What am I doing here?" thought Arlynn (pronounced "Ar-leene") Ellis, as she sat at a table with fellow nonprofit executives in 2014.
Not that she didn’t love her job. She did, but yearned for more. Ellis wanted to help others in a ministry setting and mix her expertise of the nonprofit world and providing programs.
Ellis and her husband, Rev. Robert (Bob) Ellis, had co-planted Crossroads Church, a multiethnic congregation in San Antonio, Texas, in 2001. Bob was the pastor and although Arlynn was serving in the church, she felt led to serve in a different capacity.
The couple began praying. In 2015, Acts of Hope Center (AHC) was born for “the sole purpose of applying contemporary evidence-based solutions to some of the most troubling problems of our time.” A nonprofit organization connected to (but separate from) Crossroads, AHC provides programs and support in community health, education and job training for families in need.
AHC serves families by meeting basic needs like food, clothing, diapers and wipes. This is the initial connection point. Once Ellis and her team get to know the families, they determine ways in which they can serve to add more value to their lives. Single moms, as young as age 12, arrive for diapers and often end up attending parenting classes, as do single dads whose needs may look different from single moms.
"Acts of Hope Center has added more focus to outreach and where we were once invisible to the community, we are now seen."
Ellis tells of an instance when she noticed a group of teens playing basketball on the church property during school hours. She learned they’d dropped out of school, so she launched GED classes. Since San Antonio has a high rate of obesity and diabetes, AHC offers diabetes education classes, as well as general classes on nutrition and meal preparation.
A discipleship program for Christ followers is also available.
“We want to bring people to Christ,” said Ellis. “People start becoming more receptive [to the gospel] when we begin meeting needs.”
AHC is changing lives in the community and church. People are being introduced to and attending Crossroads through AHC and regular attenders at Crossroads are being transformed because of their involvement with AHC.
Laypersons are becoming church leaders. Ellis describes this as an “awakening” as faithful congregants exhibit excitement at serving and make new commitments to their own discipleship process. A handful of Crossroads laypersons assisted in Hurricane Harvey relief efforts last August.
“Acts of Hope Center has added more focus to outreach and where we were once invisible to the community, we are now seen," said Rev. Bob Ellis.
AHC’s vision is to empower individuals and families to better their circumstances.
San Antonio, the second most populous city in Texas, is taking note. AHC is recognized across the city partnering with several area nonprofits, businesses and city government officials. AHC joined other faith-based organizations supporting the city. Ellis reports San Antonio is one of two cities in the country that has hired a reverend as an official city employee.
Local schools also benefit from AHC’s presence. Ellis serves on the PTA (Parent Teacher Association) board of the local elementary school. Because she knows school officials personally, ministry opportunities continue to increase.
As these serving opportunities present themselves, Ellis keeps AHC’s vision in mind: to empower individuals and families to better their circumstances, rather than foster a dependence on AHC that cripples families long term.
“We want to get to the root of the problem and find out what is causing the hardships,” said Ellis. “We don’t want to create a plan where people are dependent on us.”
She tells the story of one family who regularly visited AHC for food. She and the parents worked on a three-month plan that included helping the husband write a résumé and job interview preparation. He started working a part-time job and later transitioned into working full time. That family is now giving back and helping others in need.
Ellis’ greater vision includes opening other AHC locations and planting more churches across South Texas, including Rockport, where Hurricane Harvey was especially devastating.
“This is the most fulfilling work I’ve ever known,” Ellis said. “We are about touching lives and doing church multiplication. This is our dream.”