Growing in Faith

Starting from a tiny office in a church building to now occupying several rooms in another church, the shared ministry of Faith in Action Caregivers Inc. has expanded and grown tremendously in 19 years.

Staff and volunteers of Faith in Action are settling into the nonprofit organization’s new home in spacious quarters on the third floor of St. John’s Lutheran Church’s education building at 38 N. Fourth St. in Martins Ferry. Previously, the agency’s office was located in Wheeling.

Faith in Action officials held an open house at its new site and conducted a dedication service in mid-February to mark the agency’s new beginnings and its cooperative relationship with St. John’s Lutheran, a longtime member congregation of the organization. Faith in Action remains a West Virginia nonprofit corporation, now operating in Ohio.

As the group’s name indicates, volunteers from faith communities put their faith in action by providing a wide variety of free services to older adults and people with disabilities in Ohio, Marshall and Belmont counties.

Founded in 1995 with a coalition of faith congregations, Faith in Action operated for six months in a corner of the Greater Wheeling Council of Churches office at the Methodist Building. When Altenheim Retirement Home opened a resource center building in Wheeling, Faith in Action Caregivers moved to the new facility in October 1995 and rented office space there for 18 years.

However, when Altenheim officials announced plans last May to raze the resource center building and construct residential cottages on the property, Faith in Action began searching for a new site. Ultimately, Faith in Action’s board accepted an invitation from St. John’s church council to utilize the entire third floor of its education building. Faith in Action moved its office to St. John’s in November.

“St. John’s Lutheran Church has opened their doors to Faith in Action Caregivers. They were able to see that their unused Sunday school rooms could once again be filled with activity by inviting Faith in Action to locate their offices in the church,” said Jeanette L. Wojcik, executive director.

“We are grateful to the congregation for having this vision,” she commented. “Working together with the church, Faith in Action Caregivers will be able to impact the independence of our elderly and disabled neighbors for many years.”

Discussing the new relationship with Faith in Action, the Rev. Phillip Van Dam, pastor of St. John’s Lutheran, said, “I think it is an opportunity for us to do ministry. Obviously, there are many ways to do ministry, and this is one more opportunity to do ministry in the community.”

Van Dam also thinks the caregivers’ office is a good fit for the church. “We really weren’t doing much with this third floor. It means that a resource or asset we had is not just sitting here being unused. It can be used for a ministry,” he remarked.

Noting the region’s older population that is served by both Faith in Action and St. John’s, Wojcik said. “I think it’s very appropriate that we’re here in the church.” St. John’s third floor offers “plenty of space, and it’s been good for us,” she added.

Wojcik commented, “I hope we’ll be good stewards of the resources here. We’ve been very blessed.”

Some of the former Sunday school rooms now serve as individual offices for Faith in Action staff, while other rooms are used for storage. A large room provides space for storing items and for conducting volunteer training sessions.

During the transition, volunteers spent approximately 400 hours cleaning, painting and moving the office, Wojcik said. Board members, advisory council members, staff, friends and residents and staff from the Children’s Home of Wheeling moved boxes and small furniture to St. John’s. A moving company was hired to move the larger furniture and file cabinets.

Speaking at the dedication service, the Rev. John Brandenburg, board president, called on Faith in Action representatives “to live out the mission of God in our community.” He commented, “God has a message for us to continue the work He has given us to do, here in this place.”

Brandenburg told the staff, “You, too, are the light of the world in this place. God has chosen you for this ministry.” He urged staff members “to do the work of your God right here and right now in this place” and observed that “the work of this mission can be your clarion call.”

Faith in Action has grown steadily over the past 19 years, with an ever-increasing number of care recipients being helped by volunteer caregivers.

Trained volunteers began to provide caregiving services to residents of Ohio and Marshall counties in September 1995. The organization expanded its services to include residents of Belmont County in 1997.

In 2013, the organization served 1,858 people in the tri-county area, with volunteer caregivers providing more than 15,400 hours of service, Wojcik said. Faith in Action ended the year with 247 active volunteer caregivers, she added.

Typical services include escorted transportation to medical appointments, shopping, errands, chores, friendly visiting, telephone reassurance and respite for family caregivers. Strong for Life, a home-based exercise program, and apartment cleaning projects at area high-rise complexes also are offered. “All services are provided without charge regardless of the income level of the receiver,” Wojcik said.

In addition to the executive director, Faith in Action employs two coordinators of caregiving ministries, a secretary and a part-time special projects coordinator.

Its operations are financed through proceeds from fundraising projects and contributions from individuals, congregations, businesses and foundations. The organization’s biggest fundraiser is its annual triathlon and duathlon, set for Saturday, July 12, on the campus of Wheeling Jesuit University.

Faith in Action Caregivers was organized by a steering committee that began meeting in the fall of 1994, when the bishops of the Roman Catholic, Episcopal, United Methodist and Evangelical Lutheran churches in West Virginia issued a pastoral letter, “Health and Wellness in Our Time.”

The letter challenged congregations to work with others to establish ministries of interfaith volunteer caregiving in communities throughout the Mountain State.

The Rev. John Shaffer, who was then serving at St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church in Wheeling, led the local steering committee of clergy and laity.

The initial group reached out to other congregations in the community, formed a board of directors, received nonprofit designation and, by March 1995, hired Wojcik as executive director of the new organization.