The Genesis
of Faith Network

– by Randy Roth

In 1988 A Seed is Planted

On February 21, 1988 I was installed as senior pastor of First Covenant Church in Oakland. The title of my installation message was Shalom Oakland based on Jeremiah 29:7 – “Seek the shalom of the city where I have sent you and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its shalom you will find your shalom.” Shalom means more than just peace. It describes a whole and harmonious relationship with God and with our neighbors, as we act on our faith for the health, welfare and prosperity of the community.

Not many weeks after that sermon, we established a Friday morning prayer group to intercede for the peace and welfare of the city. On my birthday the prayer group gave me a large framed aerial photograph of Oakland and the East Bay, which I hung in my office to remind me to seek the shalom of the city where I have been sent and to pray to the Lord on its behalf.

Fast forward to the year 2000

In 2000, Dennis Chaconas, then-Superintendent of the Oakland Unified School District, invited a group of clergy for a meeting. After giving us a “State of the Schools” report Mr. Chaconas issued us a challenge: “We need you and your congregations to adopt a neighborhood school!” This idea of school adoption, like a seed, embedded in my mind and started to grow. I began to ask myself and others, what would it look like for a church or cluster of congregations to partner with a public school? Who would do the ground work to flesh it out in substantive, creative and effective expressions of concern? Who would develop the infrastructure necessary to identify needs, coordinate resources, train volunteers, maintain quality and sustainability?

After a protracted period of listening and consulting with colleagues, the tipping point took place high in the sky. Flying home from Chicago I was engrossed in a book by John Ortberg entitled: If You Want to Walk on Water, You’ve Got to Get Out of the Boat. I nudged my wife and said, “Diane, I think it’s time I get out of the boat of pastoral ministry and into the uncharted waters of urban school adoption.” On June 25, 2001 Faith Network of the East Bay, Inc. was incorporated as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit public benefit corporation. So now Where do we start?

A Nation in Need of Healing

September 13, 2001 – two days after the horrific 9/11 Terrorist Attack – Board Chair Jon Blankmeyer and I were introduced to Burbank Elementary Principal Roberta Teller by former Burbank science teacher, Norman Brooks. Ms. Teller greeted us with warm hugs, saying “I want my school to be a safe place.” She hoped that we could provide something to heal and calm the school staff and teachers. “All the energy is going out, but nothing is coming in,” she explained. We had to admit to Ms. Teller that she and her staff were going to be guinea pigs, since Burbank would be our pilot program. She laughed and said she was game to try on this new relationship.

By mid-October, thanks to volunteers from four nearby churches, support was being provided by way of 1) Classroom Tutoring, 2) Playground Supervision, 3) Teacher Appreciation, 4) ESL Classes for Parents.

Today we are serving the practical needs of thousands of students in the East Bay

Most importantly, we have been a dedicated partner to our community schools. We first listen to their needs, and then go about finding solutions. Because it does take a village to educate our children, Faith Network is tirelessly tapping resources for a great cause: investing in the next generation.

In the aftermath of 9/11 traumatized citizens across America were asking, “What can I do?” American Red Cross President Dr. Bernadine Healy answered: “Reach out to a neighbor. Volunteer in your community. This is a time for compassion.” This call to action was needed then and should be heeded now!

How a community of faith is helping struggling communities reach their potential

“It gives me great joy to contribute to a cause which is inspired and propelled by the Lord. Faith Network is a blessed organization, which brings hope, skills and empowerment to so many young people and their families. Thank you for the wonderful work you, your staff and volunteers continue to do in Oakland. You have developed programs that WORK, and that is really something.”

– Amy, Faith Network Volunteer

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