Celebrating 60 years of service

‘Love Works’ theme of Urban Mission Ministries’ anniversary year

A MILESTONE YEAR — Urban Mission Ministries is marking its 60th anniversary of service this year, observing the theme “Love Works,” which is spelled out above in an industrial art display admired by mission representatives, from left, Kelly Jeffers, director of new initiatives; the Rev. Ashley Steele, executive director; and Tiffany Beckwith, community engagement director. The anniversary will be observed in four events planned throughout 2019, beginning on Valentine’s Day on Thursday with “Love Our Community.” The mission will be distributing select furniture, household items and clothing free of charge from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. or until all items are gone. The giveaways will take place at all of the mission’s downtown Steubenville locations: The Seventh Street plaza at the corner of North and North Seventh streets; Urban Thrift, 644 Market St.; the warehouse at 311 N. Sixth St.; and the War Memorial Building at 423 North St. -- Janice Kiaski

STEUBENVILLE — It’s a big year for Urban Mission Ministries as it marks its 60th anniversary, a time to look back and look ahead.

Urban Mission started in 1959 as the Mill Men’s Hostel, an outreach of the United Methodist Church to workers of Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel Corp.

Today, the ecumenical Christian social service agency is one of the largest charities in the Upper Ohio Valley, providing food, shelter, clothing and other essential needs to the less fortunate. Its reach extends into six counties, 43 ZIP codes and thousands of homes of individuals and families living in the Ohio Valley, according to its executive director, the Rev. Ashley Steele.

As the mission makes plans to celebrate, it makes plans to forge an ambitious future, too, steered by its hallmark tagline — “Listening with Compassion, Serving with Love.”

That future includes the Seventh Street shopping plaza in downtown Steubenville, where Steele addressed an audience of about 100 supporters and volunteers last May in what formerly was a Kroger and Save-A-Lot grocery store on the corner of North Seventh and North streets.

Steele had announced then that the mission had been leasing it for several months with intentions to purchase the whole plaza.

Fast forward to February, and the mission is working with a local bank to purchase and renovate the plaza with more than 30,000 square feet of reprogrammable space.

During its six decades, the mission has operated in scattered ministry sites throughout downtown Steubenville with future plans to rethink that.

“As we enter our 60th year, we are excited to announce that we are moving forward with our dream to create a central hub for the local community to gather, learn, serve and work, as well as a place of opportunity for those seeking a fresh start in life,” Steele noted.

“Our plans include the creation of an industrial-size training kitchen to provide meals to the community as well as a culinary arts training program; dedicated space for programming toward GED preparation; job readiness and basic life skills; and training and employment opportunities by establishing a retail center, grocery store and child care facility,” she added.

“Ultimately moving to this location will allow the Urban Mission to change the way it provides services without losing our foundational values of listening with compassion, serving with love and providing basic services to people in need.

“All of this is a dream finally realized.”

The Urban Mission will continue to use the church at 301 N. Fifth St. as the location of its Mission Rejoice worship service on Saturdays, and the food warehouse at 311 N. Sixth St. will be used for new initiatives such as a “makerspace” for the community and a place to grow food using hydroponics, according to Steele.

The mission’s reach also includes the War Memorial Building at 423 North St., purchased in 2015, with plans to be a community resource center and a second shelter for homeless women and children. In 2018, the mission acquired the City Rescue Mission Shelter and Thrift Store, now called the “dormitory” and Urban Thrift, respectively.

“We’re moving forward with the ministry expansion plans at the plaza,” Steele said. “This is a big year just in the life of the mission in general, but it’s pretty special it’s on the 60th anniversary year.

“There’s a lot going on, but in a good way,” Steele said.

“Love Works” is the theme of the mission’s anniversary year, not really a departure from its “Listening with Compassion, Serving with Love,” but more of a reinforcement, in Steele’s estimation, of love in action.

“Our tagline for Urban Mission from the very beginning was ‘Listening with Compassion, Serving with Love,’ and if you look on some of our publications and our website, you always see that. It’s been on T-shirts and has always been our theme,” Steele said, noting that from time to time she has been asked about maybe updating that to make it more relevant or catchy.

“We’ve kind of come back to the fact of that phrase — ‘Listening with Compassion, Serving with Love’ — not only is what we do, but it works,” she said. “If you had anybody ask you, why do you choose to show love and to provide tangible acts of love, love works. It shows God’s love. It is kind of who we are, and it has worked for 60 years, and so we want to continue that,” she said.

“‘Love Works’ is what we wanted to focus on this year and to really live that out, to be intentional in asking, is everything we do done in love, are all of our programs founded on love, where might we do better to love people more, how can we express that to the community and with each other, so on many different levels, it speaks to us, and it helps us stay focused on who the founders were hoping we would be and certainly who God calls us to be,” Steele said.

The anniversary has four celebration components:

¯ The first observance comes Thursday, appropriately on Valentine’s Day, as staff and volunteers will “love our community.”

Urban Mission will be distributing select furniture, household items and clothing free of charge from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. or until all items are gone. Participants must bring their own transportation to transport furniture.

The giveaways will take place at all of the mission’s downtown locations: The Seventh Street plaza; Urban Thrift, 644 Market St.; the warehouse at 311 N. Sixth St.; and the War Memorial building at 423 North St.

“Last year we did this small scale, but it was when we were cleaning out the thrift store, and we cleaned that out by taking all the items outside and giving them away free of charge. Anybody could come, and so that was the origin of it,” Steele explained.

“This year we decided we can do it even more, not only at the thrift store, but we have tons of clothes at the plaza. We have different things at the warehouse, and we just want to be able to give above and beyond what we are typically able to give but on a one-day, full-day event,” she said.

Volunteers to help Thursday with the “Love Our Community” event would be appreciated, according to Steele.

“We would love that,” she said. “I think we’ll get hundreds of people, and it always is helpful to have extra hands.”

¯ April 26 brings an evening event for what will be one of the mission’s biggest gatherings of the year, according to Steele. Though it won’t be any kind of formal sit-down dinner, there will be food, likely heavy hors d’eouvres, at the Seventh Street plaza building where last April came the revealing of plans for the building’s future during the annual volunteer appreciation ceremony.

“We will share stories of the past 60 years, and we will have some previous directors present,” Steele said. “It’s going to be open to the public,” she added. It will incorporate a time of volunteer appreciation and acknowledgment and displays showcasing the mission’s history.

¯ The third observance will involve tours of the Urban Mission, set for July 11-13.

“We do these occasionally anyway for the community, but this will be more formal in a way in that every building will be open,” Steele said. “We will have tour guides and be able to provide historical commentary but also looking into the future,” she said, anticipating there will be “new information to share at that point” about building usage and plans. Individuals or groups interested in getting a jump on registering a tour day and time can do so through the mission’s website at www.urbanmission.org.

¯ The final event will be a 60th anniversary worship service set for Oct. 20 in the Urban Mission sanctuary at 301 N. Fifth St.

“This will be a Sunday afternoon worship service gathering the pastors from the community and maybe some other conference officials and just to give God thanks for a year of ministry,” Steele said, noting six decades of being a witness to God’s love and mercy in the Ohio Valley warrants a special worship service to celebrate.

Public help and input on the overall celebration is welcomed.

“If anyone wants to be involved in any of these activities, even from a planning standpoint, we would love their help, or if they have stories about the mission throughout the years, we’d love to hear those,” Steele said. “We want to make it as inclusive as possible and hear from the community, because there are a lot of people impacted by the Urban Mission that I’m unaware of, but it really is a neat thing to be able to see those who have come before us and how we build on that foundation,” she added.

“We uncovered some really neat archives and pictures and newspaper clippings, and it’s been really fun to see,” Steele said of reviewing the mission’s history, that included finding mission goals from 1988.

“It was typed out on a typewriter, and it was the dreams of the board, the director and the staff,” she said. “Some of them were as simple as to be able to provide food all month to people so at that point probably the pantry was just open a little bit, and one was to have a walk-in cooler to be able to store food. Those are real practical things that we thankfully have now because of the generosity of the community, but some of them were much larger in nature,” she said.

The goals throughout have the common denominator — “to serve as that witness for Christ in the community in very tangible ways, and I think that shows just how God’s spirit is present from back then to now and still at work and still working among us and in spite of us,” she said.

“I think it’s been neat to be able to look back and see where we’ve been and where we’ve come and even exciting things of where we’re going,” Steele said.

For information on the mission, call (740) 282-8010.

(Kiaski can be contacted at jkiaski@heraldstaronline.com.)