Lynnewood United Methodist Church has been awarded the Juanita Haugen Community of Character Award for 2014, along with 3 other individual recipients. This award goes to 4 Pleasanton persons or groups a year for demonstrating selected character values: Responsibility, Compassion, Self-Discipline, Honesty, Respect and Integrity.
The award is named in honor of Juanita Haugen, who was a Pleasanton Unified School District Board Member, co-founder of the Pleasanton Community of Character program, and community volunteer. This award recognizes volunteers who exhibit high ethical standards of behavior in serving their community, beyond their work responsibilities.
Lynnewood’s award recognizes the church’s Outreach Committee and congregational involvement in many local volunteer service projects, including Bundles of Joy, Tri-Valley Haven, Alameda County Community Food Bank, and Open Heart Kitchen.
Rev. Heather Leslie Hammer’s acceptance speech in honor of Lynnewood’s award, May 14, 2014, at the 2014 awards ceremony:
Thank you to the Community of Character Collaborative. We are humbled by this honor.
I am privileged to serve Lynnewood United Methodist Church as its lead minister. Long before I was appointed to Lynnewood, the church has been committed to community service. In fact, service is part of our DNA. I’d like to recognize the members of Lynnewood who are here today, many of whom serve on our Outreach Committee, chaired by Linda Van Pelt.
Let me tell you about this committee. We have a system of nominating people to committees each year, and the expectation is that people will rotate off the committee in 3 years. We can’t get anybody to rotate off this committee! They love the work they do!
Every month we have a hands-on service project. These make the best stories.
I think of the time about 20 of us went to clean and stain a fence at Pleasanton Gardens. This is an affordable housing community for seniors on Kottinger Drive, where many of the residents are Chinese or Indian. Our church helped found Pleasanton Gardens in 1967; we serve on its Board, and will be helping with a major move that is coming up. After we repaired the fence, we ate lunch with the folks in their community room. There was a lot of broken English and sign language and laughter. To me this is what service should be—getting to know your neighbors over the fence.
Open Heart Kitchen is another source of stories. Along with other churches, Lynnewood helped get Open Heart Kitchen off the ground in 1995. We have a team that prepares and serves a hot meal regularly at Asbury United Methodist in Livermore, where the Garden of Grace in the back lot provides fresh vegetables. Some of our people chop up these vegetables, and turn out a delicious, healthy meal. People come in take showers—our church provides clean, new underwear—; they mingle, talk, eat, and then take home bread. We give the extra bagels Noah’s Bagels gives us to Open Heart, and everything gets used. The great thing is that anybody is welcome at Open Heart. Once when I was there, one of our church’s young men was there eating as a guest. (He was without work.) Several of our church people eat at Ridgeview Commons where Open Heart also serves. It feels like a great equalizer. It doesn’t really matter who is serving and who is served.
Tri-Valley Haven is another one of our favorite organizations. This is a residence that helps people out of situations of domestic violence. We provide food for the Tri-Valley Haven’s food pantry. And we are working with other churches now to renovate their thrift store on Railroad Ave. in Livermore. This is a real gathering place for people in need in the Valley. The store will be so improved; it will generate more income and jobs. We have people in our church who like to do construction work—many of these folks go on 1-week work teams—using their own vacation and funds for airfare—to places like Oklahoma after the tornadoes, Mississippi and Haiti after their hurricanes. We also create graduation baskets for Tri-Valley Haven, and our children help with “Project Night-Night,” where children get a tote bag with a blanket, a children’s book, and stuffed animal when they leave Tri-Valley Haven to live in a new place.
What’s more basic than helping kids feel safe? What’s more basic than serving a hot meal? What’s more basic than sharing a meal with people who speak another language and are a little too old to paint their own fence?
We do these things not for recognition. We do these things because this is how we love God and serve our neighbor. There’s a story about this. (It’s something about a Good Samaritan.) The story is not about being “good,” though; it’s about who our neighbor is. Our neighbor is anybody—absolutely anybody—in need.
And the need is great. I got a letter this week from someone in jail in Dublin whose wife and children need food. At Lynnewood, we packaged over 10,000 meals to go overseas the day before Easter with a program called Stop Hunger Now because the world need is so great.
Being part of a church gives us, as individuals, ways to serve our neighbors. Working with other faith communities and other social service agencies, we can do so much.
One last story—We have this project called Bundles of Joy. We take 12 baby bags a month, full of diapers and clothes for a newborn to Axis Community Health, in Pleasanton, so that no new mom leaves the hospital without the things she needs for her new baby. The Mormons heard about this and started giving us diapers and making baby clothes and blankets. Now we can give away more baby bags. I found out indirectly that one of our young moms had told her mother that she didn’t need anything for herself for Christmas, but she suggested her mom could give to Bundles of Joy. So the mother gave $200 to support the cause her daughter believes in. When I found this out, the young mom said, “We have what we need; others have greater needs than we do.”
Isn’t that the truth? Our vision at Lynnewood is to “dare to question, love, and serve.” We do this together and in partnership with many other groups. It’s an honor.
Rev. Heather Leslie Hammer