New way to act on faith
More than a year ago, the Rev. P. Michael McNair, community leader Jackie Jackson and their friends and supporters took a leap of faith that a nonprofit group inspired through a church could perform good works outside the church.
McNair, the pastor at Emmanuel Baptist Church in Thomasville, devotes himself — through his calling — to reach people from his pulpit as a minister grounded in the word of God. But McNair and others with the church realized that some good works they wanted to accomplish could be achieved more effectively and widely through a separate nonprofit organization.
So they set up Empower House Inc., a nonprofit that’s legally divided from the church, with its own board and separate tax-exempt status. However, Empower House taps into church facilities, and volunteers among Emmanuel Baptist parishioners, to provide safe activities for children, meals for the homeless and hungry, and assistance with other endeavors to better the community.
In a sense, Empower House allows parishioners of Emmanuel Baptist to act on their faith, but also draws in other volunteers from Thomasville and the surrounding area who might not take part in a church-based outreach. The primary goal is met — helping men, women and children in need.
“For us to do some of the things we want to do on a large scale, we wanted to take advantage of this to serve the community,” McNair said.
One of Empower House’s upcoming goals is to set up a transitional house for homeless people moving from life on the streets to independent living, said Jackson, chairwoman of the Empower House board of directors. The organization is seeking the donation of a residence or building that would fit the purpose.
Empower House is constituted as a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization separate legally from Emmanuel Baptist.
“Churches have a lot of limitations on what we can do because of our tax status,” Jackson said. “We can get grant funding that might not be available to churches.”
Also, some people in the community might not feel as comfortable taking part in a community activity linked to a specific church or denomination, McNair and Jackson say.
“So the nonprofit allows us to do a lot more activities,” said Jackson, who also serves on the Thomasville City Council.
Empower House is involved in after-school activities for children, providing and serving meals to the needy at Cooperative Community Ministry in downtown Thomasville and putting on community sports activities. During the past year, Empower House has helped 150 to 200 children through its after-school and summer programs, Jackson said.
Many of the volunteers involved in Empower House are members of Emmanuel Baptist. But the separate nonprofit has allowed the organization to draw in other people from the community of different faiths and backgrounds.
“There’s not a direct relationship, but an indirect one,” McNair said. “It’s part of Emmanuel’s vision. Empower House is kind of like a gap we can bridge.”
Empower House has created a network of like-minded people — of varying backgrounds — who come together to better the community, McNair said.
The head of Cooperative Community Ministry said regular deliveries of food and serving of meals through the Empower House volunteers fills a need.
“Our ministry relies on donations from the community, like those by Empower House. That’s what sustains us,” ministry Executive Director Stephanie Strickland.
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As an academic observer of nonprofits, Christine Cugliari offers a bottom-line perspective about a church that forms a separate nonprofit organization to extend its good works in a community.
It’s a way to implement faith while serving needs, said Cugliari, assistant professor of nonprofit studies at High Point University.
A little more than a year ago, ministers and parishioners with Emmanuel Baptist Church of Thomasville set up a separate nonprofit, Empower House Inc., to perform activities such as after-school programs for children and meals for the homeless and less fortunate.
Empower House, with a distinct board of directors and separate tax-exempt status, can apply for grants and raise money in a more flexible fashion than a church. For example, the separation of church and state set in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution restricts how churches can secure money from government sources.
Cugliari said other churches nationally are taking the approach of Emmanuel Baptist and Empower House, spinning off a separate nonprofit.
A nonprofit that’s not constituted as a church can apply for a broader set of grants, not only from government sources but private donors who wouldn’t necessarily fund a church-based activity.
“The work is more community tied than denominational purposes. It frees up their options,” Cugliari said.
When people of faith set up a separate nonprofit to benefit their community, the professor said, “it’s a practical way to reach a need.”
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