As a district superintendent, Rev. Jeffrey Mansell was working on a plan for the Greater Ohio District to become involved in the denomination's emphasis on "urban urgency."
“As I worked on the plan,” Jeff Mansell said, “God was working on me.” Consequently, he resigned his position as district superintendent in order to lead, along with his wife, Cheryl, a ministry called Seven Baskets, a faith-based ministry weaving transformation in underserved urban neighborhoods.
In the neighborhood where they chose to begin, the Mansells bought a house adjacent to an elementary school and turned it into a community house. Did they have immediate acceptance as they began to offer their services for after-school programs and other mentoring opportunities? “We lost eight windows the first year,” Jeff Mansell said, “but we have had no acts of vandalism for the past four years.”
They had to earn the respect of the school administration and faculty. At first, some school personnel were unsure why the Mansells would do what they were offering — providing a safe place for the students, mentoring programs, after-school programs and spiritual guidance. But now their community house is considered a “third space” for students, in addition to the students’ homes and school.
Seven Baskets is considered a community partner, not only with the adjacent school but with Columbus (Ohio) City Schools. The Mansells are considered “part of the team” and are sometimes included in hiring decisions. Rev. Mansell is referred by some as “Pastor Jeff,” the school chaplain. Without being pushy, they have become accepted as people of faith who are often asked to pray with teachers.
After-school programs for fourth and fifth graders and middle school students are offered in the school and at the community house. Students receive a substantial snack when they arrive and have the opportunity for homework help and to learn life and social skills, as well as help with integrity issues, such as honesty. They learn money management and how to manage themselves on social media. The program also provides games and a devotional. Students are partnered with mentors. Sometimes presenters will talk about relevant issues.
Seven Baskets always has six or seven people on its payroll, with only one full-time employee. But volunteers (more than 120 throughout the year) provide additional help as mentors, some weekly, others more occasional. A group of volunteers puts together an annual Christmas pancake breakfast to benefit the community.
“It’s all about people,” Cheryl insisted, “so it has been rewarding to watch relationships develop and to see how people have grown and developed in their faith, learning more about depending on Christ.”
A Thursday night “supper and Bible study” program offers help for children, teens and adults. “It has been interesting to watch their eagerness to learn. We have become their church for several families.”
Summer camp had to take on a different format this year, due to COVID-19. The alternative program is called “Camp In A Box” and includes activities, academics and art projects to do at home. Typically, spiritual growth accelerates for those involved in summer camp.
Seven Baskets also provides a Tuesday morning Bible club, a Saturday event for high school and middle school girls and a Tuesday evening program for middle school boys in the school’s gym. While many things have happened according to a well-developed plan, other ministries have developed organically through opportunities the leaders did not orchestrate.
When asked about obstacles they have had to overcome, the Mansells laughed and said, “The learning curve at the outset was one of the biggest obstacles. We were our own obstacles, because we had so much to learn.”
While their humility is sincere, it is obvious God has favored them with acceptance in the school and the community. Many nonprofits cite lack of money as a big obstacle, but the Mansells insist that God has provided for every need, sometimes even before they ask.
“We are blessed by people who love God and who love our ministry.” Jeff specifically mentioned two Hope and Holiness grants from The Wesleyan Church that were instrumental in providing initial funding.
Seven Baskets is eight years old. Students who began with them in first grade are entering high school. The investment in young lives is coming full circle as older students are becoming mentors to younger students. The multiplication miracle continues.