By Clare S. Richie
Every five years, more than half of inner-city ministers burnout, leaving their communities devastated. Urban ministry leaders seek to provide hope and solutions to the challenges facing their neighbors – poverty, violence, failing schools, run-down housing, high unemployment, and inadequate health care – but they can feel powerless and isolated.
With coaching, mentoring, and resources, Desire Street Ministries is helping its partners in Atlanta, Dallas, Montgomery, Mobile, New Orleans, and Lakeland, beat the odds. Over the past five years, every partner ministry leader has continued serving their community.
Mo and Ellen Leverett founded the faith-based nonprofit in 1990 as an afterschool program for the impoverished Desire housing project in the Ninth Ward of New Orleans. Over the next 15 years, the program evolved to offer education, housing, health, economic development and youth recreation programs.
During this time, Danny Wuerffel, the Florida Gator football legend and 1996 Heisman Trophy winner, joined the organization first as a volunteer while playing for the New Orleans Saints and as the executive director in 2006 after the founders resigned.
“Danny was a professional football player. He had many options but he chose to be chief champion for the poor,” explained Anthony Gordon, Desire Street Ministries’ coach and mentor.
During Wuerffel’s tenure, the organization has remained committed to New Orleans – rebuilding a medical clinic, early childhood learning center, and wellness center in the wake of Hurricane Katrina’s destruction. With its headquarters relocated in Atlanta, Desire Street Ministries also expanded to other neighborhoods. For Wuerffel, this meant supporting local community leaders rather than setting up new programs.
Gordon, who worked as an inner-city pastor in Birmingham for 25 years before becoming a coach, agrees with Wuerffel’s vision of a ministry safety net. “This is personal for me because I’ve lived it. It’s a privilege to see them strive then thrive when they get the proper help. Partners are as grateful to the coaching and caring as they are for the technical assistance and skill building,” Gordon said.
Atlanta is home to two Desire Street Ministries partners, Summerhill Community Ministries and PAWKids. Both serve children and families in comprehensive ways, Summerhill in the Turner Field and surrounding neighborhoods and PAWKids in Grove Park.
According to Justina Dix, Summerhill Executive Director, “[Desire Street Ministries] is not trying to come in and take over, but want to come in to help you do what you are doing”
The word of Desire Street Ministries’ impact is spreading and the organization is thoughtfully trying to figure out how to keep up with demand for new partners while serving current partners.
“No one’s ever really done this – training the trainer in inner-city ministries,” Development Director Sara Pace shared, “The impact is exponential because children and families need healthy leaders.”
Yet she humbly shifts the focus to those they serve. “We hide ourselves in the success of our partners,” Sara explained.
Gordon added, “It’s not about us.”
To learn more, visit desirestreet.org.