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Ravenswood United Church of Christ (Chicago, IL)

Posted on: March 26th, 2020 by Kathy Houston No Comments

“Church is more than a place to go on Sunday morning. At its best, it is a community that lives and breathes with the seasons of life.”
Rev. Jason W. Coulter, Pastor, Ravenswood UCC

Ravenswood Raises the Roof
Ravenswood United Church of Christ is a mainstay in Chicago’s Lincoln Square neighborhood. It has provided a place to fellowship and worship for almost a century. But when Rev. Jason W. Coulter took over as lead pastor in 2008, he noticed years of deferred maintenance to an aging building. “The walls needed painting. The boilers were old and failing, and the bathrooms – extremely dated – just weren’t aesthetically pleasing,” says Coulter.

With a small, yet mighty congregation, Rev. Coulter was able to address many of the church’s needs with fundraising and an unexpected insurance settlement. “We had a committed group of people who wanted to fundraise,” explains Coulter. And those efforts paid off. After a year-long campaign which included a country-line dance inspired fundraising party resulted in a $75,000 surplus. Those funds covered many upgrades including new paint and a new boiler.

However, Coulter needed an additional $50,000 for a huge undertaking – replacing the building’s roof. With a grand total of about $120,000, Coulter understood that fundraising would not be enough to fix the church’s most pressing repair. So, with advice from a friend in the banking industry, Coulter opened a few small investments with the Cornerstone Fund. In addition, he applied and was approved for a small loan – just enough to cover the repairs for the roof.

 

Fix the roof, reach the people.
One of the core missions of Ravenswood UCC is sharing the love of God with people, regardless of an individual’s background. On the website, Rev. Coulter emphasizes, “Our doors are to you no matter who you are or where you are in life’s journey. So whether you’re young or old, black or while, gay or straight, right or left-handed, or somehow all of the above – you are welcome here with us.”

Indirectly, the Cornerstone Fund loan has helped to support this mission. “Our biggest relief is that we don’t have to worry about the building structure anymore. We get to attend church every Sunday knowing it’s going to be warm and that there’s not going to be any leaks,” says Coulter. “We can just focus on our core mission – which is worshiping God and serving our community” adds Rev. Coulter.

Another part of Ravenswood’s mission involves a congregation which has a social justice focus. Coupled with a strong UCC identity, Coulter wants to ensure an objective that is recognizable even by those driving past the church or pedestrian passersby. A large banner that includes a 4’x8” rainbow flag, occupies the main entrance of the church and states, “God is still speaking.” It’s a clear indicator that Ravenswood UCC is an LGTBQIA–welcoming community.

“Having an up-to-date building where people can come together with shared values, compassion, kindness, and inclusion – that is the kind of identity we want…that’s who we are,” says Coulter.

 

Preserving the building for the next generation is a priority.
The cover of Ravenswood UCC fundraising brochure featured the 90-year-old matriarch of the church holding a baby on her lap. The image speaks volumes about the direction of Ravenswood and why building repairs were so necessary. “We want to make sure this church is around so that the next generation can enjoy the same worship that the previous generation had access to,” Coulter asserts.

The new roof has allowed Pastor Coulter to also focus on the family and childrens’ ministries. Since he started in 2008, he’s noticed an increase in the number of children who attend service, too.

Since addressing the major repairs to the roof, Coulter has also been able to give some much-needed attention to the children’s ministry, nursery, and Sunday school. “We also have a young parents’ group that meets regularly for parents night out. Our nursery provider comes in on a Friday night and all the kids play under a secure roof while the parents enjoy a night on the town. We can do all of these things because we don’t have to worry about the structural security of the building,” says Coulter.

Churches helping other churches
With a congregation of only about fifty members, Coulter relies heavily on volunteers to assist with every aspect of operation. Ravenswood is a “small church that doesn’t have an administrative staff.”

It was critical, then, to have a seamless loan process – one that is straightforward and uncomplicated. Coulter was able to single-handedly submit the loan application and provide supporting documentation with ease.

And when asked whether he’d encourage other small churches to partner with the United Church of Christ Cornerstone Fund, Rev. Coulter gave a ringing endorsement. “We took advantage of a good loan at a fair rate. And the process was very simple.” He continues, “Churches helping other churches really resonate spiritually and organizationally.”

The Basics of Conscious Investing

Posted on: March 5th, 2020 by Kathy Houston No Comments

Did you know that there’s a way to align your values to your investments? It’s called socially responsible investing (SRI) and here’s what you need to know. 

Investing can be complicated, especially if you’re just starting out. An easy way to narrow down the types of investments is by examining which opportunities line up with your own personal ethics and values. Growing your money while making a difference? If it seems too good to be true, it isn’t. This altruistic form of allocating funds is called socially responsible investing.

What is Socially Responsible Investing?

Socially responsible investing, or SRI, is investing with a conscious. Essentially, social responsible investing is a merge between financial gain and making a positive impact. Whether it’s women’s or civil rights, anti-war efforts, climate change, or decreasing world hunger – every investment is made with the end goal of reallocating funds to a conscious cause. The actual process details excluding companies and types of investments that do not align these core values.

ESGs Work Hand-in-Hand With SRI

There’s a strategy used to round up values-based companies to invest in. And this strategy is broken into three categories: environmental, social, or governance impact, also referred to as ESGs.

Environmental: These companies are directly or indirectly dedicated to reducing their carbon footprint. If you’re looking to invest in green companies, you’ll want to ensure the company practices using green technologies, water and natural resource conservation, decreased pollution, recycling, and hazardous waste management.

Social: Companies that promote overall connectivity within the society at large. For example, companies that encourage employee retention and satisfaction, promote diversity and inclusion, and foster optimal company culture are ones that are viable options for social impact investments.

Governance: This refers to how the actual company is managed. Wanting to invest in a company that has ethical business practices and is committed to equal pay amongst its employees

Is Conscious Investing Right for Me? 

If you want to invest, but prioritize investments that align to your values, then SRI is right for you. Financial outcomes are important, however, you’ll want to find the best values-based fit for your investment. This will require you to ask yourself key questions about your own personal values. Is investing in woman-owned businesses important to me? How about companies that promote sustainable energy? Perhaps you’re primarily interested in investments that give back to K-12 education.

Whatever, the cause, analyze whether the types of investments will match your moral, social, ethical, and/or religious views. Side note: SRI also means avoiding investments that directly misalign to your values, too. For instance, if one of your core practices is promoting internal health, you wouldn’t want to invest in a tobacco or cigarette production company.

There’s a ton of diversity in SRIs. Options include investing in individual SRIs or making socially responsible investments through mutual funds, index funds, or exchange-traded funds.

If you aren’t sure which companies truly align to your values, it’s best to hire a financial advisor that can provide guidance in this specific arena.

What’s the 411 on ESA’s?

Posted on: January 27th, 2020 by Kathy Houston No Comments

Education Savings Accounts, or ESAs, allow you to give the gift of education to your child.
So, you want to start saving for your child’s education? That’s fantastic! However, if you are planning for your child’s education, the barrage of online information can be quite overwhelming. After learning about the different kinds of savings plans, you’re still left wondering: What is the best type of education savings account for my family? Are there withdrawal penalties? What is the minimum and maximum contribution per year? Which kinds of education expenses do these accounts cover? 

The Basics
There are two main types of education savings plans: the 529 college savings plan and the Coverdell Education Savings Account, or ESA. While its original intention was to cover only the cost of postsecondary education, the 529 savings plan was recently amended through the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) to include education and tutoring expenditures for K–12 education as well. 

Other families prefer to finance their child’s education with a Coverdell Education Savings Account, or ESA. This savings plan is an account that allows for families to use funds in a multitude of ways. Like the reformed 529 plan, ESAs can also be used for schooling other than college: private school tuition and fees, online courses, private tutoring, community college, higher education expenses and other approved educational services or materials. 

Although there is a growing interest nationwide, right now, only five states have active ESA programs: Arizona, Florida, Mississippi, North Carolina, and Tennessee (Nevada’s program is currently inactive). 

Benefits of ESAs
Here are the primary advantages of investing in an ESA:

  • Tax-free withdrawals for unlimited qualified expenses for kindergarten through college (the 529 only allows for up to $10,000 for primary or secondary education). Some states even include preschool expenses, too. 
  • Flexibility in selecting the beneficiary–the funds can be rolled over to a qualified family member of the beneficiary. 
  • There are many investment options including stocks, mutual funds, exchange-traded funds, and real-estate investment trusts. Accounts can be set up by a bank, brokerage, or mutual fund company. 
  • You can invest simultaneously in both an ESA and a 529 savings plan in the same year.
  • Contributions are not tax deductible, but money will grow tax free until deductions are taken.

As with any savings plans, there are also a few cons to consider:

  • Annual contributions are capped at $2,000 for joint filers. 
  • Must be rolled over to a beneficiary by age 30 (529 savings plan has no age limit). Contributions cannot be made to the beneficiary after the age of 18.
  • According to the IRS, there are income restrictions for contributing to the Coverdell Education Savings Account. Particularly, if your MAGI (modified adjusted gross income) is higher, you will not be able to open one of these accounts. 

What’s New?
Education Savings Accounts have evolved from the former Education IRAs and as more states take interest in these programs, changes will be instituted on a rolling basis. The primary changes that have taken place in 2019–2020 reflect the available yearly contribution and income for maximum contribution. Originally, Education IRAs only allowed for a maximum of $500. Now, there is a $2,000 yearly maximum contribution. Additionally, the income limit now stands at $190,000 ($220,000 for joint-filed tax returns).

Start an Education Savings Account Today
Now it’s time to set up your ESA! First, you’ll want to choose the exact way you want to invest the money on your child’s behalf. Next, you’ll want to find an institution to set up your account. If you live in a state that does not have an established ESA program, you can find programs with institutions like the Cornerstone Fund. Finally, contribute a designated amount each year to the account. It may not seem like much now, but saving up to $2,000 per year can be instrumental in funding your child’s educational milestones. 

Riverside First Congregational Church (Riverside, California)

Posted on: December 13th, 2019 by Kathy Houston No Comments

Historical Beauty Meets Modern Needs, and First Congregational Church Riverside’s uses capital improvements to help serve their community

Southern California is a place of contrasts. Vast wealth coexists with devastating poverty, natural beauty works in concert with Hollywood illusion, and hundred-year-old Mission architecture abuts new condo developments. At the center of these contrasts stands First Congregational Church Riverside.

First Congregational Church Riverside | United Church of Christ Cornerstone FundBuilt in 1913 and designed by revered architect Myron Hunt, FCC Riverside is a stunning example of Spanish Colonial Revival architecture. Mirroring its aesthetic, the ministries of FCC Riverside are also timeless—feeding the poor, offering a welcoming home for worshippers, and working hard to serve the needs of their community.

One of the church’s key ministries is Project Food, a weekly sit-down meal offered to the community. “Anyone who wants a meal is welcome,” says Sandra Soares, the Chairperson and Volunteer coordinator for Project Food. She emphasizes that Project Food serves a range of community members, from the marginally housed to families or seniors on fixed incomes.

First Congregational Church Riverside | United Church of Christ Cornerstone Fund“Regardless of why they come, we’re there every Wednesday.” The weekly meal is served restaurant-style by volunteers. The food is served on real plates with real flatware. Entertainment is provided. This added level of care and comfort sets Project Food apart, allowing it to be a true community gathering based in the spirit of kinship. That attention to service and dignity has proven meaningful to the community. The project continues to grow as it hits its 35th year in service.

“Too many families in our community struggle with the question, ‘Do I put a roof over my head or do I buy groceries?’” says Soares. “Our goal always has been to provide some sort of solution to the homeless crisis. Affordable housing is one of the issues. Mental health is one of the issues. Addiction is a HUGE issue.” Soares insists solutions need to address people holistically. “We need to stop thinking of it as one specific problem, and more of a multifaceted issue. ‘I’m a vet, I’m an injured vet, I’m an addicted injured vet.’”

First Congregational Church Riverside | United Church of Christ Cornerstone FundTo serve that approach, Project Food has expanded to include distribution of supplies and clothes, as well as a biweekly free clinic provided by UC Riverside’s medical school. This expansion delights the FCC congregation and the Riverside community, but it brings with it one particularly challenging contrast: an aging building that needs to adapt and grow. FCC Riverside’s church was added to the National Register of historic buildings in 1997.

In 2014, Cornerstone provided funds to expand the kitchen to maintain the growth of Project Food. Today, the building needs retrofitting so that it is earthquake-safe. Just as no one should have to choose between keeping a roof over their head or buying groceries, FCC’s faces an impossible choice between serving needy congregants and maintaining the safety of their building. Cornerstone has once more partnered with FCC Riverside to establish a line of credit to help retrofit the church and preserve the iconic bell tower.

First Congregational Church Riverside | United Church of Christ Cornerstone FundThe church is also running their own capital campaign to cover the costs of the work. “We were fortunate to receive a number of donations including a large grant from the Old Riverside Foundation,” says Reverend Hannah Cranbury. The church also set up a GoFundMe to accept private, smaller donations. “We were pleased to receive donations from community members outside of the church, which helped us feel the support of the community around us,” Cranbury says.

“We don’t know how to fix [the tower], but we know how to feed people,” Soares added. With a little support from congregants and community, they’ll be able to do both.

Mt. Calvary UCC (Durham, North Carolina)

Posted on: November 30th, 2019 by Kathy Houston No Comments

A Catalyst for Celebration

Mt. Calvary UCC | United Church of Christ Cornerstone FundA church rich in history and service, 2017 was quite the year for celebration at Mt. Calvary United Church of Christ (MCUCC). Nestled less than a half-mile from North Carolina Central University, MCUCC is a safe space and beacon of hope for surrounding communities. The heart of Mt. Calvary UCC is family; just a small part of what makes MCUCC so unique is that it has been a generational mainstay for families in and around Durham for over 100 years.

From 1970 until his passing in 2013, Reverend Dr. Josiah Cecil Cheek, shepherded a 43-year development period, “On the Move for God,” which included building renovation and expansion, increased membership, student-exchange programs, leadership conferences, and fundraising efforts that afforded MCUCC the opportunity to increase various church programs and committees. After building a new sanctuary to accommodate a growing congregation, in 2001, the former sanctuary was renamed J.C. Cheek’s Education Building.

The J.C. Cheek’s Education building has made a significant impact to both MCUCC and the community. The building has housed a thriving after-school program, tutorial center, and basketball team that competes in local tournaments. For many children and young adults, the Cheek’s Building is a safe place—and sometimes the only place—to feel welcomed and loved.

In MCUCC’s quest to provide a foundational place of worship and safe space for area youth, they encountered many challenges along the way. A few years ago, after the passing of MCUCC’s beloved pastor, the structural wall of the J.C. Cheek’s Education building failed. Contractors discovered that the foundation’s damage was caused by the weight of over 15 feet of dirt in the building’s landscaping area. MCUCC moved all education programs into the main sanctuary of the church, resulting in an elimination of several church programs that no longer had the space to operate. During this transition, membership also decreased from 600 to just around 300 members.

Although the physical foundation of MCUCC was temporarily damaged, the church’s spiritual foundation could not be broken. With an existing mortgage of $480,000, over $60,000 in building repairs, and a church in search of its next leader, the MCUCC family and interim pastor persevered in carrying out the “On the Move” legacy of Rev. Dr. Cheek. Executing this mission meant securing financial assistance in order to accomplish several short and long-term goals.

MCUCC Chooses the Cornerstone Fund

Mt. Calvary UCC | United Church of Christ Cornerstone FundGreg Clinton, who serves on the trustee board, has been in the business of automating churches and firms for many years. Clinton also has a vested familial interest in the success of Mt. Calvary UCC. “My father and brother have also served as board chairs and our family has 12 siblings that attend Mt. Calvary UCC. We all have a job to do and, especially for future generations, I am committed to leaving Mt. Calvary better off than I found it,” says Clinton.

Using prior professional experience, Clinton assisted the church’s finance department in evaluating the church’s existing and future financial needs. Through online research, Clinton discovered the Cornerstone Fund. Greg played an integral role in initiating communication with the Cornerstone Fund, processing the application, and documenting the process. In addition, Mr. Clinton and the interim pastor even encouraged the congregation to weigh in on the decision-making process—they wanted to keep the previous lender, but could not agree to higher interest rates. The old way was no longer beneficial to MCUCC.

Other lenders offered quality rates, but one special component was still missing. The Cornerstone Fund provided Mt. Calvary UCC with one quality that the other lenders did not offer—a personal relationship with the church—and that is why, ultimately, the congregation decided to proceed with the Cornerstone Fund.

Clinton emphasizes that throughout the three-year process, the Cornerstone Fund “made everyone feel comfortable” by revising parts of the loan and even sending representatives to Durham to assist in the process. “Family is important to us here, and the Cornerstone Fund representatives feel more like family than loan officers.”

Details of the Cornerstone Fund Loan and Utilization

Mt. Calvary UCC | United Church of Christ Cornerstone FundIn addition to establishing a personal relationship with the Cornerstone Fund, these financing options also made the loan worthwhile:

  • 30-year term and amortization mortgage loan;
  • 5-year adjustable rate that was very competitive;
  • Ability to refinance for $900,000, which will be used to pay off mortgage and make needed building improvements; and,
  • No pre-payment penalty.

Mr. Calvary UCC plans to utilize the funding in several ways. First, they plan use the loan for repairs to the J.C. Cheek’s Education Building. Completing construction will result in moving coveted education and community programs back into the designated building. It also means moving displaced board meetings and services for church members, such as funeral repasses, back into the church.

Closing the Deal

The Cornerstone Fund believes in investing from the heart to build for the future—a fitting slogan to complete the church’s goal of obtaining much-needed funding. Mt. Calvary UCC could not have asked for a better closing day, either. The congregation not only acknowledged closing on a loan that will positively impact their future, the church also celebrated its 124th anniversary. For the coming years, Mt. Calvary UCC has three primary goals: strengthen church programs; prepare the next generation; and fundraise enough to pay down the church’s debt. Greg Clinton is also hopeful that the Cornerstone Fund will be a source of funding for anticipated large-scale projects like an on-campus retirement home and family center. In 2017, Mt. Calvary UCC might have closed. But with vital funding, they have just opened the doors to a very bright future.

CHAMP Homes (Hyannis, Massachusetts)

Posted on: November 15th, 2019 by Kathy Houston No Comments

CHAMP Homes | United Church of Christ Cornerstone FundFacing homelessness, citizens seek out a CHAMP

Housing insecurity is a big problem in America. While homelessness has declined, there are still millions of families that teeter on the edge between housing and homelessness. The US Census Department recently revealed that one in every four renting households (roughly 19 million families) spend more than half their monthly income on rent. This is the definition of “housing insecure,” when one emergency or unexpected expense can send a family over the edge into homelessness.

Genesa Gonzalez lost the home she shared with her mother during the Great Recession. Unable to live independently at the time, a United Church of Christ affiliated non-profit organization, CHAMP Homes, became a necessary refuge for Gonzalez. At CHAMP, Gonzalez has become an active community member and, with the support from staff, taken steps toward independent living.

While federal and local dollars can help people in crisis with shelters and soup kitchens, people who are housing insecure often need more comprehensive support. Based in Hyannis, Massachusetts, CHAMP Homes seeks to heal the causes of homelessness, not just the symptoms. “Our goal is to position our program participants to prevent future homelessness by modeling and teaching life skills and asking each to step up to their own personal best,” says Beth Wade, Executive Director of CHAMP Homes. “Champ is a hand-up program. We try to work with individuals to position them to deal with the issues that led up to their homelessness. Sometimes it is a mental health issue and it is connecting them with medical and psychiatric help, helping them to increase their med compliance. Or it is an educational issue: they need more life skills or job training.  Or it might be a situational issue: needing to clear up legal matters, for example.”

CHAMP Homes | United Church of Christ Cornerstone Fund

CHAMP finds the United Church of Christ Cornerstone Fund

CH
AMP discovered the United Church of Christ Cornerstone Fund through the United Church of Christ’s Council Health and Human Services Ministries (CHHSM). While local banks can be a source of financial security for non-profit organizations, many of them are not willing to take a risk on organizations that rely on donations and grants to support their work. This leaves many organizations, including CHAMP Homes, in need of less traditional funding sources. Wade says, “Cornerstone understood the idiosyncrasies of non-profits and their finances.” Champ, like many non-profits, relies on donations. Private donations are often cyclical with many donors giving most at the end of the calendar year. This can create “lean seasons” for a non-profit, often in the summer when programming is at its height. To answer this need, the Cornerstone Fund provided a $100,000 line of credit to CHAMP Homes, allowing CHAMP to survive such a lean cycle and keep operations moving so their doors stay open.

For CHAMP Homes, staying open means saving lives. CHAMP members are a diverse group, crossing ages, religious backgrounds, abilities, and life experience. But they all share one very important trait: every member was homeless or very close to being homeless.

CHAMP Homes understands that people experiencing homelessness often need to feel safe to be able to thrive. CHAMP’s social justice values encouraged the organization to seek out funders with shared value systems. “I very much appreciate the faith-based values of Cornerstone,” says Wade. “They are not only words, but lived values.  And we certainly appreciate and uphold that – as we work to live our values out in our own community, too.”

Grace-Trinity UCC (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)

Posted on: November 8th, 2019 by Kathy Houston No Comments

Transforming a community through education

Rev. Dr. Chandra Soans of Grace-Trinity United Church of Christ is particularly proud of Grace Neighborhood Academy School, a funded project through the Cornerstone Fund. With the help of his wife Betsy, Grace-Trinity UCC, and other ministries in the area, this funded project has helped to revitalize and strengthen one of Philadelphia’s most economically-challenged neighborhoods.

Grace-Trinity | United Church of Christ Cornerstone FundInitially, Grace-Trinity UCC funded their projects through traditional lending corporations in order to support several church and community projects. However, when the idea for building a school in one of the city’s toughest areas, Dr. Soans knew that he wanted to move in a different direction. Building and running a school, a massive undertaking, required a better financial plan than what the bank had originally offered.

The Cornerstone Fund provided Rev. Dr. Soans and the Grace-Trinity UCC $1.5 million in financing—a 30-year-loan, guaranteed fixed rate for five years followed by an adjustable rate based on the market index for the duration of the loan. With the loan, Grace-Trinity UCC was able to pay off the original bank loan, in addition to completing the school’s infrastructure, provide several quality jobs to educators, and include resources like books and after-school programs for its 160 students.

Responsible investing with the Cornerstone Fund

“We went with the Cornerstone Fund over the commercial bank because the Cornerstone Fund reinvests in churches and non-profit organizations. Money being repurposed for schools, churches, and orphanages is responsible investing.”  While supporting the Cornerstone Fund’s investment practices, Soans appreciates that “the Cornerstone Fund is an organization that is dedicated to improving the community. The loans provide funds to bless the people, not to harm the people.” Soans is also thankful for the Cornerstone Fund’s “great discount and interest rates, too.”

Grace-Trinity | United Church of Christ Cornerstone FundIn the years since Grace Neighborhood Academy has opened its doors, the community has witnessed a 20% increase in high school graduation rates. For Soans, this is the very reason why he got into ministry in the first place. “Although there is still more work to be done, it is a blessing to see how a commitment to investing Philadelphia’s worst neighborhoods has paid off. Education has been the driving force behind this community’s remarkable transformation.”

Soans recalls one specific family that is near and dear to Grace Neighborhood Academy School. “They walked into my office– a grandmother, mother, and teenage daughter. The girl arrived with a miniature American eagle. She had just recently come from a visit from the White House with then, President Barack Obama. When I asked her to describe the symbolism behind the eagle, the young girl said that it represented freedom and perseverance. She wanted me to have it because she credited Grace Neighborhood Academy with ‘laying the foundation for success and providing the strength and resilience needed to thrive in an academic setting.’

Dr. Soans also vividly remembers a special invitation to an area high school graduation in which the valedictorian was a former Grace Neighborhood Academy student. The student thanked Soans in an honorary speech, citing Dr. Soans interest in education as a motivating factor for his educational success. From Grace Academy to Drexel University to study pre-medicine—Soans couldn’t be “prouder.”

Fulfilling a destiny

Without hesitation, Rev. Dr. Soans highly recommends loan assistance from the Cornerstone Fund. “The funding from the Cornerstone Fund has helped Grace-Trinity to fulfill its destiny of helping others in need. We still need to make more progress in zip code 19124. However, based on the success of Grace Neighborhood Academy School, I’m certain that we will.”

Special note: Dr. Chandra Soans now serves on the United Church of Christ Cornerstone Fund’s Board of Directors (as of 2018).

Christ the King UCC (St. Louis, Missouri)

Posted on: November 1st, 2019 by Kathy Houston No Comments

Christ the King | United the Church of Christ Cornerstone FundBringing comfort to a congregation

Churches have a special place in communities. While many see them as simply houses of worship, any regular churchgoer knows that religious services are only one of the many roles a church may fill. Many churches endeavor to be venues for a variety of community needs, places to gather, to find support, to make friends, and to better oneself.

Christ the King UCC in St. Louis, Missouri, knows this well. Whether it is hosting GED training classes or poster-making for a local rally, congregants at Christ the King have come to rely on their church as a place to meet like-minded individuals who support and lift up one another.

A hub for a community

A good church is a hub for a community. But when the systems that make a church comfortable and welcoming start to fail, no amount of love and emotional support can make those repairs.

Christ the King struggled with a faulty HVAC system and other signs of wear and tear. It was forced to cancel choir rehearsals when its furnace failed to beat back the brutal Missouri winters. The roof leaked with spring rains. And its Midwestern summers became stifling with no A/C.

As any homeowner knows, these problems are not just ones of mere comfort. A leaky roof can cause damage to structural elements and create health hazards. Inadequate temperature control can take a toll on both sensitive equipment and sensitive congregants.

Christ the King | United the Church of Christ Cornerstone FundWhen Christ the King needed to solve this problem to keep providing services to their community, they looked to the Cornerstone Fund to help. Wes Hurt, a church council member and project manager for the Cornerstone funded projects, says, “We invited the Cornerstone Fund to meet with us to present our project proposals and to discuss if and how the Cornerstone Fund could support our endeavors. Our experience with Cornerstone Fund has been absolutely positive.” Christ the King chose to take on Cornerstone’s Church Builder Bonus program, which allowed them to undertake nine individual projects to upgrade the church facilities including a new roof, new HVAC, energy-efficiency upgrades, and ramp building.

Fulfilling its commitment to the community

Christ the King | United the Church of Christ Cornerstone FundWhile some of the projects are still underway, the changes are already having a great effect on both the congregation and the neighboring community of Florrisant, Missouri. Hurt says, “We were awarded an energy efficiency rebate of $4,800 on the installation cost of the drives by the local electric utility (AmerenMO).  We have also received numerous compliments from neighbors and others about our new steeple roof.  Day and night, people drive by our church and pull into the parking lots and take pictures.” And perhaps most importantly, the church is able to fulfill its commitment to the community. “Our church is open 6-7 days most weeks (days and evenings) and the HVAC system now provides reliable service so those few program postponements or cancellations have been eliminated,” says Hurt.  “Our members continuously express their appreciation on the project work that is being done.”

United Church Camps (Wisconsin Conference)

Posted on: October 25th, 2019 by Kathy Houston No Comments

United Church Camps’ Facilities Get Much Needed Upgrade

When Glenn Svetnicka wanted to get a jumpstart on projects during the campaigning season, he knew the United Church of Christ Cornerstone Fund would play an integral role in their upcoming Campo campaign. Associated with the Wisconsin Conference of the United Church of Christ, Glenn is the Executive Director of the United Church Camps Outdoor Ministry–a position that he holds with great pride. Svetnicka is passionate about varying aspects of ministry, but he also welcomes the responsibility of initiating funding in order to maintain or advance building infrastructure.

The United Church of Christ Cornerstone Fund “had a great personal relationship with the us before they ever lent a single dime of money,” says Svetnicka. Therefore, it wasn’t a surprise to find out that the United Church Camps Outdoor Ministry held a previous line of credit with the Cornerstone Fund. Svetnicka valued the relationship with the Cornerstone Fund and wanted to seek additional monies from a faith-based lending company already within the United Church of Christ family.

“I’m in the ministry business and we are changing the world for the better. In everything I do, I want partners that are along for the vision. The mission and the ministry is divinely inspired,” says Svetnicka.

 

Necessary Building Repairs

Pilgrim Center

Pilgrim Center

The United Church Camps Outdoor Ministry within the Wisconsin Conference houses two main facilities on their Moon Beach and Pilgrim Center properties. Both facilities are sacred–one with a main building dating back to 1902 and the other constructed in 1957. At first, Svetnicka wanted to tear down the original building. It was old and needed a great deal of fixing. Instead, Glenn thought it more important to repurpose the original building structure with additions that are both cost-efficient and sturdy enough to last well into the future.

“The Cornerstone Fund gave us a headstart on the repairs and new building endeavors. HVAC, information technology upgrades, roofs, and additional siding–these buildings needed a lot of work,” explained Svetnicka.

 

Environmentally Conscious Additions

Lodge at Moon Beach

Lodge at Moon Beach

When upgrading the facilities, Glenn wanted to make sure all of the additions were environmentally friendly. “In order to reduce our carbon footprint, the upgrade plan included the use of composite materials–safer for the environment and still would last for years to come,” explained Svetnicka.

“Throughout the planning and construction phase, it is our duty to be responsible stewards of the earth. We have one planet and we need to give back to it.”

Glenn executed this specifically with the upgrades to the Moon Beach facility.

“Although we kept the metal roof and in-floor hydronic heating system, the facility still needed to be more winterized. With the funding from the Cornerstone Fund, we were able to add an on-demand water heater, double the space in three separate cabins, and partition a much-needed, winterized breakup space in the one of the larger cabins.”

 

Primary Beneficiaries

Camp AweSum Logo“People need a safe space and respite to hear that God loves them. It’s what the world needs right now,” Svetnicka point out.

That’s why renewing the Moon Beach site for Camp AweSum was so important. This site houses families and children that have been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). For several weeks, these families and individuals come to Moon Beach in hopes of fellowshipping with others and connecting to nature in a peaceful setting.

“It is of the utmost importance for us to provide predictable sleeping accommodations and consistent scheduling predictability,” says Svetnicka.

Safety concerns, mold, or unrecognizable smells (due to lack of proper maintenance) can really affect autistic children. “And because we also facilitate a memory camp for individuals with dementia, it was a priority to structure the upgrade with sensory details in mind.” He continues, “We want our all of our guests to feel comfortable here.”

 

A Future with the Cornerstone Fund

Without question, Svetnicka wholeheartedly recommends the Cornerstone Fund. He emphasizes, “The rates are on par and customer service is stellar. The Cornerstone Fund is an ethical company that understands the church business.”

As for the United Church Camps Outdoor Ministry, there is currently quite the demand for additional retreat programs like Camp AweSum. Svetnicka hopes to meet those demands in the future by providing additional safe-space sites for individuals and families alike. “At first, we were one ministry with two sites. Now, we are hoping to be one ministry with three sites. If we need additional lending, we will surely turn to the Cornerstone Fund.”

St. Paul’s United Church of Christ (Lebanon, Illinois)

Posted on: October 15th, 2019 by Kathy Houston No Comments

St. Paul's United Church of Christ | United Church of Christ Cornerstone FundRestoration Project Upholds New Mission
In the 1960s, St. Paul United Church of Christ was gifted an exquisite pipe organ. For nearly six decades, the organ’s pressurized air filled the sanctuary with music on Sundays, for weddings, and homegoing services. When the pipes collapsed a few years ago, Brent Wood, St. Paul’s financial advisor, knew that the organ’s repairs were just a small part of a much larger need for additional renovations–improvements that ultimately would support St. Paul UCC’s greater vision for the community.

In the past few decades, St. Paul UCC had also undergone another significant transition. Their underlying objective shifted from an evangelical calling to a mission-based focus. Servicing much of the surrounding community, the campus’ outdated structures certainly did not align with the St. Paul’s current vision.

Although there was little room in the church’s budget for renovation projects, Wood still pondered, “How can St. Paul UCC repair the organ and upgrade facilities in the most cost-efficient way? After all, St. Paul’s long-time members and internal staff had been wrestling with this idea for the past 25 years.

With St. Paul’s 150th anniversary on the horizon, Wood–along with a few other dedicated team members–wanted to commemorate this special occasion. The group not only vowed to restore the organ, but also to orchestrate necessary building renovations.

It would take lots of hard work and patience, but the two-year renovation plan included upgrades that would be ready just in time for the landmark anniversary.

“We do a lot of weddings and funerals for both members of our congregation as well as the community.” Wood continued, “A gathering welcome center–now that’s really what our neighborhood needs.”

After an aggressive fundraising campaign, there was still a great need for additional financial assistance. Therefore, St. Paul UCC–a campus that had never utilized the loan program–reached out to the United Church of Christ Cornerstone Fund.

“In order to transform the old evangelical reform wing to a modernized welcome center and rebuild the sacred organ within a tight, two-year window, we were in desperate need of some serious capital,” explains Wood.

He continues, “Our past experience with banks have been painful. For our first big project, we desired competitive rates and flexibility–and that’s what Cornerstone Fund provided.”

St. Paul UCC received an amortized loan for approximately $950,000–a significant portion needed to rebuild the organ and make upgrades to the buildings.

The building upgrades and revitalized organ were completed just in time for the 150th church anniversary (2018). The new welcome center and organ have served the members, both new and old in many ways.

“We’ve had a lot of growth and turnover within our congregation over the last 30 years. St. Paul UCC has evolved in the types of services it provides,” says Wood.

St. Paul's United Church of Christ | United Church of Christ Cornerstone FundSince renovation, various community programs offered by St. Paul UCC have also benefited immensely. This past year, St. Paul UCC passed the $350,000 scholarship goal, providing youth and adults with transformative education and reeducation programs.

One of St. Paul UCC’s greatest accomplishments in two years since acquiring the loan has been its contribution to a multi-tiered interdenominational community assistance program.

“The loan was also used to purchase a home (located directly across from the St. Paul UCC campus) for our community assistance program,” says Wood.

The home–with the help of an area Catholic, Methodist, and Baptist church–provides mental health and financial counseling; rental and utility assistance; and a year-long food pantry.

Lebanon Matthew 25:40 Ministries is completely volunteer run initiative. The home is fully paid for and has a new roofing, cooling, and heating system,” says Wood.

Brent continues with emphasis, “The relief in someone’s eyes when they receive rental assistance; a safe space that’s used to provide comforting quiet for a grieving loved one during a funeral service; an area for volunteers to distribute food to the hungry–essentially, the loan program from the Cornerstone Fund has allowed us (St. Paul UCC) to help others. And that is truly priceless.”

Ravenswood United Church of Christ (Chicago, IL)

“Church is more than a place to go on Sunday morning. At its best, it is a community that lives and breathes with the seasons of life.”
Rev. Jason W. Coulter, Pastor, Ravenswood UCC

Ravenswood Raises the Roof
Ravenswood United Church of Christ is a mainstay in Chicago’s Lincoln Square neighborhood. It has provided a place to fellowship and worship for almost a century. But when Rev. Jason W. Coulter took over as lead pastor in 2008, he noticed years of deferred maintenance to an aging building. “The walls needed painting. The boilers were old and failing, and the bathrooms – extremely dated – just weren’t aesthetically pleasing,” says Coulter.

With a small, yet mighty congregation, Rev. Coulter was able to address many of the church’s needs with fundraising and an unexpected insurance settlement. “We had a committed group of people who wanted to fundraise,” explains Coulter. And those efforts paid off. After a year-long campaign which included a country-line dance inspired fundraising party resulted in a $75,000 surplus. Those funds covered many upgrades including new paint and a new boiler.

However, Coulter needed an additional $50,000 for a huge undertaking – replacing the building’s roof. With a grand total of about $120,000, Coulter understood that fundraising would not be enough to fix the church’s most pressing repair. So, with advice from a friend in the banking industry, Coulter opened a few small investments with the Cornerstone Fund. In addition, he applied and was approved for a small loan – just enough to cover the repairs for the roof.

 

Fix the roof, reach the people.
One of the core missions of Ravenswood UCC is sharing the love of God with people, regardless of an individual’s background. On the website, Rev. Coulter emphasizes, “Our doors are to you no matter who you are or where you are in life’s journey. So whether you’re young or old, black or while, gay or straight, right or left-handed, or somehow all of the above – you are welcome here with us.”

Indirectly, the Cornerstone Fund loan has helped to support this mission. “Our biggest relief is that we don’t have to worry about the building structure anymore. We get to attend church every Sunday knowing it’s going to be warm and that there’s not going to be any leaks,” says Coulter. “We can just focus on our core mission – which is worshiping God and serving our community” adds Rev. Coulter.

Another part of Ravenswood’s mission involves a congregation which has a social justice focus. Coupled with a strong UCC identity, Coulter wants to ensure an objective that is recognizable even by those driving past the church or pedestrian passersby. A large banner that includes a 4’x8” rainbow flag, occupies the main entrance of the church and states, “God is still speaking.” It’s a clear indicator that Ravenswood UCC is an LGTBQIA–welcoming community.

“Having an up-to-date building where people can come together with shared values, compassion, kindness, and inclusion – that is the kind of identity we want…that’s who we are,” says Coulter.

 

Preserving the building for the next generation is a priority.
The cover of Ravenswood UCC fundraising brochure featured the 90-year-old matriarch of the church holding a baby on her lap. The image speaks volumes about the direction of Ravenswood and why building repairs were so necessary. “We want to make sure this church is around so that the next generation can enjoy the same worship that the previous generation had access to,” Coulter asserts.

The new roof has allowed Pastor Coulter to also focus on the family and childrens’ ministries. Since he started in 2008, he’s noticed an increase in the number of children who attend service, too.

Since addressing the major repairs to the roof, Coulter has also been able to give some much-needed attention to the children’s ministry, nursery, and Sunday school. “We also have a young parents’ group that meets regularly for parents night out. Our nursery provider comes in on a Friday night and all the kids play under a secure roof while the parents enjoy a night on the town. We can do all of these things because we don’t have to worry about the structural security of the building,” says Coulter.

Churches helping other churches
With a congregation of only about fifty members, Coulter relies heavily on volunteers to assist with every aspect of operation. Ravenswood is a “small church that doesn’t have an administrative staff.”

It was critical, then, to have a seamless loan process – one that is straightforward and uncomplicated. Coulter was able to single-handedly submit the loan application and provide supporting documentation with ease.

And when asked whether he’d encourage other small churches to partner with the United Church of Christ Cornerstone Fund, Rev. Coulter gave a ringing endorsement. “We took advantage of a good loan at a fair rate. And the process was very simple.” He continues, “Churches helping other churches really resonate spiritually and organizationally.”

The Basics of Conscious Investing

Did you know that there’s a way to align your values to your investments? It’s called socially responsible investing (SRI) and here’s what you need to know. 

Investing can be complicated, especially if you’re just starting out. An easy way to narrow down the types of investments is by examining which opportunities line up with your own personal ethics and values. Growing your money while making a difference? If it seems too good to be true, it isn’t. This altruistic form of allocating funds is called socially responsible investing.

What is Socially Responsible Investing?

Socially responsible investing, or SRI, is investing with a conscious. Essentially, social responsible investing is a merge between financial gain and making a positive impact. Whether it’s women’s or civil rights, anti-war efforts, climate change, or decreasing world hunger – every investment is made with the end goal of reallocating funds to a conscious cause. The actual process details excluding companies and types of investments that do not align these core values.

ESGs Work Hand-in-Hand With SRI

There’s a strategy used to round up values-based companies to invest in. And this strategy is broken into three categories: environmental, social, or governance impact, also referred to as ESGs.

Environmental: These companies are directly or indirectly dedicated to reducing their carbon footprint. If you’re looking to invest in green companies, you’ll want to ensure the company practices using green technologies, water and natural resource conservation, decreased pollution, recycling, and hazardous waste management.

Social: Companies that promote overall connectivity within the society at large. For example, companies that encourage employee retention and satisfaction, promote diversity and inclusion, and foster optimal company culture are ones that are viable options for social impact investments.

Governance: This refers to how the actual company is managed. Wanting to invest in a company that has ethical business practices and is committed to equal pay amongst its employees

Is Conscious Investing Right for Me? 

If you want to invest, but prioritize investments that align to your values, then SRI is right for you. Financial outcomes are important, however, you’ll want to find the best values-based fit for your investment. This will require you to ask yourself key questions about your own personal values. Is investing in woman-owned businesses important to me? How about companies that promote sustainable energy? Perhaps you’re primarily interested in investments that give back to K-12 education.

Whatever, the cause, analyze whether the types of investments will match your moral, social, ethical, and/or religious views. Side note: SRI also means avoiding investments that directly misalign to your values, too. For instance, if one of your core practices is promoting internal health, you wouldn’t want to invest in a tobacco or cigarette production company.

There’s a ton of diversity in SRIs. Options include investing in individual SRIs or making socially responsible investments through mutual funds, index funds, or exchange-traded funds.

If you aren’t sure which companies truly align to your values, it’s best to hire a financial advisor that can provide guidance in this specific arena.

What’s the 411 on ESA’s?

Education Savings Accounts, or ESAs, allow you to give the gift of education to your child.
So, you want to start saving for your child’s education? That’s fantastic! However, if you are planning for your child’s education, the barrage of online information can be quite overwhelming. After learning about the different kinds of savings plans, you’re still left wondering: What is the best type of education savings account for my family? Are there withdrawal penalties? What is the minimum and maximum contribution per year? Which kinds of education expenses do these accounts cover? 

The Basics
There are two main types of education savings plans: the 529 college savings plan and the Coverdell Education Savings Account, or ESA. While its original intention was to cover only the cost of postsecondary education, the 529 savings plan was recently amended through the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) to include education and tutoring expenditures for K–12 education as well. 

Other families prefer to finance their child’s education with a Coverdell Education Savings Account, or ESA. This savings plan is an account that allows for families to use funds in a multitude of ways. Like the reformed 529 plan, ESAs can also be used for schooling other than college: private school tuition and fees, online courses, private tutoring, community college, higher education expenses and other approved educational services or materials. 

Although there is a growing interest nationwide, right now, only five states have active ESA programs: Arizona, Florida, Mississippi, North Carolina, and Tennessee (Nevada’s program is currently inactive). 

Benefits of ESAs
Here are the primary advantages of investing in an ESA:

  • Tax-free withdrawals for unlimited qualified expenses for kindergarten through college (the 529 only allows for up to $10,000 for primary or secondary education). Some states even include preschool expenses, too. 
  • Flexibility in selecting the beneficiary–the funds can be rolled over to a qualified family member of the beneficiary. 
  • There are many investment options including stocks, mutual funds, exchange-traded funds, and real-estate investment trusts. Accounts can be set up by a bank, brokerage, or mutual fund company. 
  • You can invest simultaneously in both an ESA and a 529 savings plan in the same year.
  • Contributions are not tax deductible, but money will grow tax free until deductions are taken.

As with any savings plans, there are also a few cons to consider:

  • Annual contributions are capped at $2,000 for joint filers. 
  • Must be rolled over to a beneficiary by age 30 (529 savings plan has no age limit). Contributions cannot be made to the beneficiary after the age of 18.
  • According to the IRS, there are income restrictions for contributing to the Coverdell Education Savings Account. Particularly, if your MAGI (modified adjusted gross income) is higher, you will not be able to open one of these accounts. 

What’s New?
Education Savings Accounts have evolved from the former Education IRAs and as more states take interest in these programs, changes will be instituted on a rolling basis. The primary changes that have taken place in 2019–2020 reflect the available yearly contribution and income for maximum contribution. Originally, Education IRAs only allowed for a maximum of $500. Now, there is a $2,000 yearly maximum contribution. Additionally, the income limit now stands at $190,000 ($220,000 for joint-filed tax returns).

Start an Education Savings Account Today
Now it’s time to set up your ESA! First, you’ll want to choose the exact way you want to invest the money on your child’s behalf. Next, you’ll want to find an institution to set up your account. If you live in a state that does not have an established ESA program, you can find programs with institutions like the Cornerstone Fund. Finally, contribute a designated amount each year to the account. It may not seem like much now, but saving up to $2,000 per year can be instrumental in funding your child’s educational milestones. 

Riverside First Congregational Church (Riverside, California)

Historical Beauty Meets Modern Needs, and First Congregational Church Riverside’s uses capital improvements to help serve their community

Southern California is a place of contrasts. Vast wealth coexists with devastating poverty, natural beauty works in concert with Hollywood illusion, and hundred-year-old Mission architecture abuts new condo developments. At the center of these contrasts stands First Congregational Church Riverside.

First Congregational Church Riverside | United Church of Christ Cornerstone FundBuilt in 1913 and designed by revered architect Myron Hunt, FCC Riverside is a stunning example of Spanish Colonial Revival architecture. Mirroring its aesthetic, the ministries of FCC Riverside are also timeless—feeding the poor, offering a welcoming home for worshippers, and working hard to serve the needs of their community.

One of the church’s key ministries is Project Food, a weekly sit-down meal offered to the community. “Anyone who wants a meal is welcome,” says Sandra Soares, the Chairperson and Volunteer coordinator for Project Food. She emphasizes that Project Food serves a range of community members, from the marginally housed to families or seniors on fixed incomes.

First Congregational Church Riverside | United Church of Christ Cornerstone Fund“Regardless of why they come, we’re there every Wednesday.” The weekly meal is served restaurant-style by volunteers. The food is served on real plates with real flatware. Entertainment is provided. This added level of care and comfort sets Project Food apart, allowing it to be a true community gathering based in the spirit of kinship. That attention to service and dignity has proven meaningful to the community. The project continues to grow as it hits its 35th year in service.

“Too many families in our community struggle with the question, ‘Do I put a roof over my head or do I buy groceries?’” says Soares. “Our goal always has been to provide some sort of solution to the homeless crisis. Affordable housing is one of the issues. Mental health is one of the issues. Addiction is a HUGE issue.” Soares insists solutions need to address people holistically. “We need to stop thinking of it as one specific problem, and more of a multifaceted issue. ‘I’m a vet, I’m an injured vet, I’m an addicted injured vet.’”

First Congregational Church Riverside | United Church of Christ Cornerstone FundTo serve that approach, Project Food has expanded to include distribution of supplies and clothes, as well as a biweekly free clinic provided by UC Riverside’s medical school. This expansion delights the FCC congregation and the Riverside community, but it brings with it one particularly challenging contrast: an aging building that needs to adapt and grow. FCC Riverside’s church was added to the National Register of historic buildings in 1997.

In 2014, Cornerstone provided funds to expand the kitchen to maintain the growth of Project Food. Today, the building needs retrofitting so that it is earthquake-safe. Just as no one should have to choose between keeping a roof over their head or buying groceries, FCC’s faces an impossible choice between serving needy congregants and maintaining the safety of their building. Cornerstone has once more partnered with FCC Riverside to establish a line of credit to help retrofit the church and preserve the iconic bell tower.

First Congregational Church Riverside | United Church of Christ Cornerstone FundThe church is also running their own capital campaign to cover the costs of the work. “We were fortunate to receive a number of donations including a large grant from the Old Riverside Foundation,” says Reverend Hannah Cranbury. The church also set up a GoFundMe to accept private, smaller donations. “We were pleased to receive donations from community members outside of the church, which helped us feel the support of the community around us,” Cranbury says.

“We don’t know how to fix [the tower], but we know how to feed people,” Soares added. With a little support from congregants and community, they’ll be able to do both.

Mt. Calvary UCC (Durham, North Carolina)

A Catalyst for Celebration

Mt. Calvary UCC | United Church of Christ Cornerstone FundA church rich in history and service, 2017 was quite the year for celebration at Mt. Calvary United Church of Christ (MCUCC). Nestled less than a half-mile from North Carolina Central University, MCUCC is a safe space and beacon of hope for surrounding communities. The heart of Mt. Calvary UCC is family; just a small part of what makes MCUCC so unique is that it has been a generational mainstay for families in and around Durham for over 100 years.

From 1970 until his passing in 2013, Reverend Dr. Josiah Cecil Cheek, shepherded a 43-year development period, “On the Move for God,” which included building renovation and expansion, increased membership, student-exchange programs, leadership conferences, and fundraising efforts that afforded MCUCC the opportunity to increase various church programs and committees. After building a new sanctuary to accommodate a growing congregation, in 2001, the former sanctuary was renamed J.C. Cheek’s Education Building.

The J.C. Cheek’s Education building has made a significant impact to both MCUCC and the community. The building has housed a thriving after-school program, tutorial center, and basketball team that competes in local tournaments. For many children and young adults, the Cheek’s Building is a safe place—and sometimes the only place—to feel welcomed and loved.

In MCUCC’s quest to provide a foundational place of worship and safe space for area youth, they encountered many challenges along the way. A few years ago, after the passing of MCUCC’s beloved pastor, the structural wall of the J.C. Cheek’s Education building failed. Contractors discovered that the foundation’s damage was caused by the weight of over 15 feet of dirt in the building’s landscaping area. MCUCC moved all education programs into the main sanctuary of the church, resulting in an elimination of several church programs that no longer had the space to operate. During this transition, membership also decreased from 600 to just around 300 members.

Although the physical foundation of MCUCC was temporarily damaged, the church’s spiritual foundation could not be broken. With an existing mortgage of $480,000, over $60,000 in building repairs, and a church in search of its next leader, the MCUCC family and interim pastor persevered in carrying out the “On the Move” legacy of Rev. Dr. Cheek. Executing this mission meant securing financial assistance in order to accomplish several short and long-term goals.

MCUCC Chooses the Cornerstone Fund

Mt. Calvary UCC | United Church of Christ Cornerstone FundGreg Clinton, who serves on the trustee board, has been in the business of automating churches and firms for many years. Clinton also has a vested familial interest in the success of Mt. Calvary UCC. “My father and brother have also served as board chairs and our family has 12 siblings that attend Mt. Calvary UCC. We all have a job to do and, especially for future generations, I am committed to leaving Mt. Calvary better off than I found it,” says Clinton.

Using prior professional experience, Clinton assisted the church’s finance department in evaluating the church’s existing and future financial needs. Through online research, Clinton discovered the Cornerstone Fund. Greg played an integral role in initiating communication with the Cornerstone Fund, processing the application, and documenting the process. In addition, Mr. Clinton and the interim pastor even encouraged the congregation to weigh in on the decision-making process—they wanted to keep the previous lender, but could not agree to higher interest rates. The old way was no longer beneficial to MCUCC.

Other lenders offered quality rates, but one special component was still missing. The Cornerstone Fund provided Mt. Calvary UCC with one quality that the other lenders did not offer—a personal relationship with the church—and that is why, ultimately, the congregation decided to proceed with the Cornerstone Fund.

Clinton emphasizes that throughout the three-year process, the Cornerstone Fund “made everyone feel comfortable” by revising parts of the loan and even sending representatives to Durham to assist in the process. “Family is important to us here, and the Cornerstone Fund representatives feel more like family than loan officers.”

Details of the Cornerstone Fund Loan and Utilization

Mt. Calvary UCC | United Church of Christ Cornerstone FundIn addition to establishing a personal relationship with the Cornerstone Fund, these financing options also made the loan worthwhile:

  • 30-year term and amortization mortgage loan;
  • 5-year adjustable rate that was very competitive;
  • Ability to refinance for $900,000, which will be used to pay off mortgage and make needed building improvements; and,
  • No pre-payment penalty.

Mr. Calvary UCC plans to utilize the funding in several ways. First, they plan use the loan for repairs to the J.C. Cheek’s Education Building. Completing construction will result in moving coveted education and community programs back into the designated building. It also means moving displaced board meetings and services for church members, such as funeral repasses, back into the church.

Closing the Deal

The Cornerstone Fund believes in investing from the heart to build for the future—a fitting slogan to complete the church’s goal of obtaining much-needed funding. Mt. Calvary UCC could not have asked for a better closing day, either. The congregation not only acknowledged closing on a loan that will positively impact their future, the church also celebrated its 124th anniversary. For the coming years, Mt. Calvary UCC has three primary goals: strengthen church programs; prepare the next generation; and fundraise enough to pay down the church’s debt. Greg Clinton is also hopeful that the Cornerstone Fund will be a source of funding for anticipated large-scale projects like an on-campus retirement home and family center. In 2017, Mt. Calvary UCC might have closed. But with vital funding, they have just opened the doors to a very bright future.

CHAMP Homes (Hyannis, Massachusetts)

CHAMP Homes | United Church of Christ Cornerstone FundFacing homelessness, citizens seek out a CHAMP

Housing insecurity is a big problem in America. While homelessness has declined, there are still millions of families that teeter on the edge between housing and homelessness. The US Census Department recently revealed that one in every four renting households (roughly 19 million families) spend more than half their monthly income on rent. This is the definition of “housing insecure,” when one emergency or unexpected expense can send a family over the edge into homelessness.

Genesa Gonzalez lost the home she shared with her mother during the Great Recession. Unable to live independently at the time, a United Church of Christ affiliated non-profit organization, CHAMP Homes, became a necessary refuge for Gonzalez. At CHAMP, Gonzalez has become an active community member and, with the support from staff, taken steps toward independent living.

While federal and local dollars can help people in crisis with shelters and soup kitchens, people who are housing insecure often need more comprehensive support. Based in Hyannis, Massachusetts, CHAMP Homes seeks to heal the causes of homelessness, not just the symptoms. “Our goal is to position our program participants to prevent future homelessness by modeling and teaching life skills and asking each to step up to their own personal best,” says Beth Wade, Executive Director of CHAMP Homes. “Champ is a hand-up program. We try to work with individuals to position them to deal with the issues that led up to their homelessness. Sometimes it is a mental health issue and it is connecting them with medical and psychiatric help, helping them to increase their med compliance. Or it is an educational issue: they need more life skills or job training.  Or it might be a situational issue: needing to clear up legal matters, for example.”

CHAMP Homes | United Church of Christ Cornerstone Fund

CHAMP finds the United Church of Christ Cornerstone Fund

CH
AMP discovered the United Church of Christ Cornerstone Fund through the United Church of Christ’s Council Health and Human Services Ministries (CHHSM). While local banks can be a source of financial security for non-profit organizations, many of them are not willing to take a risk on organizations that rely on donations and grants to support their work. This leaves many organizations, including CHAMP Homes, in need of less traditional funding sources. Wade says, “Cornerstone understood the idiosyncrasies of non-profits and their finances.” Champ, like many non-profits, relies on donations. Private donations are often cyclical with many donors giving most at the end of the calendar year. This can create “lean seasons” for a non-profit, often in the summer when programming is at its height. To answer this need, the Cornerstone Fund provided a $100,000 line of credit to CHAMP Homes, allowing CHAMP to survive such a lean cycle and keep operations moving so their doors stay open.

For CHAMP Homes, staying open means saving lives. CHAMP members are a diverse group, crossing ages, religious backgrounds, abilities, and life experience. But they all share one very important trait: every member was homeless or very close to being homeless.

CHAMP Homes understands that people experiencing homelessness often need to feel safe to be able to thrive. CHAMP’s social justice values encouraged the organization to seek out funders with shared value systems. “I very much appreciate the faith-based values of Cornerstone,” says Wade. “They are not only words, but lived values.  And we certainly appreciate and uphold that – as we work to live our values out in our own community, too.”

Grace-Trinity UCC (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)

Transforming a community through education

Rev. Dr. Chandra Soans of Grace-Trinity United Church of Christ is particularly proud of Grace Neighborhood Academy School, a funded project through the Cornerstone Fund. With the help of his wife Betsy, Grace-Trinity UCC, and other ministries in the area, this funded project has helped to revitalize and strengthen one of Philadelphia’s most economically-challenged neighborhoods.

Grace-Trinity | United Church of Christ Cornerstone FundInitially, Grace-Trinity UCC funded their projects through traditional lending corporations in order to support several church and community projects. However, when the idea for building a school in one of the city’s toughest areas, Dr. Soans knew that he wanted to move in a different direction. Building and running a school, a massive undertaking, required a better financial plan than what the bank had originally offered.

The Cornerstone Fund provided Rev. Dr. Soans and the Grace-Trinity UCC $1.5 million in financing—a 30-year-loan, guaranteed fixed rate for five years followed by an adjustable rate based on the market index for the duration of the loan. With the loan, Grace-Trinity UCC was able to pay off the original bank loan, in addition to completing the school’s infrastructure, provide several quality jobs to educators, and include resources like books and after-school programs for its 160 students.

Responsible investing with the Cornerstone Fund

“We went with the Cornerstone Fund over the commercial bank because the Cornerstone Fund reinvests in churches and non-profit organizations. Money being repurposed for schools, churches, and orphanages is responsible investing.”  While supporting the Cornerstone Fund’s investment practices, Soans appreciates that “the Cornerstone Fund is an organization that is dedicated to improving the community. The loans provide funds to bless the people, not to harm the people.” Soans is also thankful for the Cornerstone Fund’s “great discount and interest rates, too.”

Grace-Trinity | United Church of Christ Cornerstone FundIn the years since Grace Neighborhood Academy has opened its doors, the community has witnessed a 20% increase in high school graduation rates. For Soans, this is the very reason why he got into ministry in the first place. “Although there is still more work to be done, it is a blessing to see how a commitment to investing Philadelphia’s worst neighborhoods has paid off. Education has been the driving force behind this community’s remarkable transformation.”

Soans recalls one specific family that is near and dear to Grace Neighborhood Academy School. “They walked into my office– a grandmother, mother, and teenage daughter. The girl arrived with a miniature American eagle. She had just recently come from a visit from the White House with then, President Barack Obama. When I asked her to describe the symbolism behind the eagle, the young girl said that it represented freedom and perseverance. She wanted me to have it because she credited Grace Neighborhood Academy with ‘laying the foundation for success and providing the strength and resilience needed to thrive in an academic setting.’

Dr. Soans also vividly remembers a special invitation to an area high school graduation in which the valedictorian was a former Grace Neighborhood Academy student. The student thanked Soans in an honorary speech, citing Dr. Soans interest in education as a motivating factor for his educational success. From Grace Academy to Drexel University to study pre-medicine—Soans couldn’t be “prouder.”

Fulfilling a destiny

Without hesitation, Rev. Dr. Soans highly recommends loan assistance from the Cornerstone Fund. “The funding from the Cornerstone Fund has helped Grace-Trinity to fulfill its destiny of helping others in need. We still need to make more progress in zip code 19124. However, based on the success of Grace Neighborhood Academy School, I’m certain that we will.”

Special note: Dr. Chandra Soans now serves on the United Church of Christ Cornerstone Fund’s Board of Directors (as of 2018).

Christ the King UCC (St. Louis, Missouri)

Christ the King | United the Church of Christ Cornerstone FundBringing comfort to a congregation

Churches have a special place in communities. While many see them as simply houses of worship, any regular churchgoer knows that religious services are only one of the many roles a church may fill. Many churches endeavor to be venues for a variety of community needs, places to gather, to find support, to make friends, and to better oneself.

Christ the King UCC in St. Louis, Missouri, knows this well. Whether it is hosting GED training classes or poster-making for a local rally, congregants at Christ the King have come to rely on their church as a place to meet like-minded individuals who support and lift up one another.

A hub for a community

A good church is a hub for a community. But when the systems that make a church comfortable and welcoming start to fail, no amount of love and emotional support can make those repairs.

Christ the King struggled with a faulty HVAC system and other signs of wear and tear. It was forced to cancel choir rehearsals when its furnace failed to beat back the brutal Missouri winters. The roof leaked with spring rains. And its Midwestern summers became stifling with no A/C.

As any homeowner knows, these problems are not just ones of mere comfort. A leaky roof can cause damage to structural elements and create health hazards. Inadequate temperature control can take a toll on both sensitive equipment and sensitive congregants.

Christ the King | United the Church of Christ Cornerstone FundWhen Christ the King needed to solve this problem to keep providing services to their community, they looked to the Cornerstone Fund to help. Wes Hurt, a church council member and project manager for the Cornerstone funded projects, says, “We invited the Cornerstone Fund to meet with us to present our project proposals and to discuss if and how the Cornerstone Fund could support our endeavors. Our experience with Cornerstone Fund has been absolutely positive.” Christ the King chose to take on Cornerstone’s Church Builder Bonus program, which allowed them to undertake nine individual projects to upgrade the church facilities including a new roof, new HVAC, energy-efficiency upgrades, and ramp building.

Fulfilling its commitment to the community

Christ the King | United the Church of Christ Cornerstone FundWhile some of the projects are still underway, the changes are already having a great effect on both the congregation and the neighboring community of Florrisant, Missouri. Hurt says, “We were awarded an energy efficiency rebate of $4,800 on the installation cost of the drives by the local electric utility (AmerenMO).  We have also received numerous compliments from neighbors and others about our new steeple roof.  Day and night, people drive by our church and pull into the parking lots and take pictures.” And perhaps most importantly, the church is able to fulfill its commitment to the community. “Our church is open 6-7 days most weeks (days and evenings) and the HVAC system now provides reliable service so those few program postponements or cancellations have been eliminated,” says Hurt.  “Our members continuously express their appreciation on the project work that is being done.”

United Church Camps (Wisconsin Conference)

United Church Camps’ Facilities Get Much Needed Upgrade

When Glenn Svetnicka wanted to get a jumpstart on projects during the campaigning season, he knew the United Church of Christ Cornerstone Fund would play an integral role in their upcoming Campo campaign. Associated with the Wisconsin Conference of the United Church of Christ, Glenn is the Executive Director of the United Church Camps Outdoor Ministry–a position that he holds with great pride. Svetnicka is passionate about varying aspects of ministry, but he also welcomes the responsibility of initiating funding in order to maintain or advance building infrastructure.

The United Church of Christ Cornerstone Fund “had a great personal relationship with the us before they ever lent a single dime of money,” says Svetnicka. Therefore, it wasn’t a surprise to find out that the United Church Camps Outdoor Ministry held a previous line of credit with the Cornerstone Fund. Svetnicka valued the relationship with the Cornerstone Fund and wanted to seek additional monies from a faith-based lending company already within the United Church of Christ family.

“I’m in the ministry business and we are changing the world for the better. In everything I do, I want partners that are along for the vision. The mission and the ministry is divinely inspired,” says Svetnicka.

 

Necessary Building Repairs

Pilgrim Center

Pilgrim Center

The United Church Camps Outdoor Ministry within the Wisconsin Conference houses two main facilities on their Moon Beach and Pilgrim Center properties. Both facilities are sacred–one with a main building dating back to 1902 and the other constructed in 1957. At first, Svetnicka wanted to tear down the original building. It was old and needed a great deal of fixing. Instead, Glenn thought it more important to repurpose the original building structure with additions that are both cost-efficient and sturdy enough to last well into the future.

“The Cornerstone Fund gave us a headstart on the repairs and new building endeavors. HVAC, information technology upgrades, roofs, and additional siding–these buildings needed a lot of work,” explained Svetnicka.

 

Environmentally Conscious Additions

Lodge at Moon Beach

Lodge at Moon Beach

When upgrading the facilities, Glenn wanted to make sure all of the additions were environmentally friendly. “In order to reduce our carbon footprint, the upgrade plan included the use of composite materials–safer for the environment and still would last for years to come,” explained Svetnicka.

“Throughout the planning and construction phase, it is our duty to be responsible stewards of the earth. We have one planet and we need to give back to it.”

Glenn executed this specifically with the upgrades to the Moon Beach facility.

“Although we kept the metal roof and in-floor hydronic heating system, the facility still needed to be more winterized. With the funding from the Cornerstone Fund, we were able to add an on-demand water heater, double the space in three separate cabins, and partition a much-needed, winterized breakup space in the one of the larger cabins.”

 

Primary Beneficiaries

Camp AweSum Logo“People need a safe space and respite to hear that God loves them. It’s what the world needs right now,” Svetnicka point out.

That’s why renewing the Moon Beach site for Camp AweSum was so important. This site houses families and children that have been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). For several weeks, these families and individuals come to Moon Beach in hopes of fellowshipping with others and connecting to nature in a peaceful setting.

“It is of the utmost importance for us to provide predictable sleeping accommodations and consistent scheduling predictability,” says Svetnicka.

Safety concerns, mold, or unrecognizable smells (due to lack of proper maintenance) can really affect autistic children. “And because we also facilitate a memory camp for individuals with dementia, it was a priority to structure the upgrade with sensory details in mind.” He continues, “We want our all of our guests to feel comfortable here.”

 

A Future with the Cornerstone Fund

Without question, Svetnicka wholeheartedly recommends the Cornerstone Fund. He emphasizes, “The rates are on par and customer service is stellar. The Cornerstone Fund is an ethical company that understands the church business.”

As for the United Church Camps Outdoor Ministry, there is currently quite the demand for additional retreat programs like Camp AweSum. Svetnicka hopes to meet those demands in the future by providing additional safe-space sites for individuals and families alike. “At first, we were one ministry with two sites. Now, we are hoping to be one ministry with three sites. If we need additional lending, we will surely turn to the Cornerstone Fund.”

St. Paul’s United Church of Christ (Lebanon, Illinois)

St. Paul's United Church of Christ | United Church of Christ Cornerstone FundRestoration Project Upholds New Mission
In the 1960s, St. Paul United Church of Christ was gifted an exquisite pipe organ. For nearly six decades, the organ’s pressurized air filled the sanctuary with music on Sundays, for weddings, and homegoing services. When the pipes collapsed a few years ago, Brent Wood, St. Paul’s financial advisor, knew that the organ’s repairs were just a small part of a much larger need for additional renovations–improvements that ultimately would support St. Paul UCC’s greater vision for the community.

In the past few decades, St. Paul UCC had also undergone another significant transition. Their underlying objective shifted from an evangelical calling to a mission-based focus. Servicing much of the surrounding community, the campus’ outdated structures certainly did not align with the St. Paul’s current vision.

Although there was little room in the church’s budget for renovation projects, Wood still pondered, “How can St. Paul UCC repair the organ and upgrade facilities in the most cost-efficient way? After all, St. Paul’s long-time members and internal staff had been wrestling with this idea for the past 25 years.

With St. Paul’s 150th anniversary on the horizon, Wood–along with a few other dedicated team members–wanted to commemorate this special occasion. The group not only vowed to restore the organ, but also to orchestrate necessary building renovations.

It would take lots of hard work and patience, but the two-year renovation plan included upgrades that would be ready just in time for the landmark anniversary.

“We do a lot of weddings and funerals for both members of our congregation as well as the community.” Wood continued, “A gathering welcome center–now that’s really what our neighborhood needs.”

After an aggressive fundraising campaign, there was still a great need for additional financial assistance. Therefore, St. Paul UCC–a campus that had never utilized the loan program–reached out to the United Church of Christ Cornerstone Fund.

“In order to transform the old evangelical reform wing to a modernized welcome center and rebuild the sacred organ within a tight, two-year window, we were in desperate need of some serious capital,” explains Wood.

He continues, “Our past experience with banks have been painful. For our first big project, we desired competitive rates and flexibility–and that’s what Cornerstone Fund provided.”

St. Paul UCC received an amortized loan for approximately $950,000–a significant portion needed to rebuild the organ and make upgrades to the buildings.

The building upgrades and revitalized organ were completed just in time for the 150th church anniversary (2018). The new welcome center and organ have served the members, both new and old in many ways.

“We’ve had a lot of growth and turnover within our congregation over the last 30 years. St. Paul UCC has evolved in the types of services it provides,” says Wood.

St. Paul's United Church of Christ | United Church of Christ Cornerstone FundSince renovation, various community programs offered by St. Paul UCC have also benefited immensely. This past year, St. Paul UCC passed the $350,000 scholarship goal, providing youth and adults with transformative education and reeducation programs.

One of St. Paul UCC’s greatest accomplishments in two years since acquiring the loan has been its contribution to a multi-tiered interdenominational community assistance program.

“The loan was also used to purchase a home (located directly across from the St. Paul UCC campus) for our community assistance program,” says Wood.

The home–with the help of an area Catholic, Methodist, and Baptist church–provides mental health and financial counseling; rental and utility assistance; and a year-long food pantry.

Lebanon Matthew 25:40 Ministries is completely volunteer run initiative. The home is fully paid for and has a new roofing, cooling, and heating system,” says Wood.

Brent continues with emphasis, “The relief in someone’s eyes when they receive rental assistance; a safe space that’s used to provide comforting quiet for a grieving loved one during a funeral service; an area for volunteers to distribute food to the hungry–essentially, the loan program from the Cornerstone Fund has allowed us (St. Paul UCC) to help others. And that is truly priceless.”