A new ministry and mission that aims to help area residents rise above poverty to find wholeness has made its home in Jamestown.
The Open Table Model is a national faith based movement started in 2005 that became a nonprofit in 2007 and that is now utilized in 10 states and 45 cities.
According to Lori Lindsley, church coordinator and director of a Jamestown Open Table, churches in the area became aware of the program via Tapestry, a government organization. There are currently two tables in operation in the Jamestown area, and a third table is in the process of being filled.
Pictured are members of an Open Table group, a mission that attempts to help people rise above poverty. In front from left are: Sandy Ties, Lori Lindsley and Kristen Hoth. In middle from left are: Janet Peterson, Carol Peterson, Lawrence White, Dominic, Belinda Walker, Roy Roman, Lynn Smith. In back from left are: Brett Heinzman, Barb Hungerford and Roy Ferguson.
"The pastors got together and thought that it would be a great way to serve poverty in the Jamestown area," said Lindsley. "It was a different and unique way of doing it different than what has been tried in the past. And, it seems to be successful in the places where it is already in place."
Faith based communities utilize the program to help transform those who are homeless, working poor, veterans, probation and prison re-entry, victims of human trafficking and young adults aging out of foster care.
"These are people who are already in a state of change, and the programs helps because they can't do it on their own until they can be self-sustaining," said Lindsley. "Volunteers commit to meet once a week, for an hour a week, for a year. During the meetings we work with brothers, sisters and families to develop a life plan. They let us know what their goals are for the year, and the table members work together with them to achieve those goals that they set."
The goals must be realistic ones that can be accomplished within a year's time. For Lawrence White and Belinda Walker, brother and sister of a Jamestown Open Table, that goal is to earn a GED.
"To help them accomplish that goal we have teachers on the table that are tutoring them," said Lindsley. "We're also helping them complete a budget so that they may become financially self-sustaining. They also just got jobs through a grant program because they were on assistance. And, we're helping them to get their driver's license. We don't do things for them, we teach them how to do it themselves and we help them along the way."
There is an extensive process of selection of brothers and sisters that starts with a referral. So far, referrals have come from Community Helping Hands and Tapestry. The selection process includes a criminal background check, litigation check, a drug screening and an FBI fingerprint check. However, the results don't usually deter selection, rather it gives the members of the table an idea of what they are dealing with.
"It's so that we can help them in the best way possible," said Lindsley. "A lot of people can be embarrassed and not want to tell what their background is. But, they sign releases and are an open book so we know everything there is to know about them. That way if there are any charges against them we try to work on those and help them get fines paid."
The Open Table Model is designed for the brothers and sisters to be joined by members of the group around an actual table. The brothers and sisters then have access to volunteer members who focus on the following categories: director or co-directors, finance, occupation and education, housing, healthcare, youth, children and family, transportation and insurance, accelerators, and journey coaches.
"The working poor do not have the connections that we have, and if we lost our jobs tomorrow we have a rolodex of contacts that they do not," said Lindsley. "So, we use our contacts from other churches, who we work together with, to help our brothers and sisters. A lot of times the brothers and sisters have been helped so much that they turn around and sit on a table to help somebody else. We are blessed by helping people. We get us much out of it as the brother and sister do."
Those who are interested in either becoming a brother or sister, or volunteering on an Open Table, can call Lindsley at 985-4179 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Volunteers who wish to serve on a table, and brothers and sisters, are not required to follow faith based practices. Lindsley said she would not turn anyone away who wishes to serve, all they need is a willing heart.
"The benefit to serving on a table is making a difference in someone's life by being the hands and feet of Jesus, ," said Lindsley. "We have brothers and sisters in line waiting for a table, but I don't have enough tables to go around. People complain about the need to get people off welfare, well this is a way to do it. There are people out there who don't want to be on welfare, but they don't have the resources to get a job that will support themselves. There are also people out there who don't want to change, and we can't help them because they have to want to change."
The churches currently represented by table members include: Busti Church of God, Christ First United Methodist, Levant Wesleyan Church, Park United Methodist Church, Jamestown Free Methodist Church, Kiantone Congregational Church, Bemus Point United Methodist Church and Zion Covenant Church.
For more information on the national program visit www.theopentable.org.