The Episcopal Church Grant Report: SewGreen@Rochester Empowers Neighbors through Craft (Part 2)

Diocese of Rochester
July 12, 2016
By: 
Christopher Sikkema

This is the second in a series of posts about SewGreen@ Rochester (SGR), in the Episcopal Diocese of Rochester, New York. Read Part 1 here.

SewGreen@ Rochester, recipient of a 2015 Domestic Poverty Grant, has submitted their annual report. The $30,000 grant, awarded last year, exists to engage Episcopalians in ministry among the economically impoverished in the United States, to provide the opportunity to the marginalized to overcome chronic adversities, to challenge unjust structures that perpetuate the cycle of poverty and to inspire the wider church to more deeply engage with the poor. Their six-month report, detailed here, explains their progress through February 2016.

Part 2: Challenges in Ministry

Anyone who has started a new ministry or 

Episcopal Poverty Grant Sewing Classretooled an existing ministry is familiar with some of the many challenges that come along with the work. Every great success represents the understanding and addressing of setbacks, from scheduling to clientele to finances and everything in between. An attitude of reliance on the Holy Spirit and a belief that “all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28, NRSV) are instrumental in overcoming adversity while setting up these ministries. As you will read below, SewGreen@ Rochester, like all ministries, has had challenges relating to their context and mission—and they have worked admirably to overcome them.

Establishing Programming

Deacon Georgia Carney, the director of SewGreen@ Rochester, has found it helpful to work with other non-profit colleagues in dealing with challenges. The issue of scheduling classes and informational sessions that will be both exciting for the instructor and instructive and interesting for the student was and is extremely important for gaining traction—though it is rarely a simple and straightforward process. She explains, “I was commiserating with a friend who coordinates [classes] … on how difficult it is to predict which classes will draw students, no matter how excited I may be about the topic. She laughed and said that it was ‘like betting on horses!’”

Indeed, market research and community polling, while very important, can only get a person so far. It cannot be overstated that sometimes, a ministry or class or series will be sparsely attended, or financially insolvent, or be generally unsustainable for any number of reasons, or what feels like no reason at all. While this can certainly be painful, SewGreen has adopted a model of servant leadership that allows for reflection, engagement, and nimbleness. Their modus operandi put simply is: “We don’t give up. We keep on learning and offering the best ideas we can, letting go when it doesn’t work, and listening to our folks to find out where their interests lie and what class schedules will work with their busy lives.”

Understanding the Clientele

As noted in the earlier article, there is a world of good happening at SewGreen@ Rochester. In addition to classes like Sewing Machine 101 and My Favorite Monster Camp, SGR also offers open hours that have proven exceptionally popular. To date, 191 people have signed up to use open workshop time, giving them access to several sewing machines, a serger, and industrial iron, prep tables, other tools, and an instructor on-hand for guidance upon request.

Episcopal Poverty Grant SewGreen Rochester Opening

All sorts of people cross the threshold of SewGreen to take advantage of these offerings; many clients participate in intergenerational family sewing, and many others simply visit to complete their own projects. Some, however, visit because they are “working to stitch their lives together.” These include neighbors who are working through numerous issues, including post-traumatic stress disorder, poverty, depression, abusive relationships, bankruptcy, and a host of other situations. Deacon Carney mentions that she was curious about what leads people fighting such important battles to take up sewing, knitting, and crocheting. A social worker friend theorized that “focusing on a task like sewing is emotionally self-regulating and this self-regulation gives positive energy and a sense of control, which can have a positive effect on overall life quality.”

Whatever the reason, a great variety of people, with their gifts and joys and struggles, are able to find a place at SewGreen. The challenge, of course, is in helping each person find a way to become successful at their chosen task. Deacon Carney explains that, sometimes, a good dose of understanding and planning are necessary. For example, though the workshop tends to be fairly quiet and calm, it can be noisy and stressful at times, leading to frustration from some learners. When that situation arises, the staff make available another area of the shop that is more hospitable to those who require more concentration.

Financing the Ministry

As is always the case, financing a new or retooled ministry can present a challenge. At SewGreen, though staffed by extremely dedicated volunteers, there is a recognition that “The laborer deserves to be paid” (1 Timothy 5:18). Being able to pay staff so committed to the ministry is a part of SGR’s long term goals, but that comes with the understanding that, in the beginning, even covering basic costs can be hard. It is important to note that, though they don’t cover 100% of expenses yet, revenue is growing.

In order to get meet the goal of financial wellbeing, the leadership has undertaken a few specific strategies:

  • Offering an Internship: Leaders at Episcopal Poverty Grant Rochester SewGreen ClassSewGreen@ Rochester researched opportunities offered by their city and state for youth internships and were lucky enough to find a great match. Their intern, who provides the shop with 30 hours per week of valuable work and service, is being paid through RochesterWorks, a regional employment and training initiative.
  • Leveraging Community Resources: Grant-writing is an important strategy for realizing immediate infusions of resources. By researching which grants are available from regional, national, and non-profit agencies, ministry leaders were able to plan and produce a workable budget. This, combined with a spectacular and well-written grant application, was among the reasons they were awarded a 2015 Domestic Poverty Grant from The Episcopal Church. Additionally, SewGreen takes advantage of community institutions like the Finger Lakes Area Community Endowment, which offers fund management for regional charities.
  • Charging Class Fees: SewGreen charges $10 per class at their shop, though the fee is negotiable. Combined with their retail sales, this income helps keep the ministry financially sustainable.
  • Requesting Church Support: Along with the grant from The Episcopal Church, local parishes have financially supported the ministry with over $1,500.

Despite their challenges, SewGreen@ Rochester is on solid footing. The work is rarely easy, and to undertake it requires a firm attitude of faith and conviction. Deacon Carney, describing her hopes for long-term sustainability and community revitalization, explains, “I feel confident about negotiating another year’s lease this fall, and continuing to learn more about running a business and being a good steward of the resources which have been provided for us.”

This is the second in a four-part series about SewGreen@ Rochester, recipient of a 2015 Domestic Poverty Grant from The Episcopal Church. Check back tomorrow to read about some of the many successes along SewGreen’s journey.

For more information, visit Domestic Poverty Ministries at http://www.episcopalchurch.org/page/domestic-poverty-ministries and like and follow Jubilee and Domestic Poverty Ministries on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/episcopaljubilee/ and Twitter at https://twitter.com/Matthew2537.