YARMOUTH — The First Parish Congregational Church on Main Street is reaching out to the community after church members realized more can be done to help people in the area.
Jim Highland, who has been a member of the church for 10 years, formed a community outreach team in fall of 2013 with five other parishioners, including the pastor. Highland said the group “wanted to look systematically” at how the church could increase its community service efforts.
“We want to continue a regular process of reaching out to the larger community and being more active than we have been outside the walls of the church,” Highland said.
He said usually the church does international service work by going on mission trips, but that members wanted to make sure they weren’t overlooking those who live much closer by.
“There was an expression on the part of the congregation to do more local service,” Highland said.
The outreach group has been collecting information on how to best help the community and has now determined the main issues that need to be worked on. One need among the community, according to Highland, is for more assistance for “elders living in place.”
Highland said the community outreach group has put in a grant application with Cumberland County to assist elderly residents. He said this could help with affordable housing and making sure elders are taken care of in their homes.
Highland said the outreach group plans on having a community meeting to talk more about issues facing the elderly. He said a date hasn’t been set yet, but it will be a public meeting.
Another need the group would like to address is “providing more outlets for families with children” and providing places for “kids to hang out,” he said. One initiative in the works is the creation of a teen coffeehouse at Studio B, a music studio on Bridge Street.
Highland said that although some people may not realize it, there are many Yarmouth residents who need assistance.
“Yarmouth is a fairly affluent community overall, and it’s easy to overlook the fact that there are people in our community who really struggle,” he said.
To determine how to best do this, the outreach group has held 15 meetings and interviews with community leaders, including Police Chief Michael Morrill, Town Manager Nat Tupper, Thomas Memorial Library staff, school administrators, and the director of the Yarmouth council on aging.
“Part of what they gave us was what the needs of the town are from their angle,” Highland said.
He said talking with community leaders has “opened channels of communications” between the town and the church.
“We’ve opened a dialogue that in the future will help us reach out to each other,” Highland said.
The First Parish Congregational Church, which has been in Yarmouth since 1730, has given back to the community in the past. The church hosts the Yarmouth food pantry and allows community groups to hold meetings at the church.
Highland said the church wants to expand the option to let people use its space and make it a resource for the town. He said the church doesn’t have to be used only for religious purposes, and that the outreach group isn’t trying to push its religious beliefs.
“While we certainly are a church, the motivation is service in general,” Highland said. “The more people who reach out and hold hands in a sense, the stronger the fabric of the community will be.”
Parishioners of the First Parish Congregational Church in Yarmouth are trying to broaden the church’s role in the community.