Tags Posts tagged with "Open Door Exchange"

Open Door Exchange

by -
0 1002
Ashely McFaul-Erwin is the new community outreach pastor for the Setauket Presbyterian Church. Photo provided by Ashley McFaul-Erwin

In its quest to connect more closely with the community, the Setauket Presbyterian Church has created a new position: community outreach pastor. 

Taking on the new role is Ashley McFaul-Erwin, a native of Northern Ireland who recently pastored in Nashville. Arriving this summer with her wife Erica, McFaul-Erwin has been busy working and getting to know the Three Village area.

Interim Pastor Kate Jones-Calone said creating the new position was part of the congregation’s mission planning study conducted a couple of years ago. What came out of that study was the goal to create a deeper connection with the community as well as serve it.

Part of McFaul-Erwin’s responsibility will be heading up the Open Door Exchange, the church’s outreach program in Port Jefferson created to collect gently used furniture to distribute to those in need. She also has been organizing programming to encourage conversations about gun violence in America and what to do about it.

McFaul-Erwin, a a native of Northern Ireland, has joined the Setauket church as community outreach pastor. Photo provided by Ashley McFaul-Erwin.

Jones-Calone said a search committee was formed to find candidates, and when they found McFaul-Erwin, they were thrilled. The interim pastor describes her new co-worker as a warm, open and authentic person.

“We knew pretty quickly that she was someone who brings not only significant experience working with community-based organizations but also this wonderful ability to connect with people which will be so important with her work within the congregation and for the ways she helps the congregation connect with the community around us,” Jones-Calone said.

McFaul-Erwin has an array of experience including work with the Presbyterian Church in Ireland in a low-income area of Belfast. In 2011, she traveled to Nashville, where she was ordained seven years later. In addition to pastoring services, she has worked with former gang members and women battling addiction in various outreach programs. 

The community outreach pastor said when learning about the congregation she was impressed with the community connection they have already established, especially with Open Door Exchange, which celebrates its fifth anniversary next year.

“I’m really impressed,” she said. “It feels like a church that isn’t just content to stay within four walls. They’re already out there doing some of the work.”

The pastor said the congregation is looking to see how they can serve those who have fallen through the cracks when it comes to receiving help, and she is currently trying to identify those needs.

“I feel like I’m doing a lot of listening right now with the people in the church and the community to find out what are some of the needs that folks need to have met,” McFaul-Erwin said.

“This role kind of felt like it was bringing my two worlds together in one position,” McFaul-Erwin said. 

Recently, residents were welcomed to the church to watch a documentary on gun violence and an upcoming event will feature a speaker discussing the importance of writing letters to elected officials about the issue. Pointing to recent mass shootings motivated by hate, the pastor said the issue is not just about access to guns but also how people care and think about each other, and she’s passionate about those with different views coming together and having conversations.

The pastor said when she first moved to the States, she was surprised how it was easier to access guns here than in her birth country, especially in Tennessee where many openly carry firearms. When it comes to the gun debate, the outreach pastor said she can sympathize due to past turmoil in Northern Ireland. She said being born in 1987, she only remembers the tail end of the Troubles, a violent ethno-nationalist conflict in her country, but she saw how long it took for both sides to heal.

“We all have to do the work of gun control but also the work of healing different communities and bringing folks together,” she said. “Nothing changed in Northern Ireland until people on different sides started to talk to each other.”

McFaul-Erwin is ready for her new role, and she said her strengths include bringing people together and listening to them.

“I kind of just see people for who they are and don’t let whatever labels around them be a barrier in that relationship,” she said.

 

Kenny Rogers, left, begins his 277-mile journey to raise fund for mattresses with Eli Kopp who joined him on the first 14 miles. Photo from Kate Jones Calone

Step by step, a Stony Brook man is helping to provide a comfortable place to sleep for those in need.

On Sept. 25, 66-year-old Kenny Rogers embarked on a 277-mile walking trip dubbed Miles for Mattresses to raise funds for the Open Door Exchange — an outreach program of the Setauket Presbyterian Church created to collect furniture to distribute to those in need. Rogers said his goal is to raise $22,021 to purchase mattresses and box springs for the 177 people on the furniture bank’s waiting list for the items. The hope is that the walk will generate buzz and inspire donors to contribute to the cause. The organization has an agreement with Big Lots to purchase mattress and box spring sets for an average of $159.

Rogers’ 277-mile mission began at Wider Circle, which the Long Island furniture bank is modeled after, in Silver Spring, Maryland, and will end Oct. 14 at the Open Door Exchange in Port Jefferson Station. Rogers, who is retired from the Suffolk County Department of Social Services and volunteers with Open Door Exchange, said it feels good to be able to give to others. He said it was frustrating at his former job to help people find housing but then they were on their own when it came to furnishings.

Kenny Rogers has been training for his journey since January. Photo from Kate Jones Calone

The Rev. Kate Jones Calone, director of Open Door Exchange, said more than half a dozen congregants of Setauket Presbyterian Church, of which Rogers is a member, and volunteers from Wider Circle were on hand to cheer him on, and a handful of them walked the first couple of miles with him, while others stayed behind to help out at Wider Circle.

“We had a wonderful reception from Wider Circle,” Calone said.

Arlene Rogers, who accompanied her husband to Maryland, said she was proud of him.

“He has a very big generous heart,” she said. “He is very determined. When he says he’s going to do something, he does it. I back him wholeheartedly.”

Eli Kopp, who turned 14 Sept. 25 and is an eighth-grader at Paul J. Gelinas Junior High School, also traveled to Maryland to walk the first 14 miles with Rogers.

“It’s really great that Kenny had the idea to do this walk as a way to raise money for Open Door Exchange,” Eli said. “Open Door Exchange is a great organization that helps so many people who are in need and helping out there is also a lot of fun.”

Rogers said he’ll mostly travel along US Route 1, and along the way he’ll stop at churches to eat and rest. Setauket Presbyterian’s pastor the Rev. Mary Speers, and Calone networked with churches along the route to coordinate the accommodations.

Rogers said he started preparing for the trip in January by walking two miles around his neighborhood and then he slowly increased the distance. Right before his 277-mile mission, he was walking the more than three-mile Setauket-Port Jefferson Station Greenway Trail both ways with a backpack three quarters filled with weights. Walking didn’t always come easy for Rogers. He said the first few years of his life he was unable to do so, and doctors thought he might have cerebral palsy. However, when he was 4 years old, he said he just started walking one day.

Miles for Mattresses is the second walk he has organized to raise money for charity. In May 2016, Rogers traveled 50 miles on foot from his childhood neighborhood of Chelsea, Brooklyn, to Stony Brook to raise funds for the American Cancer Society in honor of his best friend who died of lung cancer.

Eli Koop, right, joined Rogers on the first 14 miles of the walk to celebrate his birthday Sept. 25. Photo from Kate Jones Calone

Speers said church members and others were supportive of his last walk and she knows his current one will be a success, too.

“The Setauket Presbyterian Church is very giving especially when it’s for a mission or to help people,” Speers said. “They’ll open up their pockets for that. So, the church gave a lot, and lots of his friends and just people in his world, his former co-workers, people like that really gave a lot, and he felt good doing it.”

The pastor said she was unable to join Rogers in Maryland due to recent hip surgery, so she is looking forward to joining him and others at the end of his trip, even if she needs a golf cart to do so.

“It should be a lot of fun,” Speers said. ”It would be like a victory lap.”

Rogers said while he’s looking forward to seeing everyone at the end of his walk, the end of such a mission leaves him with mixed feelings.

“When you’re done with it — you prepared for something like this — when it’s over, it’s a let down,” Rogers said. “I feel good that I did it, but now what do I do? This is what I’ve been working for a certain amount of time.”

Calone said Setauket Presbyterian congregants are in awe of Rogers.

“It’s just so inspiring,” Calone said. “Kenny is just this wonderfully positive and energetic and selfless and generous person who just thinks about really concrete ways that he can help people, and he’s done that his whole life.”

The Open Door Exchange will post updates on Miles for Mattresses on its Facebook page. At press time, Rogers had already raised nearly $8,000 toward his goal. For more information or to donate online, visit www.facebook.com/opendoorexchange or www.opendoorexchange.org.

Christopher Forella, standing, third from left, and Dhaval Shah, standing, third from right, with fellow members of Pi Lambda Phi at the Open Door Exchange. Photo from the Open Door Exchange

One fraternity at Stony Brook University has opened the door to a new volunteer adventure that benefits families in need.

When Christopher Forella, a member of the fraternity Pi Lambda Phi at Stony Brook University, was searching the school’s Handshake database for volunteer opportunities, he came across the Open Door Exchange furniture bank. The fraternity’s vice president of programming and risk management said he knew it would be the perfect place for his fraternity brothers to volunteer at this spring semester.

Pi Lambda Phi members from Stony Brook help with the Open Door Exchange. Photo from Open Door Exchange

“I really liked their mission — getting furniture and donating it to people who need it, helping people in need who really can’t afford it,” Forella said in a phone interview.

The Open Door Exchange is an outreach program that allows the underprivileged to shop for furniture free of charge at their Port Jefferson Station warehouse. Kate Jones Calone, a Presbyterian minister affiliated with the Setauket Presbyterian Church, manages the organization. When she heard the fraternity brothers were willing to volunteer at the warehouse, she said she was thrilled.

“It’s especially exciting for us to be able to connect with the university,” Calone said. “The Open Door Exchange really is a community-based project, and the university is such an important part of our community. To be able to work together with students on something that benefits the whole community is a really nice gift for us.”

For Sanjay Jonnavithula, a senior at SBU and a member of the fraternity since it was founded in 2014, the experience of helping those in need to acquire furniture for free has been a rewarding one.

“Furniture is often overlooked as a vital ingredient for a stable household, so it makes me feel incredible that our fraternity is able to aid this great organization in the work that they do,” Jonnavithula said.

The senior said the experience is one that will stay with him even after graduating from SBU, and he believes it has made a positive impact on his fraternity brothers as well.

“I’m sure I speak for all graduating seniors in Pi Lambda Phi when I say that the amount of different community service projects we’ve been a part of, especially Open Door Exchange, has tremendously influenced our lives,” he said. “We are all diverging on our separate paths next year, but we will continue to aid our local communities and get involved with the local charitable organizations in whatever way we possibly can.”

Dhaval Shah, junior at the university and fraternity president, said this type of volunteer work is different from the beach cleanups and assisting at a Head Start preschool like the group has done in the past.

“Something like Open Door Exchange, we see results right away,” Shah said. “We see people coming in and taking the furniture, and the impact on their lives.”

“Furniture is often overlooked as a vital ingredient for a stable household, so it makes me feel incredible that our fraternity is able to aid this great organization in the work that they do.”

— Sanjay Jonnavithula

Forella said the fraternity has 46 members, and when it comes to volunteering every other week at the warehouse for three to four hours, they usually will have about a dozen members working together depending on their schedules. Most of the students help to unload furniture from trucks, but some go out with the loading trucks to pick up donations.

“It’s really making good use of my time to be out helping people who can definitely use the help,” Forella said.

Calone said the other volunteers with Open Door Exchange have enjoyed working with the college students, and they have brought a lot of energy and enthusiasm to the project.

“They’ve extended our capacity to do what we do in a really meaningful way,” the minister said. “It has a real big impact on what we’re able to do.

Calone is even more appreciative of the time the fraternity brothers have given the organization because she understands how valuable free time is to college students.

“They’re taking time out of their weekend, and it’s precious time for students,” she said. “And giving back to the community, that’s something just really nice for all of us to see what the university brings and how it benefits all of us. These students — the way they are giving back — is just really nice for the community as a whole.”

Kate Calone checks out an end table at the organization’s warehouse in Port Jefferson Station. File photo by Susan Risoli

Furniture is a necessity. It allows a family to sit at a table and eat together. It gives children a place to do homework. It provides the opportunity to open one’s home to guests. It’s essential for a good night’s sleep.

People transitioning from homelessness, domestic violence shelters, military service or displacement following a disaster need more than just a roof over their heads.

Inspired by a youth mission trip to a furniture bank just outside Washington, D.C., Kate Calone wondered if such a service would fly on Long Island. For some, this might have been a daunting task, but Calone set about researching and planning. She organized a feasibility committee and piloted the group to take off.

The Open Door Exchange is rounding out its second year of operations, having served more than 300 Long Island families and individuals in need. Referred by social service agencies and nonprofits, people can “shop” with dignity, by appointment at the organization’s rented Port Jefferson Station warehouse, which is configured to resemble a furniture store. All pieces are free of charge.

For her compassion, determination and leadership in helping Long Islanders in need, Calone is one of Times Beacon Record News Media’s People of the Year for 2016.

A graduate of Yale University and Harvard Law School, Calone spent six years as an attorney before entering the Princeton Theological Seminary. When she and her husband Dave, who ran against Anna Throne-Holst in the 2016 Democratic primary for the 1st Congressional District and Suffolk County judge, returned to Long Island to raise their three children, Calone worked at the First Presbyterian Church in Northport before joining the Setauket Presbyterian Church as associate pastor, to work with the Youth Group.

Residents walked on the Greenway Trail to raise funds and awareness for Open Door Exchange. File photo by Susan Risoli

When she returned from D.C., she told retired Setauket businessman and church member Tom Kavazanjian her idea and asked if he’d be interested in helping. Having great respect for Calone and her worthwhile cause, he said yes.

“Kate’s leadership is unique,” he said. “She leads with a quiet confidence and is one of the most unassuming and selfless people I know. Everything she does, she does with such grace.”

With a lot of planning — and the help of a group of dedicated volunteers — Open Door Exchange was launched in January 2015, recounted Stony Brook resident and retired school teacher Diane Melidosian, who was also an early recruit.

“This was no easy undertaking,” she said. “Since there is no cost to the recipient, all costs associated with this program are handled through fundraising, grant writing and contributions.”

There were lots of logistics to be worked out and the committee used A Wider Circle, the furniture bank in the outskirts of D.C., as a model.

East Setauket resident Bonnie Schultz said being a part of the creation of Open Door Exchange energized her.

“I’d never been part of a startup,” she said. “It’s exciting. And [the organization] has grown by leaps and bounds. The amount of furniture that goes in and out of [the warehouse] is incredible.”

She said even some clients come back to volunteer.

Another member of the exploratory committee, Stony Brook therapist Linda Obernauer, said the youngsters who traveled on the mission played an important part in advancing the idea of a Long Island furniture bank.

“Kate got more interested as the kids got into it,” she said, adding that Calone has served as a role model to many of them. “People who are ‘of the fiber’ do the right thing. Kate doesn’t have to have accolades, she helps people because that’s who she is.”

Footsteps for Furniture walkers assemble on the Greenway Trail. Photo by Susan Risoli

By Susan Risoli

People who cannot afford furniture sleep on the floor, do homework on the kitchen counter, and dream of a day they might invite friends over.

Open Door Exchange is a one-year-old, Setauket-based organization that offers gently used furniture to those who need it. The group held a walkathon Sept. 24 to raise funds and awareness for its mission.

Founder of the Open Door Exchange in Setauket, Kate Calone, examines a piece of furniture. Photo by Susan Risoli
Founder of the Open Door Exchange in Setauket, Kate Calone, examines a piece of furniture. Photo by Susan Risoli

On a rainy morning, 40 people gathered to walk the Setauket-Port Jefferson Station Greenway Trail. Lake Grove resident Frank Miranda said he ventured out on the blustery fall day because “I’m a big fan of Open Door; all my friends are here’.”

As the event got underway, online pledges totaled $1,890 toward the walk’s fundraising goal of $2,500, said Open Door Exchange member Diane Melidosian of Stony Brook.

By the time walkers reached the trail’s end, the clouds cleared and sunlight filtered through the windows of the exchange’s nearby warehouse, behind Fun 4 All in Port Jefferson Station.

The all-volunteer group is an outreach of the Setauket Presbyterian Church. Founded last year by parishioner Kate Calone, the organization accepts donated furniture. Merchandise can either be dropped off at the warehouse, or volunteers will pick it up, by appointment.

Keeping furniture out of landfills is one of the group’s goals, and member Sheila Towers said volunteers have been known to pull over to the curb and scoop up perfectly good pieces placed outside with the trash.

The furniture is given free of charge. Calone said many of her clients are veterans, people transitioning to housing after being homeless or living in shelters, or families displaced by a disaster. After networking with social service agencies, Calone learned that providing furniture was often beyond their scope and their budgets.

“Other organizations were saying to us, ‘We’re just [giving furniture] piecemeal,’” Calone said. “So we said, ‘Okay, maybe that’s a gap we can fill.’”

“They get furniture, but we get just as much from doing this.”

—Sheila Towers

Open Door Exchange needs more dressers, small kitchen tables and chairs, and twin bed frames. Anyone looking for an alternative holiday gift idea is encouraged to donate to the “mattress fund,” Calone said, because she does not accept donated mattresses, but will purchase one if she or other volunteers find out someone is sleeping on the floor.

Even in this gritty industrial park, volunteers make the warehouse cheerful. A vase of dried flowers adds a splash of color to a furniture display. Visitors are greeted with snacks. Dignity is given to clients who come to pick out furniture. Calone said that was one of her intentions in starting the program.

“When any of us go to the furniture store to shop, we get to think about what we would like, and what would look nice in our home,” she said. This is no jumble of discarded stuff, but a space carefully set up so people can browse.

Volunteers of all abilities and ages are welcome, for one time — or on a continuing basis — as an individual or with a group. 

Open Door Exchange needs help with a variety of tasks, from driving a truck and picking up furniture, to greeting clients and doing an intake, to dusting the furniture.

Sheila Towers said the name of the organization reflects the exchange that flows between clients and volunteers. “They get furniture, but we get just as much from doing this,” she said. “Seeing the people take their furniture home and how happy they become, it’s a great feeling.”

To reach Open Door Exchange, call 631-751-0176 or visit www.opendoorexchange.org.