FLINT, Michigan -- Franklin Avenue Mission
was founded on Flint’s eastside in 2014, when local Lutheran ministries joined forces to try to help end major disparities facing residents in the neighborhood. But the goal can be boiled down even simpler than that.
“The biggest thing that people need is family, they need relationships,” said Rev. Christian Jones, director of Franklin Avenue Mission.
That concept of building community is a core part of the Mission’s goals, and they have been able to create several programs that provide unique opportunities and services to residents on the eastside and beyond.
Maggie Guinther, 17, a volunteer from St. Martin Luther church, hands out meals to local residents
“The biggest needs that I see, I mean, obviously you have Maslow's hierarchy of needs, so food, water, shelter,” Jones said. “Those are very evident needs, but for me when I engage with the people who come here on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays, the biggest thing that people need is family, they need relationships. They don't have that. Many of the people who come to the eastside, it's a very transient neighborhood, so some people don't have homes they’re going to be here because it has abandoned houses. People can stay here or rent really cheap here, and then when an opportunity opens up somewhere, they can move out of here. So it's very transient, which means people don't have a community here. They don't have a family. And so going somewhere where you feel like I belong here, that's really important. It's something that people are longing to say that I have a community, I have family, I have somewhere to call home.”
One of the ways the Mission cultivates that atmosphere is through partnerships with other churches every Tuesday and Thursday from 3:30-5 p.m. A guest church on these evenings volunteers to put together a meal for the community. Currently, 17 different churches are on a seven-week rotation to plan, cook, and buy supplies to make meals for the twice-weekly dinner. On average, about 200 meals are provided to residents. During the holidays, the Mission also partners with the Food Bank of Eastern Michigan to provide holiday food boxes.
Messiah Church and St. Martin Church partnered on June 15 to hand out 256 meals that included subs, pasta salad, condiments, and fruit.
“I like helping people. It feels good to make a difference. Seeing people smile when they get their food is really nice,” said Maggie Guinther, 17, a volunteer from St. Martin Church.
Maggie and her brother Eli, 13, handed food out to local residents who came to the foodshed during diner hours. The Mission plans to reopen indoor dining during the first full week of July at partial capacity.
Arlene Casselman, a volunteer from St. Martin Lutheran Church, stores away the subs while the volunteers await residents to arrive at Franklin Avenue Mission.
Franklin Avenue Mission also provides clothing and personal hygiene items for community members. The Clothes Closet is a dedicated area that is organized like a retail store that provides donated clothing that men and women can browse.
Along with helping with immediate needs, the Mission also provides long-term solutions for residents. They currently have a custodial program that trains two people at a time seeking to learn custodial skills in three months. Participants also receive help applying for jobs once their training is complete.
On-site, there is also a small home that is called The Mercy House, a space where up to four families (homeless mothers and children) are housed and assisted with a support system provided through the Mission.
The leadership team at the Mission has plans for the future to further help the surrounding area, including opening a laundromat and a daycare by 2022. One of the most exciting plans the Mission has is to open a free prenatal clinic by partnering with The Luke 52 Project in Detroit, Michigan. The prenatal clinic will be called The Luke Clinic and will be opening in November 2021. The Luke Clinic will have a lab, medical staff, and ultrasound exams. To further assist mothers, the clinic will provide dinner and childcare during clinic hours twice a month on Wednesday evenings.
For Jones, the goal is simple: “Transform the neighborhood by creating a sense of community.”
Rachel Siemen, director of operations at Franklin Avenue Mission in Flint, Michigan.
He and the staff work under the philosophy that “family is not always blood,” and the relationships and support the Mission provides for neighbors are essential to the overall well-being of residents.
“I can see how it [the Mission’s programs] is going to transform this community,” said Rachel Siemen, director of operations at Franklin Avenue Mission. “And it just excites me to know that we are going to be able to be that community center for people where they can come and they can get that prenatal care or that child's care, or just a loving person to listen to them and make them feel like a human being.”