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Churches, nonprofits and city partner to serve Renton in REACH

After Renton’s ministerial association disbanded in the 1960s, a group of mainline churches came together to advocate and work for people in need to be well and safe.

REACH supper

REACH volunteers serve supper to homeless people.  Photos courtesy of REACH

Now 40 churches from 19 denominations—Roman Catholic to Pentecostal—partner with community agencies and the city through REACH, the Renton Ecumenical Association of Churches.

Ken Colman, pastor of the United Christian Church of Renton—UCC and Disciples of Christ—was involved in the transformation of REACH in the last 16 years.

A recent accomplishment was converting the jail in the Renton City Hall two years ago into a shelter for women and children called the Center for Hope.  REACH leases the building for $1 a year.

“We took a jail that once housed people for crimes and created a safe place for women. It’s taking a place of no hope and turning it into a place of hope,” he said.  “That’s a HolySpirit thing.”

The Center of Hope was opened in May 2013 in the basement of Renton City Hall.  The center partners with agencies to ensure clients access every avenue possible as they make their journey from homelessness to stability.

REACH volunteers transformed the space donated by the city for $1 a year into a comfortable place for homeless women and children. Some experienced domestic violence, so there is a key code to enter.

ken and james

Ken Colman and James serve communion at REACH event. 

REACH also gives volunteers the opportunity to help serve hot weekend dinners for homeless people through the Renton Meal Coalition. said Ken, who has served on the board since he has been in Renton.  Weeknights, the Salvation Army provides meals. 

Latter-day Saints missionaries cook hotcakes for Warmup Breakfasts on weekends.

“It’s the first encounter many have with homeless people,” said Ken, adding that the United Christian Church of Renton was one of the founders of REACH.

He said the church’s outreach chair Pat Auten and the chair of elders James Bruner have shifted the church’s focus from just giving to mission to being active in mission.

“We are answering Jesus’ call to feed the hungry, care for the homeless and reach out to the least of these,” Ken said, “moving beyond theological debate by serving side-by-side.”

The city and nonprofits are at the table with REACH to serve the community to have the biggest outreach for each dollar, he said.

Maggie Breen, the executive director, is also half-time pastor at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church.  Leigh Weber, who until recently was an intern at St. Andrew’s, is on staff with REACH as half-time chaplain to the homeless.  Valley Medical Center calls her when a homeless person comes in.  Leigh recently started part-time at John Knox Presbyterian Church in Normandy Park, and continues as chaplain.

Six to nine attend board meetings.  Mostly lay people are among 45 to 50 at lunch meetings first Tuesdays September through June at different churches. 

“This ministry helps build community and relationships that improve the relationship between police, business owners and the wider community,” Ken said.  “Volunteers learn that homelessness is part of a system and that when we overcome our differences we find our commonalties.”

In her annual report, Maggie said the ministry provides food, shelter, showers, laundry, vocational resources, a mailing address, and connections to health, wellness, legal, educational and social services.

“Through these services, people we help begin to trust they will be cared for and know their contributions are as important as anyone else’s. Our volunteers and partners trust there are actions we can take to better the world,” she said.

The Center of Hope also includes a day center, night shelter for homeless women and children, a day care and an emergency winter shelter program.  The day center provides companionship, showers, hygiene, breakfast, lunch, laundry services, case management, clothing, housing referrals, employment resources, computer access, support groups, medical referrals and tutoring.

For the night shelter, churches host on a monthly rotation up to four families in private sleeping rooms and single women in one room from 7 p.m. to 8 a.m.  There is a common room for watching TV, playing games, doing homework and visiting.  Volunteers stay overnight with guests.

Homeless men who may live on the street or sleep in a car, may also be part of ARISE, the Area of Renton Interfaith Shelter Endeavor, founded by REACH in 2004.  A partnership between REACH, Catholic Community Services and the City of Renton, it is also a rotating shelter for homeless men. 

Intake is from 1 to 3 p.m., Tuesdays and Thursdays at St. Anthony’s Parish Ministry Center. Men who enter ARISE are provided shelter seven nights a week from 9 p.m. until 7 a.m., a hot evening meal, breakfast and a sack lunch. The program moves each month to a new church and meals are provided by Renton Meal Coalition. A case manager works with individuals enrolled.

In partnership with the Soma Community at Harambee, 316 S. 3rd St. in downtown Renton, every weekday, Monday thru Friday from 8 to 10 a.m., REACH hosts people who need a warm place to come inside to warm up, be in community, and enjoy coffee and a simple breakfast.

REACH also sponsors an Ecumenical Easter Sunrise service attended to 100 to 150, Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners, and annual CROP Hunger Walks.

For information, call 206-856-8547 or 425-226-3080, or email



Copyright © November-December 2015 Pacific Northwest Conference UCC News


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