Cy-Hope Program Models the Possibilities of a "Missional Renaissance"
For centuries, the American church has excelled at the “pot hole” approach to church work. “We are all quite good at giving money over here and doing some volunteer work over there, and over time we began to get frustrated at our lack of true impact and we wonder: What good are these random efforts really doing?” observes Lynda Zelenka, an associate pastor at Foundry UMC in northwest Houston.
When Foundry’s senior pastor Godfrey Hubert and his leadership team read Present Future, a provocative book by consultant Reggie McNeal, they were re-energized and redirected to move forward with an entirely different and more effective mission strategy. McNeal, a proponent of “leadership communities,” has experienced greater collective impact by encouraging church leaders to link arms with business executives, school superintendents and nonprofit directors to build cross-sector teams rallying around a community need or issue. “Several of us attended McNeal’s Missional Renaissance training to learn how to work more collaboratively,” adds Zelenka, “and Foundry made a three-year commitment to build relational bridges outside of the church on behalf of our community.”
Although Cy-Fair is an affluent region with exemplary schools and athletic programs, a quick study of actual demographics revealed shocking realities. “We were surprised to learn of the deep pockets of poverty within miles of both of our church campuses,” she adds. “I was also stunned to learn that almost 50 of the 83 campuses in Cy-Fair are classified as Title 1, meaning they have 40% or more of their students on free or reduced lunches because their family income is under $40k a year.”
Foundry’s core group felt compelled to the mission of delivering life changing options to economically, spiritually and relationally disadvantaged children in the Cypress Fairbanks area. What began as an Adopt-a-School program for Foundry UMC, quickly exploded into a vision for a multi-layered initiative. “When we learned that 25% of the students in Cy-Fair have a personal affiliation with an addicted parent, more than anything we wanted to give the kids in our area hope, and that is how Cy-Hope came to be.”
Foundry provided the initial seed money, office space and leadership for this new 501c3 organization called Cy-Hope and set about to identify faith-oriented community leaders to serve on the Board. “One by one, we set up meetings with superintendents, credit union and Chamber of Commerce executives and other influencers that shared our faith and vision – and no one declined our invitation to join the leadership team,” says Lynda of her new role as Executive Director of Cy-Hope. Foundry member and former Astros Coach Larry Dierker signed on as Board President and in no time was lending credibility to a new “Dierkers Champs” program to provide transformational athletic coaching for at-risk students who would not otherwise get to be on a baseball team. “Our goal was to sponsor four baseball teams in the Cy-Fair league,” adds Lynda, “but we ended up fielding 19 our first year!” Cy-Hope also treated hundreds of students to Astros games last summer and sponsored Christian athlete Joe Irman as a special guest speaker at several high profile Cy-Fair District meetings.
A New Scorecard for the Missional Church
Having a grassroots, cross-sector effort has accelerated Foundry’s entry into several schools and the launching of Cy-Hope’s three pronged initiative to take the church to the students. “While we diligently follow the school’s rules related to religion, I am a firm believer that we can be the hands and feet of Jesus without ever saying a word about him,” she adds, “and this leadership community has experienced breakthrough-traction in becoming a true catalyst in Cy-Fair.”
A snapshot of results to date:
· Adopted 2 local schools
· Opening several HOPE CENTERS (large spaces for afternoon Bible study, homework, crafts, English classes, cooking, sports and other activities to provide meaningful interaction with adults and other children)
· A backpack partnership program with the Food Bank ( provides food every Friday for families over the weekend)
· Young Life leaders starting faith-based “Wild Life” programs in middle schools
· Sponsoring 65 students to camp away from home for the first time in their lives
· Leveraging company “matches” for scholarship money for students to take dual credit college classes while in high school (students can get culinary, cosmetology and welding certifications to help enhance job opportunities)
· Applying for St. Luke’s Episcopal Charity grant to fund additional scholarships
· Hosted a community breakfast for 250 which facilitated an additional 19 schools being adopted
Practicing What We Preach
Backpack Pilot Program Partnership with the Houston Food Bank
(launched weekly in two schools)
“When the children learned they would get a number for a corresponding backpack full of groceries to take home on the weekend, one asked if they could share it with their parents. Another angry fifth grader did not want to get the enrollment form signed by his mother, initially, as he retorted- No one wants to help ME! He came back with his paperwork and was shocked to get a backpack full of food the first week. When he returned to school on Monday he had made a Tshirt with his number on the front of it, so proud that he was backpack #2! By the changed attitude in one week, we can know that we are making a huge difference in their lives, one kid at a time. These children learn better when they are not hungry, and they will attend Monday-Friday when they need to return and pick up their backpacks on those days.” Rev. Lynda Zelenka
“We average about 40 elementary and middle school students at the trailer or apartment complex twice a week during the week and four times a week during the summer and our high school and college interns and volunteers from the church help us. We would love to expand hours and add adult cooking classes to help them stretch their food budget or ESL classes. As God provides a leader, we start a program. We are partnering with Boy Scouts to start a troop. Each community and social dynamic is very different, so it is important to understand that as you begin building relationships.” Theresa Fauser, Program Director for Hope Centers