backpack giveaway this month. The grant, which comes from employee donations, was one of only three given by Fred Meyer to community partnerships in the region.
“We have a clear desire to reach the people on Casino Road,” Joseph told Foursquare.org. “We are doing this through working closely with the apartment owners, school officials, as well as city and state officials. We want to plant ‘missionaries and pastors’ into each and every apartment complex, to help develop healthy communities.”
This is Start Out Right’s third year, and is just one of the ways the people of South Everett Foursquare are influencing their city. The church works closely with Casino Road Ministries—a non-denominational non-profit run by a church member—which offers after-school Bible clubs and homework clubs for Casino Road students.
“We want to encourage, equip and entrust people to do the work God has designed for them in their areas of influence,” says Joseph. “That is how [Start Out Right] started. We had a couple of people who felt they wanted to run with it, and it has grown these last three years.”
The growth has been dramatic, in fact. In 2007, the ministry gave away 217 backpacks filled with school supplies. In 2008, they handed out 1,086. Their goal this year is to give away more than 2,000. Each backpack represents hope, giving students a chance to start the school year with the tools and support they need to succeed.
Start Out Right is making a difference, one life at a time. Joseph tells the story of an encounter at a recent fundraising event, where the non-profit had a school-supply and cash-collection barrel at the local Fred Meyer. Chuck, a member of his church, met a single mother of six who was living in her car.
“She recently was approved to move into an apartment complex we are reaching out to, but was currently homeless,” Joseph explains. “Chuck brought her to our church to give her some food, and on the way back told her about Start Out Right; he wanted to make sure she came by to get some supplies [during the upcoming giveaway]. On the way back to the store, one of her kids wanted to give some money to help other kids with supplies. So she emptied her pockets of her last 11 cents into the donation jar.”