STEUBENVILLE - The Rev. Ashley Steele, director of Urban Mission Ministries, discussed the ministry's presence in Jefferson County during the Friday luncheon meeting of the city Rotary Club at the YWCA.
Steele, who said she grew up in Cadiz, said the mission has had to adapt and evolve since being founded in 1959 by the United Methodist Ministries to cater to steelworkers. She added the charitable organization has undergone many changes since, including becoming ecumenical in nature and expanding its services.
"The mission (currently) receives 50 percent of its funding from local sources," said Steele, adding many in the community act as volunteers, including many Rotarians. "A lot of what we do is centered around food. We've needed to expand our services for a number of reasons."
DISCUSSES MISSION — The Rev. Ashley Steele, director of the Urban Mission Ministries, discussed the mission and its functions and objectives during the Friday luncheon meeting of the Steubenville Rotary Club at the Steubenville YWCA. -- Mark Miller
Steele said statistics on poverty in Jefferson County were substantial, and that 18.6 percent of residents lived below the federal poverty level. She added 28.3 percent of children in the county lived below the poverty level.
"Forty-seven thousand (Jefferson County residents) have visited a food bank within the past year," said Steele, adding the number was substantial considering the county has 69,000 residents.
The mission supplied food to 1,486 low-income familes in Ohio and West Virginia last year, and served 15,400 meals to clients in 2011.
She added the mission's Hutton House Homeless Shelter serviced 41 adults and 50 children in the past year, while the agency's affiliation with Joshua Ministries assisted many Jefferson County residents with home improvement projects they might otherwise not be able to afford.
"Last year we completed 28 (Joshua) projects," she said, adding the ministry donated 700 coats and 500 backpacks with supplies to local children as well as 232 free haircuts in 2011.
The mission raised more funds in 2011 but also used more resources then ever in the same year, said Steele, who is a member of the Steubenville Rotary Club.
"That's great, but it also shows the need continues to grow," she said.
The mission's main objectives include care for immediate needs, including food and shelter, said Steele, as well as giving clients opportunities for worship services and training in culinary skills, nutrition, finances and other basic necessities.
"Many people have been coming to the mission for years," said Steele, adding while she was glad the shelter was making a difference, there was concern the organization "be empowering rather than enabling. We want to bring wholeness to the people we serve."
Steele said the mission also was in the process of revisiting and fine-tuning some programs.
"We're changing the way we do food distribution," said Steele, adding the distribution will include a "choice pantry to help foster dignity to (clients') lives."
She said the move also would give clients food choices more suitable to their needs. The future for the mission includes more fundraising for operations; updating of its computer and database systems; establishment of job training programs; and work with other schools, businesses and organizations for client services, said Steele.
"This is an exciting time at the mission," she added.