Restoring a Safe Haven
“The youth in our community really have no place to call a safe haven,” says Patricia Sealy, pastor of Mott Haven Reformed Church in the Bronx, New York. “It’s been a burning desire of mine to have that happen again at our church.”
Mott Haven used to be a community center for youth, Sealy says, with a bowling alley, a pool table, and lots of activities. But that hasn’t been the case in recent years, and Mott Haven wants to recover that ministry through a new partnership.
Sealy was introduced to a nonprofit called New Life of New York City by a young woman who was teaching a drama class for neighborhood youth at the church. The woman mentioned Mott Haven’s desire for a youth program to her friend Efrain Figueroa, executive director of New Life.
As it turned out, New Life was looking for a church just like Mott Haven. “They already partner with a church in Manhattan, in Queens, and in Brooklyn—three of the five boroughs in New York—and they’re looking for a church to partner with in the Bronx,” says Sealy.
New Life’s work with the youth of the city immediately resonated with the congregation. “This is a faith-based organization dedicated to providing support and care to at-risk youth in under-served communities,” says Sealy. “Through relationship building and programs, their goal is to reclaim youth from the violence and destruction of the streets and to introduce them to a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
"They’re very missional in what they do. When they establish a tie in the community, they send people into that community to work, to develop relationships with the youth in the community.
“Wherever they find the youth hanging out, they hang out and develop relationships with them.
“Then they invite them to come and participate in the various programs and in the Club [youth worship service] experience, with the goal of introducing these youth to Jesus Christ and having them form a relationship with the Lord.”
Figueroa visited Mott Haven to see the facility, and he and Sealy began to discuss what a partnership would look like. The details are still being ironed out, but both Mott Haven and New Life are excited by the possibilities.
Mott Haven already has space in mind for the ministry: the church’s parish house, which housed the youth center years ago. The church rents out the main floor to a school for special-needs kids, but the basement is not in use; Mott Haven has been floating ideas for the unused space for several years.
Needs going forward
The basement needs to be completely renovated, since the building is more than 100 years old. The floor, ceiling, stairs, and walls all need to be replaced, as does the electrical wiring. The bathrooms and kitchen need to be gutted and brought up to code, and the basement needs to be made handicap accessible. The estimated cost for renovation work and required city permits is more than $200,000.
Mott Haven is working with an architect and engineer to assess which permits the church will need to obtain for the renovation work. Sealy says any construction work in the city faces a lot of regulatory issues, but the architect will help them determine how get through the process as smoothly as possible.
New Life already has a donor who wants to help get a Bronx location up and running. The donor could help with some of the renovation costs, but Sealy would like the RCA to have a financial stake, too. “I would like for this to be a true partnership, where the RCA would put in money and they would put in money,” she says.
They’re also hoping to have some of the renovation work done through RCA Volunteer Engagement. It would cut costs significantly, though the work would still have to be supervised by a licensed New York contractor.
“Hopefully, prayerfully, we’ll be able to have an impact on the lives of not only youth, but on the community,” says Sealy. “This is a wonderful opportunity for this church to reach out and touch more people in this community, starting with youth and children and being able to build from there.”
New Life of New York City was started in 1973 by Bo Nixon, a former gang leader who was able to turn his life around because of a man who’d committed to develop relationships with troubled teens and share God’s love with them. After his life was transformed, Nixon felt called to continue the same kind of Christian outreach to inner-city youth.
Need help connecting with the neighborhood around your church? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Check out current volunteer opportunities through RCA Volunteer Engagement:www.rca.org/volunteer.
Pray for Mott Haven and New Life as they finalize their partnership and begin connecting with youth in the Bronx. Pray for young people in your community, too.