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Apr 06 2017

Esperanza Means Hope

Esperanza Image

“It is an incredible example of what vision, commitment, and passion
for the gospel can yield . . .”

Last Thursday I visited Esperanza, a faith-based organization headquartered in the Hunting Park neighborhood of Philadelphia, and one whose impact reaches beyond. It is an incredible example of what vision, commitment, and passion for the gospel can yield.

In the company of colleagues from the Pennridge Ministerium, we met with Philip Dawson, the Director of Housing and Economic Development, to explore the possibility of a three-day summer work camp experience with Esperanza, where youth and adults from our congregations would participate in renovating the homes of local residents.

Esperanza began in 1987, as the initiative of local clergy. Their mission was driven by the biblical mandate to serve and advocate for “the least of these”. Hunting Park is located in Pennsylvania’s poorest congressional district. Even today, the median household income is $21,390! Through Esperanza, the needs of the community, its beautiful residents, and the imperatives of the gospel unite in the spirited, life-giving work of transformation.

Esperanza first established a Housing and Economic Development Corporation and provided Housing Counseling Services. A Workforce Development Program followed. Recognizing quality educational opportunities as key for the abundant numbers of children and youth, Esperanza Academy was created, which today includes a high school and middle school and will soon have an elementary school as well. There is a cyber school and the AMLA Music School. In 2000, Esperanza College, an extension of Eastern University, was established. Additionally, Esperanza Immigration Legal Services provides education, advocacy, and legal service to immigrants.

What is the impact?

Esperanza Academy serves more than 1400 students in the Middle School and High School, with a 93% graduation rate. Residents attend Esperanza College in their community, with pathways to further education. The Workforce Development Corporation now includes CareerLink on site and helps more than 1500 people a year find jobs. Neighborhood Revitalization efforts help people to build new businesses while supporting existing ones with partnerships, consultations, and improvements. Renovation efforts to help local homeowners include the Home Repair Volunteer Project we discussed and that St. Andrew’s Lutheran Church participated in last summer. Down the street, the decaying property of the former Roberto Clemente School has been purchased and 38 units of affordable housing are being constructed on the repurposed property. Youth Mentoring, Arts Education, and Community Greening are among additional mission efforts. Families are kept together, people’s lives are honored and empowered, new futures are opened, the stranglehold of poverty is overcome, and community is built.

What was particularly exciting to me was that I am acquainted with key people who initiated and guided these efforts from the start. My dear friend Pastor Efrain Cotto (whom some of you know) was the President of Hispanic Clergy of Philadelphia back at Esperanza’s inception. He introduced me to Rev. Luis Cortes, the President of Esperanza, and Rev. Danny Cortes, the Vice President and Chief of Staff, many years ago. Local pastors like the late Rev. Fred Estrada (a wonderful man) were indispensable to the mission.

It is my hope that we can have some youth and some skilled adult workers from the congregation participate in a three-day work camp experience in August, tentatively scheduled for Tuesday through Thursday, August 1st through the 3rd. We would travel from Perkasie each morning to work on home improvement, interact with the residents, learn more about Esperanza’s incredible mission even as we contribute to it, and have the Spirit of God evangelize us a bit! There is also some wonderful local cuisine to sample!

In Spanish, “esperanza” means “hope”. Esperanza, Inc. may not be a church, but it was born and grew from the church! When we see such amazing new life, and quite literally the new world, rising up from the midst of what has been a beleaguered and suffering community, we see the promises of the gospel being realized. It reminds every one of us what is possible where there is vision, commitment, and passion for the good news of Jesus Christ. Perhaps our own imaginations will be incited.

In Christ,
Scott

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