This year, Hope for New York turns 25. Twenty-five years of holistically serving the poor and marginalized in our city. Twenty-five years of doing justice and loving mercy. Twenty-five years of watching God transform the lives of our fellow New Yorkers. Twenty-five years of speaking love and hope into our city. And to think it all started with a group of young people who, despite their lack of experience or training, responded to the call with a simple, “Let’s do it.”
Go back with us, if you will, to New York City in the winter of 1989. It was the coldest one in 40 years, lots of snow on the ground. Yvonne Dodd Sawyer had moved to New York from Dallas, like most transplants, in pursuit of professional advancement — in her case, as a writer. She was living on the Upper East Side, two blocks from where the small, newly started Redeemer Presbyterian Church, led by an unknown pastor, Timothy Keller, was meeting. Although Sawyer had been a long-time believer, when she heard Keller preach about serving the needs of the city, something in her heart gravitated toward the idea.
And so Sawyer and a few other Redeemerites hosted a half-day workshop to see who else among them was similarly interested in serving their city. Jeff White preached on the Good Samaritan, and the group of about 50 people brainstormed — their main focus: What does New York need? And, Sawyer says, almost everything from their original list got accomplished! “What did we know? We were just a bunch of twenty-somethings and thirty-somethings who were out to change the world,” Sawyer says. “And, by golly, some of us did!”
Of course, it took a few years. In 1992, Hope for New York officially opened its doors, so to speak, as a 501(c)(3), partnering with three affiliates: Bailey House, Operation Exodus, and St. Paul’s House. These were three organizations where not only were members of Redeemer already serving regularly, but they also focused their efforts on two of the largest areas of need in New York City at the time: homelessness and the HIV/AIDS epidemic. This was contextualized community ministry. And it was about filling gaps.
As Redeemer was growing and filling the gap of strong evangelical churches in New York, HFNY was giving people a chance to do volunteer service on behalf of the church — to use their gifts as MBAs and accountants and lawyers to be real assets to small non-profit organizations whose accounting was in a shoebox, for example. (Yes, that is a true HFNY story.)
And then there was a significant shift — from supporting ministries that already existed in the city to actually helping start some that would fill needs not yet being met. That’s how Avail NYC (at the time called Midtown Pregnancy Support Center) started. Sometimes they failed, but that was okay, too. This was all in line with Keller’s entrepreneurial idea of how people should use their gifts, Sawyer says. “People came to us with an idea, and we either placed them somewhere or had them start it. We were just really good at filling gaps.”
And that’s exactly what Hope for New York has been doing for 25 years — resourcing and connecting New Yorkers to do justice and love mercy in their neighborhoods. Today, we partner with more than 40 affiliates to serve the city’s poor and marginalized in tangible ways. We’ve invested more than $12M in direct grants, capacity building assistance, and leadership development to our nonprofit partners. We mobilize thousands of volunteers to use their time and skills to love their neighbors. We also partner with three other churches that have a heart for showing Christ’s love to our city.
We are nowhere near finished. We yearn to see a city where Christians are the first ones in line to serve the poor and marginalized, where churches are working together to solve poverty issues, and where faith-based nonprofits are thriving. And that means expanding. We hope to invest in twice as many non-profit affiliates as we do now, incubate start-up nonprofits that will serve New Yorkers holistically and sustainably, and cultivate new church partners to activate a movement of Christians to love and serve their city.
Here’s to another 25 years of bringing the hope of the gospel to our neighbors in need.