Mission at First Presbyterian Church is an evolving project. Our desire is not to merely offer handouts to our neighbors in need in Fort Smith, but instead to empower them. To this end, we have hired a mission facilitator, Keley Simpson, to build connections with those in need in Fort Smith and agencies, organizations and other individuals with whom they can partner in improving their circumstances. To this end, we are in the constant process of developing new partnerships, ideas, and ministries in addition to the ongoing offerings listed below:
Changing Lanes: Fort Smith is a challenging community for people with unreliable transportation. Recognizing that poor access to transportation is a keystone cause of economic distress, First Presbyterian is developing a host of transportation mission initiatives under the heading of “Changing Lanes.” The central program is our fair car loan program. Through a partnership with First National Bank, as well as local car dealers, we are able to offer low-income clients access to fair car loans. These loans enable them to buy cars from reputable dealers at a fair interest rate. This is a small program at the moment but we believe that over the coming years it will only grow in Fort Smith.
Further, First Presbyterian offers a smaller version of the car loan program for scooters. For people who do not need, or cannot afford a car, a scooter is a necessary first step to independence. Finally, we recognize that many of our neighbors rely on public transportation. For this reason, we have partnered with Fort Smith Transit to build bus shelters. As of autumn of 2016, this partnership had yielded 7 new shelters around town, with more to come in the future.
Uplift: UpLift is a small personal loan program intended to help people resolve unexpected expenses that occur in life, administered through First Presbyterian and managed through First National Bank. We offer fair low-interest rates on our loans which are to be repaid by the customer within a year. Our customers receive free budget counseling with a certified counselor through Credit Counseling of Arkansas (CCOA) as part of their loan agreement.
Our goal through the UpLift program is to help our customers resolve small debts and seek financial counseling to prevent their debts from increasing or becoming chronic. We do not believe in lending money to people to remain in debt. If financial mismanagement is a problem, our customers will benefit from making a budget plan with the CCOA counselor and if necessary, receiving a credit report review.
The Christmas Store: Each Christmas we set up a store full of brand new toys provided from the church. Rather than giving these toys away, they are sold at a drastically reduced cost. Participants come to the store, shop for their children, wrap the presents and then give them to their children on Christmas morning. We strive to empower those in need to provide for their families and get ourselves out of the way.
The Community Gardens: In partnership with several local non-profit agencies, we have helped create many garden projects. Some have been large-scale community gardens, such as the Discovery Garden, that provides nearly 2 acres of inner-city green space where people can grow and harvest their own vegetables at no cost. There have also been smaller projects, such as the fairy gardens with Tilles Elementary and Donald W. Reynolds Cancer Support House. The church has provided financial support to these agencies and many others to begin garden initiatives.
First Sunday Supper: Hands down the best free meal in Fort Smith, the people of First Presbyterian cook for our neighbors on the first Sunday of each month. In addition to a free meal, there is an activity for children as well as information about community services. It happens at 5:00 on the first Sunday of each month in the Family Center.
Haiti: Through the work of the Haiti Education Foundation, First Presbyterian sponsors the Epiphanie School outside of the town of Cherident in southern Haiti. 113 kids and 9 teachers gather there daily during the school year. We pay 80% of the costs with the students absorbing the other 20%. In addition, we provide lunch for all students and faculty 5 days/week.
El Salvador: Over the past several years we have developed a strong relationship with Project Red in El Salvador. Project Red serves orphans and foster children in El Salvador by providing, housing, life skill training and education. Many of these children would end up in the rampant El Salvadoran gangs, and Project Red’s success rate in keeping kids out of gangs is outstanding.
Financial Support in Fort Smith:
Through our budget and stewardship of various trusts, First Presbyterian provides over $150,000 of support annually to local partner agencies. We believe strongly in the work these agencies do, and we understand they can do it better than we could ever hope to. Some agencies include the Crisis Intervention Center, Next Step Homeless Services, Lincoln Childcare, Interfaith Daycare, Habitat for Humanity, Community Dental Clinic, Good Samaritan Clinic and many more.