HOW THEY HELP
The Supportive Services program staff of Metropolitan Ministries connects clients with appropriate programs at a variety of agencies and services. Among those:
* Adaptive phone devices for the disabled
* Banking services
* Bathing/personal care
* Clothing distribution
* TennCare/Medicaid screening and application
* Tennessee's CoverKids health insurance
* Disability application screening
* Ex-offender issues
* Families First screening and application
* Food stamps screening and application
* Hispanic issues
* Homemaker services
* Legal screening and consultation
* Angel Food reduced cost groceries
* Meals on Wheels
* Prescription assistance programs
* Reduced cost phone service installation
* Reduced cost monthly phone service
* Respite care
* Safelink free cell phone
* Application for free medical equipment
* Free flu shots
* Free car seats
Metropolitan Ministries is taking its first independent steps, but it's already a veteran pedestrian so the steps are sure-footed.
The nearly 30-year-old agency, formerly known as Episcopal Metropolitan Ministry, recently received its 501c.(3) status, and now answers to a board of directors and -- with additional paperwork -- will be independent in early 2010.
"It was time for it to grow up and quit sleeping on the couch and get out there by itself," said executive director Rebecca Whelchel.
Although the agency provides emergency assistance to people in Southeast Tennessee and North Georgia who need food, shelter, medication and other items, its broader focus is to prevent homelessness, she said.
It does that, Ms. Whelchel said, "by fostering the housing stability of those neighbors we all have who are one payment ahead of being evicted."
For every homeless person, she said, there are 40 to 60 people who are a payment of some sort away from being homeless.
"It's become a significant part of the overall safety net in Chattanooga," said board chairman David Unruh.
Metropolitan Ministries was previously run by the Episcopal Commission of Southeast Tennessee (ECSET), a consortium of 18 Episcopal churches in Southeast Tennessee and Northwest Georgia.
The Rev. Jocelyn Bell, rector at Christ Church Episcopal and chairwoman of ECSET, said the process for the ministry to become independent began several years ago.
"It was a mutual idea," she said. "It needed its own board. It just bubbled out. It had grown like Topsy."
Between 1997 and 2007, Metropolitan Ministries grew from a two-person staff in a cramped three-room rented space at Christ Church to a largely volunteer staff of 25 in a 2,500-square-foot office it owns.
To date in 2009, it has served 7,002 clients, an 8 percent increase over 2008, according to Mr. Unruh. The money it has dispensed to clients is 12 percent higher than last year, he said.
Although it will no longer be under the umbrella of ECSET, the ministry still will be closely associated with the Episcopal Church.
The only thing that will change is that the agency will solicit support from local churches itself instead of that being done by ECSET, Ms. Bell said.
"(Episcopal funds) shouldn't lower in subsequent years," she said.
Ms. Whelchel said Metropolitan Ministries is fortunate to have a blend of national and local and faith-based and non faith-based funding.
Because the agency's focus is on preventing homelessness, for example, it recently received more federal government stimulus funds -- $155,384 covering three years -- than any similar local agency.
Ms. Whelchel said the particular stimulus program, Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Rehousing, offers funds for people "newly marginalized" by a recent job loss.
"Our doors have never closed to clients because we've run out of funds," she said. "And that is only due to the grace and providence of God."
The agency also provides access for clients to more sustainable support from other federal, state and local programs, Ms. Whelchel said.
"There is plenty of need to go around," she said, "and those needs come in huge tangled bundles. What I pray is that each of us in the industry will fortify ourselves and stretch to the very best of abilities."
Clint Cooper is the faith editor and a staff writer for the Times Free Press Life section. He also has been an assistant sports editor and Metro staff writer for the newspaper. Prior to the merger between the Chattanooga Free Press and Chattanooga Times in 1999, he was sports news editor for the Chattanooga Free Press, where he was in charge of the day-to-day content of the section and the section’s design. Before becoming sports ...