“I used to hear ‘the poor’ and picture some rundown streets in some inner-city areas, far from the small town… where I live,” the Rev. Lee Schott wrote in a blog. “‘The poor’ were nameless, faceless and distant. People for whom we’d leave food at the local food pantry. I was pretty OK with that.”  Schott’s appointment to Women at the Well UMC at the Iowa Correctional Institution for Women in Mitchellville changed her perspective of ministry from “to” to “with.” Today “With” is a campaign to raise awareness, educate, and inspire people around ministry with the poor, one of the denomination’s five areas of focus. 

Before Theressa Hoover Memorial UMC began, the building housed Highland Methodist Church, says Deborah Bell, director of programs for Better Community Development. During the Central High School desegregation crisis of 1957 in Little Rock, Ark., the church was a meeting place for citizens. Highland became a temporary school for white children during the closing of area high schools in 1957-58. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, the neighborhood experienced a transition in racial composition. Highland and Pride UMCs merged into Highland Valley UMC, now located in west Little Rock.

In 1980, the Rev. William H. Robinson Jr. was assigned to the vacant building in the heart of this transitional community. “Rev. Robinson, in the midst of the bare building and lack of members, began to envision what this new appointment would mean for him and the community he planned to serve,” Bell says. Initially, Black Community Developers Inc. and Better Community Development Inc. grew out of the outreach program of Hoover Memorial UMC. Bell says, “We started providing childcare services and expanded to include youth-oriented programs. These programs were set up to provide a safe haven for community youth and gang interventions for the Midtown. Other initiatives include a certified substance-abuse program… housing, women’s programs, homeless shelter, job training, and a HIV/AIDS ministry.” “Hoover is committed to be a spiritual home, where all people are unconditionally accepted, needs are met, lives are nurtured, and recovery and healing can take place,” Bell says.

Human Relations Day calls United Methodists to recognize the right of all God’s children in realizing their potential as human beings in relationship with one another. The special offering benefits neighborhood ministries through Community Developers, community advocacy through United Methodist Voluntary Services, and work with at-risk teens through the Youth Offender Rehabilitation Program.

When you give generously on Human Relations Day, you encourage ordinary people to have a voice in changing the world. To give to this special offering, please use the envelopes provided on January 20th, or mark your gift “Human Relations” and include it with your regular giving; you may also choose Human Relations Sunday through EasyTithe.