Nearly three months have passed since 17 employees of the Neighborhood Interfaith Movement (NIM) lost their jobs. Since then, only a handful have found work, and most are struggling financially. Among the hardest hit are several single parents who have lost health insurance coverage for their families in addition to their jobs.
One woman has moved into a shelter with her children, and others have worked to renegotiate their mortgage or rent payments.
A group of faith-based organizations in northwest Philadelphia have come together to raise money for those trying to get back on their feet. Under the leadership of four clergy members: Reverend Kent Matthies of the Unitarian Society of Germantown, Rabbi Adam Zeff of the Germantown Jewish Center, Reverend Ernesto Flores of the Second Baptist Church of Germantown, and Reverend Richard Fernandez, a former director of NIM, congregations and community members have raised close to $20,000.
In a letter to the community, NIM’s former full-time staff thanked their northwest neighbors. The unexpected gift, they wrote, “has helped in many ways – by giving much needed financial support and replenishing our faith in the power of community.”
After 45 years of assisting at-risk populations and facilitating interfaith work, northwest Philadelphia must grapple with the loss of NIM’s role in the community.
Linda Brunn, who worked with NIM since the 1970’s, remembers that it was empowered by the civil rights movement.”
The roots of NIM,” she said, “came out of faith communities taking leadership to ensure that Mount Airy and surrounding areas would be able to develop an integrated community.”
NIM advocated for several at-risk populations, including the elderly and the homeless. But it is daycares, speculated Brunn, that will particularly feel its absence. For years, NIM funded and provided continuing education classes for childcare workers so that centers could maintain state accreditation standards. Brunn isn’t sure who or what will fill the gap left in the wake of NIM’s sudden closure.
“Who thinks of our most vulnerable and most poor and asks, ‘Are we honoring them and helping them participate in our community?” Brunn said.
To Rachel Falkove, executive director of the Interfaith Hospitality Network of Northeast/Northwest Philadelphia (NPIHN), the closing of NIM speaks to the fragility of community nonprofits in this economic climate. Nonprofits, she said, need community support through “nurturing, involvement, commitment and dollars.”
NPIHN has provided support and shelter for homeless individuals and families since 1991. NPIHN and NIM shared several congregational partners, systems and office space, according to Falkove.
Neighbors often show up unexpectedly at NPIHN with house goods, school supplies, backpacks and even SEPTA tokens.
“We’ve really survived because of the community,” said Falkove.
Linda Brunn feels such community support for her and fellow NIM colleagues.
“Personal networks are working hard,” she said, to find options for the unemployed. Some community members have also approached former NIM staff with thoughts on how to honor the organization for its decades of service to the community.
Reverend Kent Matthies and the network of ex-NIM clergy are working to figure out how to best move forward now that the interfaith forum has dissolved. Matthies believes the “ground is fertile” for more social advocacy and interfaith work.
But for now, he suggested, “it may be best for this to be a fallow time to mourn what was lost.”