In 2002, the Revs. Brett Andrews and Todd Wilson of New Life Christian Church read a book called, "The Church of Irresistible Influence," by the Rev. Robert Lewis. It was about a Little Rock, Ark., church that was similar to Chantilly's vibrant and nondenominational New Life.
"It was a healthy church, but the members wondered if the community would care if they closed their doors," said Wilson. "New Life is very healthy, but we struggled with the same question. We asked ourselves, 'What are we doing to positively impact the community and help it be a better place?' So Brett and I determined to make New Life that kind of church."
AND SO was born the idea for Passion for Community, a nonprofit organization separate from the church, although church members are involved in it. And, said Wilson, "It's one of the most exciting things we're doing."
Ron Furgerson directs the group, and it's something he felt led to do. After going through sadness and emotional turmoil when he wife Marj died in 1998, he wanted to help others who were dealing with their own struggles.
"The church helped me, and everything became a lot more personal for me," he explained. "I learned how to appreciate life and how good God is — even in the midst of your troubles."
So Furgerson, who was a New Life volunteer, told the church leadership that he'd like to start some support groups to help people cope with life's problems. For example, he said, "One of our groups is called 'Life's Hurts, Habits and Hang-ups,' and most of us fit in there somewhere."
The groups were a success and, today, 10-12 different groups are going on, at any given time. And Furgerson became the community care minister.
"Around early fall 2003, Ron's ministry had grown so much that we put him on staff to [head] the support groups," said Wilson. "And we saw such a huge need for these groups within the church that we decided there was probably a need for them outside the church, too." Passion for Community began then, with Furgerson leading its four ministries: Life Skills, Life Share, Life Service and Life Support.
* Life Skills helps individuals and families obtain the skills they need to grow personally and professionally so they may function successfully in society. And under it, for example, is the Teen Leadership Development Program.
STUDENTS PARTICIPATING will obtain the 50 hours of community service hours their schools require, while helping other people in the community. "Through our data base of community-service needs, we'll match up students with these needs," said Wilson. For example, he said, the Centreville Community Foundation might need people to help plant trees, or ESL students might need help with their English.
"And we'll have an ongoing series of guest speakers," said Wilson. "It could be a monthly seminar with local business leaders or, for example, [Washington Redskins Coach] Joe Gibbs, to speak on different aspects of leadership."
The program would also entail self-study, requiring students to read about leadership and also experience it firsthand, such as spending a day with [Sully District Supervisor] Michael Frey to see what a county supervisor does. Said Wilson: "Our intent is to have students get a certificate of completion that they could put on their resumes and college applications."
New Life currently meets at Westfield High, but it plans to construct its own building along Route 29 in Centreville. And it, too, figures into the youth program.
"Three years ago, when we were designing our new facility, we asked Frey what we could program into it to help the community, and he said, 'Students, students, students,'" said Wilson. Knowing that many students hang out at local shopping plazas after school, Frey said it would be helpful if New Life could do something to influence how they use their time.
"It's also a No. 1 priority for the [county school system's] Coalition for Safe and Drug-Free Youth," said Furgerson. So New Life's new building is being specifically designed with a community-center feel, as a place where kids can go after school and have fun. It'll have a gym, weight room and cyber cafe, but will supplement and not compete with local offerings, such as the rec center.
In addition, Furgerson joined the Westfield Community Coalition, and that, too, helped New Life understand teen problems and how the church might help. And in anticipation of more students seeking help from New Life's programs, the church hired an extra staff person to focus on reaching out to middle-school students.
* Life Share is about connecting people and community organizations together relationally through New Life's social events, such as carnivals, concerts, cookouts and movie nights. For instance, a Fall Fun Festival is planned for Saturday, Oct. 30, from 10 a.m.-1 p.m. at Westfield High.
* LIFE SERVICE helps people become volunteers in the community. This program would also employ the talents of high-school students needing community-service hours, as well as people who simply want to help, but don't know how. And it's open to everyone — people do not have to be New Life members to participate in anything.
"Within a couple months, people will be able to look on our Web site [www.newlife4me.com] for volunteer opportunities," said Wilson. "And groups needing volunteers can contact us and ask to be included on it," added Furgerson.
For example, said Wilson, "If we want to offer a skills class in ESL, we can recruit volunteers through Life Service." Or, said Furgerson, "If we were going to start a women's book or garden club for Life Share, we could use the data base from Life Services to find a volunteer to lead or help start it."
* Life Support helps people deal with life's wounds and struggles and will offer groups to assist them in overcoming dysfunctional habits and addictions. Examples are: Choosing Wisely (before divorce), Celebrate Recovery, Grief Share, Food Freedom and Making Peace with Your Past.
Church member Lucy Martinez recently began a 13-week group study called "Divorce Care for Teens." It's for teen-agers whose parents are going through a divorce or have already divorced. Said Wilson: "There's nothing out there to help them deal with it." And teens may join in, any time. (Call Martinez at 703-220-5022).
The Passion for Community programs have already borne fruit in the local area and begun to make an impact. An idea to help people needing an ESL class was mentioned in a New Life newsletter and got a response.
"STEVE STEINBERG, one of the men who recently started coming to New Life, read it and contacted us," said Furgerson. "He's the general manager of the Hilton Garden Inn in Fair Oaks. He has a lot of Hispanic workers, and he asked if he could pay us so they could learn to speak English better. It was not so they could become better hotel workers, but so they could reach their full potential as American citizens."
New Life wouldn't take any money for the classes, except for textbooks, and the classes began at the hotel in early August. The first week, 20 employees came and New Life brought six volunteers. Also helping teach were Steinberg and his housekeeping supervisor.
"The second week, 25 people came — from seven different countries," said Furgerson. "And it's just going great." Paul Sumitra of Centreville's Sully Station community is heading this ministry, and it's something he's wanted to do for a long time.
"Paul approached us, about two years ago, about doing something like this," said Wilson. "But we didn't have the place or the people then."
Now, he said, "We're looking at how we can help minister to these internationals in additional ways. One is with a possible partnership with Community Bank to educate them on money management and home ownership."
Overall, said Furgerson, "We want to partner with the business community, in general, in any way. The whole idea is to build community." For further information about Passion for Community, contact Furgerson at 703-266-0118 or see the New Life Web site.