For 13 years, members of the Long Reach Church of God worshiped in community centers and schools all over Columbia -- any place they could find.
In 1986, the growing congregation struggled to raise money to build its own church on Foreland Garth.
With a place to call its own, the Columbia parish was able to become more involved in the community. For the past year, the church has run an emergency food program.
Now, as the 600-family congregation continues to grow, so does its commitment to the community.
The church plans to break ground next summer for a Family Ministry Center to provide expanded services to those in need. The center will offer nutrition counseling, job skills training and parenting workshops run by Helping Hands, the church's community service component. The two-story building also will house a church-sponsored youth outreach center and, eventually, a parish school. Plans are not complete, but the building probably will include about 12,000 square feet of space.
With an estimated cost of $2 million, it's an ambitious project. But church members are convinced the center is an attainable goal if the congregation is guided by a common vision, said Robert Davis Jr., assistant pastor at the Long Reach Church of God.
"It's the vision of the pastor to do whatever it takes to fill lives and have facilities to train and equip people to do ministry in the church, but also to serve the community," Davis said.
"Everything we do here is a team effort," he said. "We have people who really believe that we should always be embarking on some type of project and never be complacent or comfortable with what we have."
Fund-raising efforts for the center began about 18 months ago. The congregation separated into 12 groups, representing the dozen tribes of Israel. Each group is responsible for raising a certain amount of money for the project.
Formed a year ago, Helping Hands provides a three- to five-day supply of food, three times a week, to about 90 families a month.
However, church volunteers found that it takes more than food to solve the problems of low-income families.
"People come in with multiple needs," said Helping Hands director Lisa Harris. "Unless you address the other needs, you don't really help them to solve the issue of getting out of the cycle of poverty."
During the next two years, the church plans to expand its Helping Hands program to include financial planning, stress management skills and career development classes.
The expanded program also will operate a mobile food pantry to serve the homebound and people in the rural areas of the county.
"When you begin to work in the community and meet these families you realize that if you're going to be something more than just a superficial solution, you've got to teach people how to fish," Harris said.
"In other words, we want to empower people to be able to maintain their independence and be self-sufficient for themselves and their families," she said.