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In mid-November, St. James' Episcopal Church in Skaneateles received the Clarence L. Jordan Hope Award for the congregation's years of volunteer work with the Auburn Rescue Mission.

Since 2016, a mission team made up of dozens of church volunteers has worked with the Rescue Mission on nearly 100 events focused on supporting those in need in the community.

Block parties, youth trips to dairy farms, back-to-school events and weekly shuttles to appointments are just some of the work the volunteers and the Rescue Mission have accomplished together through a partnership that has blessed the volunteers as much as anyone, said St. James' senior pastor the Rev. Becky Coerper.

"I think when you get involved in serving people who are struggling, really struggling hard with life's challenges, you just learn a lot," Coerper said. "It breaks down presumptions you have and I think we feel like we see the face of Christ a lot, and that's always just kind of an awesome thing."

The process began in 2015, when different groups within the church started discussing how they could better serve the community. After a yearlong process of discernment in which members used "various practices to listen together to the Holy Spirit" and interviewing community members to see where service was needed, the church decided on working with the Auburn Rescue Mission.

Coerper said the mission team committed particularly to work to support affordable housing and with people seeking help for mental health, as well as to engage in ministry with community youth.

"We felt like we could come alongside them with volunteers, and we've got lots of folks that are really good at organizing things and some that love children. It just looked like there were going to be a lot of opportunities to do things that in some ways matched all three of our new goals," Coerper said.

The decision coincided perfectly with the the Rescue Mission's work to open the Merriman Circle affordable housing complex in 2017, said Tom Schneider, a member of the church mission team.

Coerper credits the "amazing and inspiring" Rescue Mission staff, especially leadership like program manager Gary Mann and volunteer coordinator Cyndi Sharp, with helping connect the churchgoers with the resources to help the Rescue Mission most effectively.

Just some of the activities volunteers participated in included delivering meals, building picnic tables and leading cooking, knitting or financial planning classes for adults.

Every Tuesday during the summer, volunteers came to Merriman Circle to play soccer, fill water balloons, make chalk drawings and more with children from the neighborhood, who were also treated to a dairy farm tour in June.

The Clarence L. Jordan Hope Award is named after a previous director of the Syracuse Rescue Mission who, during his tenure, expanded the mission's reach greatly, going from just seven employees in 1960 to 333 when he left in 2000.

"Here's a guy who dedicated his entire life, to think they would consider us worthy to receive an award in his name was pretty humbling," Schneider said.

While many of the volunteers were reluctant to accept the award, preferring not to focus on themselves, Schneider said they ultimately agreed to accept it in order to potentially inspire others.

"We kind of feel, if it gives others hope, other people or other agencies, that they too could form a partnership like we formed, that's all the better," Schneider said.

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Staff writer Ryan Franklin can be reached at (315) 282-2252 or ryan.franklin@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter @RyanNYFranklin.

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