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Bellingham UCC plans The Ground Floor for homeless youth

Bellingham First Congregational UCC renovates basement for Northwest Youth Services. Drawings at the top and the basement below.
Photo courtesy of David Weasley

When First Congregational UCC of Bellingham built a new sanctuary 20 years ago, it had a vision of using the unfinished basement below it for community outreach and mission.

Until recently, it has used the space for storing furniture for the Interfaith Coalition for Homelessness and for its own Fresh Start ministry to supply towels and kitchen supplies to women leaving a domestic violence shelter.

The congregation has a new vision now, growing out of its more than 30 years of dedication to serve people experiencing homelessness in Whatcom County, conversations with other nonprofits and city officials, and its partnership with Northwest Youth Services’ outreach to youth on the streets and youth in families facing homelessness.

After a year and a half of visiting facilities, researching best practices and listening to needs, its Mission and Justice Board brought a proposal to the congregational meeting in June 2016 to renovate a portion of the unfinished basement to welcome Northwest Youth Services, a local nonprofit whose mission fits the congregation’s values to use the space.

“We are renovating our building for mission right here in our community. The Ground Floor project is becoming known throughout Bellingham and bringing the Divine’s rejuvenating spirit to many,” said David Weasley, minister for youth, young adults and mission a position that started in March 2017.  He previously served as acting youth program director for about a year.

David and his partner moved to Bellingham two years ago from Chicago, where David has served several churches and worked with homeless youth in Night Ministry, which has a similar model.  He graduated from Chicago Theological School in 2009 and Oberlin in religion in 2006.  He has dual standing with the PNC-UCC and American Baptist Church.

In 1996, First Congregational began preparations to expand its building. In 2002.they broke ground for the current sanctuary and unfinished basement. Since that time, they have prayed and discerned how the Spirit calls their congregation to use the unfinished space for local mission.

In January 2015, church members gathered in the unfinished basement to hear and give input about what Whatcom County needed to support people experiencing homelessness.

Then they researched options. Volunteers and staff spent the months after voting to renovate the daylight basement doing preparatory groundwork. In November 2017, a congregational meeting voted overwhelmingly to move forward with a three-year capital campaign—along with other ongoing fund raising—to raise $850,000 from the congregation of more than 400 members, plus funds from the community and grants.

They have met with and requested a grant from the PNC Church Development Committee to share in the project.

“Our hope is that other PNC churches will learn about the project and see it as a model to partner with other nonprofits,” said David.

Once pledges are made—and they are nearly $150,000 on the way—they will begin building this summer and into the early fall.

For the foreseeable future, The Ground Floor will provide day-use space for youth, ages 13 to 24, experiencing homelessness in the community. The program will be staffed and operated by Northwest Youth Services with support from First Congregational Church.

Church members has supported the model of Northwest Youth Services serving youth in the community.

The Ground Floor will be flexible in services it will offer, including showers, laundry, lavatories, nap rooms and meeting space, said David, who has an online tour envisioning the transformation of the basement at

“The Ground Floor will be set aside, in perpetuity, for local mission work in the Bellingham community and, should Northwest Youth Services no longer need this space, other nonprofit community services will have first consideration for the space in the future. The Ground Floor will continue to serve justice work without regard to religious belief and honoring our Open and Affirming covenant,” said David.

“A 2012 study revealed that about 40 percent of youth experiencing homelessness are LGBTQ youth,” said David.

In Bellingham, of the more than 700 homeless people on a given day, about 23 percent are under the age of 18.  Currently Northwest Youth Services outreach team with five staff, interns and volunteers sees 20 youth a day, meeting them on the streets or in their small quarters.  They expect to be able to each more in the larger space.

“Our goal is to provide a safe space where 13-24-year-olds experiencing homelessness can connect with resources to connect with education, housing, job training, mental health and other services, and can experience radical welcome,” he said.

The renovation will also include an outside ramp for wheelchair access.

There will be a gathering space with couches and chairs, a reception area for snacks and access to services, meeting rooms for counselors, a family-style kitchen for cooking together, a washer and dryer area,

“This is not something extra, but it’s a starting place for us as community of faith, as followers of Jesus.” David said.

For information, call 360-734-3720 or email


Pacific Northwest United Church of Christ News © February-March 2018


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