Project Description

Before they moved to Seattle, Betsy and Gabe Gelb recommended that Emerson Church become a member church of Memorial Assistance Ministries, MAM. This was followed by the Social Action Council, headed by Ellen Norton, proposing that Emerson join MAM. When it came up for a vote at our last congregation meeting, concerns were voiced that MAM might not be welcoming to members of the LGBTQ+ community. Members of the Emerson Board also realized that we had no process in place to decide if we should partner with another organization. For that reason, it was decided to table the motion to vote on MAM until more research and investigation into the policies and procedures of MAM could be completed. Since that time the Board has come up with a process that I would like to present to you and how it relates to MAM. The process involves 10 questions or issues that have to be clarified before the Board would call a congregation meeting to vote whether or not to partner with an outside organization.

The first question is what are the advantages of joining MAM? MAM is a successful and dynamic organization that helps families do more, and go further, than they can do alone. They offer a range of programs focused on building financially stable families, a stronger workforce, and a healthy, supportive community. They have many programs in place with an excellent infrastructure resulting in many volunteering opportunities. They have programs that deal with basic needs and benefits such as rent and utility assistance and benefits enrollment. They have programs dealing with financial empowerment and getting ahead such as financial education and coaching, free tax preparation, getting ahead program, and long term case management. They have programs dealing with employment services such as job coaching, employment certification programs, vocational training programs, employment services for English learners, and computer literacy programs. They have programs dealing with literacy such as English classes, citizenship classes, GED preparation classes, and digital literacy. They have immigration legal services. They have programs dealing with physical and mental health such as mental health counseling, eye exams for children, immunizations, health screenings, and vision screenings for adults. As many of you know, Emerson had a very successful ELL program prior to the pandemic. It would be difficult to restart our program from scratch. By participating with the MAM ELL program, we could use the Emerson classrooms and teachers and get the students immediately from the MAM program. It is a win-win situation for both Emerson and MAM. We are a relatively small congregation without the infrastructure that would be needed to carry out the work that we would all like to see carried out. If we want to fulfill our mission of making the world a better place, our efforts could be greatly magnified if we partner with an organization like MAM. Another advantage of partnering with MAM is that it would enable us to be more visible in the community and hopefully attract new members.

The second question or issue in our process that needs to be addressed when thinking about joining another organization is, how do the values of the organization align with Emerson’s values and mission? The values of MAM align very well with the values and mission of Emerson. Their mission is to build stable families, a dynamic work force, and vibrant communities together. They envision a Houston of boundless opportunities, filled with hope, stability, and belonging. Their philosophy of service is one of personalized support, believing that every client is capable, creative, and whole. As responsible stewards they are grounded in faith, offering hope, preserving dignity, and open to all. MAM is committed to providing an inclusive and welcoming environment for all of its clients, employees, volunteers, and vendors.
The third question in our process is, what is MAM’s Diversity-Equity-Inclusion or DEI statement and how does it align with Emerson’s? MAM’s DEI statement, which is on their website, is as follows: “MAM does not, and shall not, discriminate based on race, color, ethnicity, religion, age, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, national origin, marital or domestic status, military status, disability, or other protected status, in any of its activities or operations. These activities include but are not limited to the recruitment and employment life of staff, selection of volunteers, and vendors, and offering or delivery of client services.” This DEI statement is one of the most complete and comprehensive statements that I have seen. MAM developed this DEI statement despite the fact that a few of their more conservative Christian churches may not agree with parts of this statement.

I think this speaks to MAM’s commitment to these principles. It should be noted that they don’t just talk the talk, they also walk the walk. An example is that they have members of the LGBTQ+ community high up in their administration.

The fourth question in our process is, does partnering with MAM adversely affect any of our Emerson members? When we first began our evaluation of MAM there was a concern that because of some of the conservative Christian churches that were affiliated with MAM that they might not be welcoming to our members of the LGBTQ+ community. To get more insight into this issue, Ellen Norton of the Social Action Council and I went to MAM to tour the facilities and speak directly with Sonja Gee, the CEO of MAM. After speaking with Sonja, who told us that she and everyone in MAM’s administration believe being inclusive and nondiscriminatory is very important, reading the DEI statement that was developed, and learning that members of the LGBTQ+ community are employed in upper levels of the MAM administration we feel confident that MAM is a welcoming organization to everyone, including members of the LGBTQ+ community. We do not feel that there is any group of Emerson members that would be harmed if we partner with MAM.

The fifth question in our process is, what are Emerson’s financial obligations if we join MAM? The answer is one dollar per church member per year. That’s less than $300 per year. We could easily get this amount of money if MAM was the recipient of the Share the Plate campaign for one month, once a year.

The sixth question in our process is how many volunteer hours are required if we partner with MAM? There is no minimum requirement of volunteer hours.

The seventh question in our process is what is the process if Emerson wants to leave the organization? Member congregations are free to withdraw at any time with no adverse consequence.

The eighth question or issue in our process is to check the Charity Navigator status of the organization. Charity Navigator is a charity assessment organization that evaluates hundreds of thousands of charitable organizations based in the United States. MAM’s Charity Navigator rating is 100.00, the highest possible rating. It is rated as an exceptional Charity. It received a 100 score related to finance, accountability, and transparency and has had this rating for 9 straight years.

The ninth question or issue in our process is to review all organizations that we currently affiliate with to determine if we are duplicating activities. Interfaith Ministries for Greater Houston has a few similar programs however they concentrate more on Meals on Wheels, interfaith communications, and help for refugees while MAM concentrates more on job training, ELL, and ways to improve self-sufficiency of populations they serve. Interfaith Ministries supports ELL through the Bilingual Education Institute. They do not have their own ELL program. IM does help with job placement but not with job training. In general, MAM has significantly more programs to help the population they serve.

The tenth and last question in our process is what are the disadvantages of joining MAM. When we first began this process, we thought that because there were a few very conservative Christian churches that were affiliated with MAM, MAM might not be welcoming to all of our members. For reasons I discussed earlier, I no longer think this is a problem. There are no other disadvantages to joining MAM.

In summary, because of everything I have discussed above, I feel strongly we should partner with MAM, to magnify our ability to help make this a better world.

If you have any questions email me at isachs@houstonmethodist.org

Ian Sachs