There are many hands-on opportunities to get involved in mission at First United. Some take a regular commitment and some are short-term projects. Our Fourth Sunday collections, when all loose offerings are directed to an outside group, help with a specific project or agency. If you’re interested in joining any of the efforts listed below, you can find out more at this link.
Taking action: Sometimes peace vigils are held on the steps of the church, or people involved in a social justice issue will travel to Springfield or even Washington, D.C., to meet with legislators and work for a specific cause. For information on these or any other mission projects, contact a co-chair of the Faith in Action Committee, John Chapman-Reinstra or Lois Thiessen Love, or talk to any of the members of the committee. Here are some of the committee’s action teams:
Environmental Justice: This team concentrates on helping First United become a waste-free building. We have purchased sets of recycling/composting bins, and we lead periodic hands-on demonstrations of correct recycling and composting procedures. Our large bins are used with the Housing Forward overnight shelters and for large church-wide events. The team works closely with the Interfaith Green Network, a local group of about 16 churches that collaborates on issues of clean energy, waste reduction, native gardens, and environmental justice for poor and disenfranchised people. We have been advocates of the Future Energy Jobs Act at the state level and the Plastic Bag Ban at the local level. Contact Jim Babcock.
Housing: The Housing Justice Team partners with others to eliminate homelessness and help individuals and families achieve housing stability. Our projects use volunteers to provide for needs in the move to a home. Our current mission partners are New Moms, Housing Forward, and The Boulevard. Each fall, the Housing Team holds an annual “House to Home” drive, where congregation members donate furnishings for Housing Forward clients’ apartments. Contact Ann Armstrong.
Latin America and Immigration: This team advocates for just policies and compassion for immigrants to the United States. The team is working for the U.S. to promote peace and justice in Colombia and Honduras. The group works closely with mission partners: the Chicago Religious Leadership Network on Latin America and Presbyterian Peace Fellowship. Contact Susan Buchanan.
Middle East Planning Group: This team helps to involve First United in advocacy for a just peace in Israel and Palestine. Interested volunteers can learn about the Seraj Library Project, the Middle East Task Force of Chicago Presbytery, the Interfaith Action Group on the Middle East for Oak Park and River Forest, and the Palestine Israel Network in the United Church of Christ. The team invites speakers, holds discussions, writes to elected leaders, and more. Contact Pauline Coffman.
Voter Registration: This team works to support voter registration activities by youth and members. Contact Lynn Barrier.
Waging Peace: This group focuses on the tragedy of gun violence to pray, learn, and act to increase peace and reduce the level of gun violence. Activities include supporting common-sense gun laws and responsible gun ownership; taking action to promote a reasonable marketplace; engaging in and supporting services to provide youth and communities with hope and healing; and holding peace vigils. Contact Lois Thiessen Love.
More about the Faith in Action Committee, including its action teams, is available on the Governance and Committees page.
Alternative Christmas Store: Rethink gift giving by shopping to help others on Advent Sundays. Find beautiful items from around the world, from small ornaments to scarves. Consumable favorites include fair trade chocolate and coffee and Palestinian olive oil. Among the groups that benefit are Church World Service, SERVV International, and the church’s Mission Partners. The Alternative Christmas Store is looking for some new volunteers! For more information or to offer your services, contact Teri Omert or Mary Sue Voth.
Beyond Hunger (formerly the Oak Park River Forest Food Pantry): (gobeyondhunger.org) This agency, which feeds 15,000 families a year, needs helpers each week on Wednesday afternoons or evenings and on Saturday mornings. There are various shifts and jobs available, from stocking food to rescuing excess food donated by local merchants to checking in clients to helping carry bags out to clients’ cars. Contact the food pantry to volunteer. Volunteers, who can be as young as middle-school age, first attend an orientation session. Those who aren’t able to volunteer can help by making a monetary donation or a donation of non-perishable food. A First United Church contact is Bob Haisman.
Cluster Tutoring: (clustertutoring.org) The tutoring program always needs new tutors, as there is always a waiting list of students. There is orientation and training for new tutors each September. It’s a weekly commitment of 90 minutes during the school year, and the rewards are seeing a child come alive with learning. Those who can’t make it weekly can be substitute tutors or help in the library. Interested volunteers can contact the program for more information (firstname.lastname@example.org).
FURST: The First United Refugee Support Team is learning ways to help our sponsored family of six from Iraq. The family lived in a refugee camp in Turkey for eight years before finally being able to move to the United States. They live in Skokie, all four kids are enrolled in school, and the parents are taking English classes and participating in programs through Refugee One. Anyone who is interested in joining the FURST team can contact Kathy Pederson.
Housing Forward: (housingforward.org) First United hosts clients from PADS, Housing Forward’s emergency shelter, during cold weather months on Monday nights. Volunteers from our church help run the shelter on third and fifth Mondays. There are volunteer opportunities for evening, overnight, or morning shifts. Contact First United liaisons Matt Kemper or Audry Todd.
Kids’ Kloset: Interested in sorting and sizing clothes, or working with our clients? Contact Susan Zaruba. Children’s clothing donations can be left in the bin in the lounge during business hours, on Sundays or anytime the building is open. We accept all sizes of children’s clothing, jackets, boots, etc., and partner with the Food Pantry for distributions.
Sponsor-a-Family Holiday Gift Baskets: Through the Community of Congregations, First United sponsors 100 people each November and December to receive gifts. These are local needy families and individuals, including many seniors, who otherwise may not receive any gifts during the holidays. Volunteers have the chance to sign up for an individual name or a whole family to purchase gifts that are delivered in mid-December. If you’re interested in volunteering, contact Sher Watts Spooner.