Isaiah 61 Ministries is a 501c3 charitable organization. Our volunteers are Christians from various denominations striving to show those less fortunate that they are loved and not forgotten. Our ministry does not just serve food and give out clothing. We are a social ministry and those on the streets are our family. We are ordinary people God is using to do extraordinary things in the Harrisburg Pennsylvania area. We are an outreach to the homeless, tireless advocates for their well being and friends to all we serve. We are Isaiah 61 Ministries, God’s Hands and feet in the Harrisburg PA area.
In 2007 April Ocasio (April Snyder) was running a Celebrate Recovery Group out of the Swatara Church of God in Harrisburg PA. One of the things discussed in recovery is how important it is to give back to the community and those around us. As a result of this, the group decided that they wanted to go out and feed the homeless under the Mulberry Street Bridge in Harrisburg, PA. The group made bagged lunches with a sandwich and a few snack items, a crock pot of soup, and also provided bottled water. They went to the Mulberry Street Bridge location to serve those that they might find there.
This project is something the group did not intend to continue on a regular basis but did want to do from time to time. The group had gone out a couple times and then missed a week and come back. When the group returned one of the homeless men commented that he thought the group may have been a bunch of Christians that had only come out a few times to feel good about themselves and then never come back. This had a huge impact on April. She firmly believed that they should know that this is not what Christians are really like. After this April decided that this was something she had to continue to do.
April, her children and a few friends did continue to serve those under the Mulberry Street Bridge and to build strong relationships with the individuals living at this location. Angel Ocasio had started to help with the Celebrate Recovery group and serving the homeless.
April and Angel were married in April of 2009. They continued to serve the homeless without the assistance of the group and felt that their family was being called to minister to the homeless and poor in the Harrisburg Area. They firmly believed that this was a great way to show God’s love to those who were in need. Soon they and their 5 children were serving not only under the bridge, but also behind the Dauphin County Courthouse. Soon they started serving at 2 additional locations where there were homeless encampments. They continued to serve soup and bagged lunches.
As their relationships grew with many individuals in the homeless community they started to realize the needs that were not being met for some of them besides food and shelter. There was a huge need for help with shoes, medical attention, showers, laundry services, and advocacy. They seemed to be a community of individuals who had no voice to address their needs. The Ocasio’s began to ask individuals they knew personally and in the local church for shoes and clothing of certain sizes as they began to know the needs of those they were serving.
In November 2009 the Ocasio’s along with their friends Art and Kim Chavez held the first of many special events. The event was held at the Millersburg Assembly of God in Millersburg PA the day after Thanksgiving. They provided transportation and a ton of food, a movie, shower facilities, and a clothing room filled with clothing donated by members of Millersburg Assembly of God.
At the end of 2009 April and Angel decided to start preparing a full meal to take into Harrisburg. It consisted of a meat, side dish and vegetable. They also continued to prepare the bagged lunch so the homeless and poor they were serving would have something to eat after they had left. Toiletries were also starting to be handed out on a regular basis.
In April of 2010 a homeless gentleman sent a letter to the Patriot News Paper telling of how the Ocasio’s came consistently to serve and build relationships with the homeless and poor. He shared how they made him feel human and how nice it was to be treated with that type of love. When the Patriot received this letter they decided to come out and find the Ocasio’s while they were serving the homeless in order to do a story. This family had gone under the radar serving the homeless community for a few years already and would have continued to serve without the recognition. After the article ran the Ocasio’s started to gain support from individuals and churches within the local community.
In May of 2010 one of the women living in an encampment where they were serving became very ill. They were there to support her and her boyfriend through a long period of trips back and forth to the hospital up until she passed away. MaryAnn, the woman they were serving, had not been in contact with her family for several years and the hospital and county coroner had no luck in finding them. April and Angel continued to work toward finding her family for several weeks following her death. They came across papers at the camp that had her parents’ names on it and they was then able to track down MaryAnn’s father in Florida and her daughter in Texas. Her ashes had still not been buried and were able to be sent to her daughter along with the jewelry and some of her belongings from the camp.
In June 2010, the City of Harrisburg had come down on one of the encampments and told the folks living there that they would have to leave the property. This is a camp that had been there for more than 10 years and a lot of the individuals living there were very distraught because this had become home to them. Angel and April were able to help the individuals walk through the process of working with other organizations in the area to get assistance. Though other organizations really tried to reach out to them when this hit the news the individuals living there were hesitant to trust and share their information. With April and Angel helping to calm fears and untrust the other agencies were able to help about 25-30 individuals find housing. Once in housing April and Angel helped gather donations of furniture, appliances, and other needed items for their new homes.
This was the beginning of Isaiah 61 Ministries bridge building with other local agencies and ministries. Through this camp closing down and being able to meet a few people from local organizations Angel and April were able to meet up with Capital Area Coalition on Homelessness and start to work with them on some things. This was the year of the first Project Homeless connect in Harrisburg. Angel and April attended the Project Homeless Connect in order to support those they serve. This helped them feel more comfortable sharing their information in order to obtain the services they were seeking.
In September of 2010 April was recognized at Joyce Meyer Ministries Women’s convention for the love the Ocasios share with the community. April and Angel were generously gifted a van, books to hand out to those they were serving, and a gift card to Wal-Mart to help with the purchase of shoes and food.
Over the fall months Angel and April had supported another woman whom they had grown very close to while serving. Her name was Rachel. She had been suffering as her liver began to fail. Rachel was such a sweet woman and was very well known in the homeless community. She had been homeless for about 15 years. At this point in time (Age 45) she was placed in a nursing home in hopes that she would have time to recover before returning to the streets. Rachel seemed to be getting better for a while. She was longing be well enough to attend a Pow-Wow. She was full blooded Indian and this was an event that was very important to her. She was able to get her strength up enough and Angel, April and the family took her. After attending her health took a turn for the worse. April spent 3 days in the hospital with her until her death. It was so amazing to see the difference in Rachel from the time they met her until the day she died. She had made some huge changes in her life. She died with a new perspective on life and most importantly a relationship with God. When Rachel passed away the Ocasios made arrangements with Rachel’s family to have her body prepared to be flown back to the Indian Reservation in Arizona. She was buried there with her family.
April and Angel believed now that it was time to start thinking about a name for their ministry. They began researching what it would take to become a non-profit organization. Their hope was and is that they would and will be able to branch out. They wanted to be able to start working toward the dreams they had and still have for the ministry. Angel and April sat down in their home with their friend Trish and talked about what the ministry meant to them, what goals they had already accomplished and what goals they had for the future. After many different suggestions were made they read the scripture of Isaiah 61 and the three friends talked about how the vision and goals matched up to this passage. The decision was made to name the ministry Isaiah 61 Ministries.
In 2010 the ministry provided 4 special events. An Easter dinner was provided to about 35 people in attendance, a breakfast with made to order omelets with about 25 in attendance, a fall feast with about 45 in attendance and a Christmas party with 103 in attendance.
Looking back over those first couple years seems so amazing. It all started with a few snack bags, sandwiches and some soup. From serving only 7 or 8 people to serving nearly 80 people in summer months. Needless to say, not only had the numbers grown, but the love they had for the people had grown as well. They were not only serving the soup and sandwiches, but a full meal, handing out toiletries and Bibles, supplying new shoes, transportation to doctor appointments, helping them pick up prescriptions if they had no insurance, advocating, taking people to rehab, writing to them during incarceration, speaking on their behalf in court, giving spiritual advice, being with them as they took their last breath, and most importantly giving them love that many have not felt in a long time and leading some to Christ.
In the beginning of 2011 April was again contacted by Joyce Meyers’ Ministries. They wanted to come to Harrisburg and do some taping of what the ministry is doing in the Harrisburg area. The ministry came to visit the Ocasio’s and Isaiah 61 Ministries in May of 2011 and spent 3 days here. On November 9th 2011 Isaiah 61 Ministries was highlighted on Joyce Meyers TV show.
In May of 2011, April and Angel started to regularly show up to pick anyone who wanted to go to church with them. At first only 2 or 3 people would show up each week and some weeks no one. They continued to show up downtown regardless. Toward the end of the summer numbers began to rise and many began going to church with them. Theresa, who was a member of the board, also started to help with transportation at that point because they were getting anywhere between 10-20 people regularly attending Sunday services. Many accepted Christ as their savior during services and even during meal services the week following their visit to church.
In 2011 the Ministry continued to grow and reach out to more people. The numbers of the homeless community they were serving continued to increase each week. During winter months January, February, and even into March the numbers served during regular weekly meals were averaging around 20 people due to the winter shelter being open. As the shelters closed and more people were finding themselves back in the streets the numbers began to increase to about 60 people early spring to the high or 125 people a night in late summer. During the late fall and winter months, the ministry noticed that the numbers of people being served at this time of year had increased greatly. The ministry was still serving an average of 45 – 50 per night.
Individuals that the ministry was serving at the time expressed concern to April and Angel about food services that were being provided a couple nights during the week and asked that the ministry add more nights to their food service. They took it to the board of directors and it was decided that they would add a food service Tuesday evenings. The ministry continued the Wednesday service as well.
Isaiah 61 Ministries was again involved with the Project Homeless connect in 2011. This time Isaiah 61 Ministries took on a different role by setting up their own stand in the religious section of the event. They still did step in to advocate for individuals where needed. It was neat to see how other agencies were able to approach April and Angel to help advocate for individuals that they were having a hard time communicating with. They also provided Bibles and prayer to those who were seeking spiritual help or guidance.
In October 2011, 4 members of Isaiah 61 Ministries’ board of directors spent a night in the streets with their homeless friends. Angel, April and the members of the board believe that in order to effectively serve the needs of the homeless community they have to understand what it is like to experience homelessness. This was an eye opener for them. Just seeing the differences in the way other agencies and ministries serve them was an eye opener. Not to mention the way people totally avoided walking near them was a rude awakening. They knew that others did not look at their friends the way they did and still do, but to experience it themselves was definitely different.
On October 21, 2011 Isaiah 61 Ministries was incorporated as a Non-Profit Corporation. The purpose of incorporation was to become a 501c3 Charitable Organization. The board was seeing the ways that God was expanding and stretching the ministry beyond just a few people to something much bigger. Isaiah 61 Ministries received their 501c3 status effective October 5, 2011.
In 2011 the ministry provided 3 special events. In May they provided a Chicken BBQ (76 attended), a Thanksgiving meal (147attended) in partnership with Howard Motor Co., and a Christmas party (137 attended).
On January 28th, 2012 the ministry began its first Life Group. The Life Group is a bible study group whose focus is to build community among those who are attending. The group studies scripture as well as other Christian materials that are relevant to the lives of those attending. The goal of starting this group was to have a core group in the homeless community that will learn to support each other, hold each other accountable for their actions, and help others around them come into this type of relationship with each other. Isaiah 61 Ministries believes that this is a key to changing the community from within.
A clothing bank was established in a temporary location at Howard Motor Co. until the ministry could acquire its own facilities. This clothing bank was open to those served by the ministry every other Saturday afternoon following LifeGroup meetings.
Throughout the year of 2012, Isaiah 61 Ministries continued to maintain regular Lifegroup meetings with an average of 15 people from the homeless community in attendance. We were also able to witness many individuals grow spiritually and even be baptized. This year was a tremendous year of watching as the Lord’s hand moved amongst the homeless community.
In 2013 we were able to start a relationship with the Dauphin County Work Release Center for the purpose of allowing the men to participate in community service while serving the homeless community. They helped with many of our big events throughout the year and with our Tuesday and Wednesday meal services. During our time getting to know many of the men that came through the Lord impressed upon our hearts the great need to be able to minister to these men on a deeper level. This was an area that was dedicated to prayer for quite some time.
Again in 2013 the ministry was blessed to be able to see many we served come into a saving relationship with the Lord and to see many grow spiritually. It was also the year that the Lord was going to answer our prayers to be able to expand our services to other communities in the surrounding area.
April and Angel were called in to sit on a panel of experts on the matter of homeless for a faith based summit held in the Upper Dauphin Area. During this summit they heard about a small country church that had been sitting vacant for a few year. As the woman in the meeting spoke about the building she shared that she has often envisioned it being a good place to serve those who were homeless and in need. God had planted a seed in their minds and hearts.
At a second meeting in Upper Dauphin this church was brought up in conversation. As Angel and April spoke to each other about it and bathed it in prayer. The building was still owned by the United Methodist Susquehanna Conference and it seemed to make sense to contact Pastor Parker of the local Methodist church to see if he had any information on it. When April contacted him about it he told her that he actually had the key to it and was willing to meet with them to show them the building.
When Pastor Parker, Angel, and April entered the sanctuary Angel and April could not believe their eyes. It was such a beautiful place to worship in. They could immediately see the great potential the facility had. This being true, they also saw the huge concern that loomed overhead when it came to financing a building like this. Being a small ministry there were no funds for the purchase of a building.
About three days after seeing the building April shared with Angel the vision that God had placed on her heart for the use of the building and Angel confirmed that he agreed with what she shared. He shared his willingness to give up things in their family’s personal life to help with the purchase of the building.
Over the next several months as they met with Bill Toner, a member of the board of Trustees for the conference, they prayed over and wrote out a proposal for the building that they believed to be the vision that God laid on their hearts. With the help of Treff LaPlante, Board Member, and Howard Henry, friend and volunteer, they worked diligently to present this proposal in the best way possible.
All praise goes to God for making this purchase possible. No one else could possibly make the purchase of the perfect place for this ministry possible for the price. God gave us the building for far less than what it has been worth to many in the community prior to us moving in and for far less than it is worth to those who are currently served there. Once again God showed how faithful his is in providing for us at just the right time if we just follow in obedience. (By the way, the building was sold to us for $5!!)
Upon purchase of the property in June of 2013 there was much work to be done. Walls were fixed, moldy items removed, a lot of painting done, concrete work, and a whole lot of cleaning took place. All to get prepare to open the church back up to the public in October of 2013.
The ministry was blessed to have many dedicated supporters from the past and many new people in support what we were doing attend our opening service. At this service we were so blessed by the willingness of others to participate, but especially by hearing others from the community share. Sally Snyder shared about how the church had been a big part of her family’s history and her love for the church. She shared that her father, who had dementia in his later years, had many times spoken of serving the homeless there and the need to feed people. Maybe the Lord was giving him a glimpse into what was in store for this property.
At the opening of the facility a clothing bank was offered to the community until the soup kitchen would open on January 21st of 2014.
Unfortunately, 2013 was also a year that we would face much testing and many trials. The biggest trial however began in September of 2013 when we were asked to stop serving the homeless on county property. Because of our strong belief that God wanted us to respect our authorities we decided to respect this decision and moved off the property until we could figure out how to work with the county to come to a resolution. We began praying and expecting God to move in this situation so that he could be glorified through it.
Through prayer we came to the conclusion that while we needed to respect those in authority over us we also needed to stand up for our right to do what the Lord had called us to do. So, we worked diligently with the help of Liberty Institute to resolve this dilemma while we continued to serve the homeless which entailed moving the food service first to front street and then to Howard Tire Co.
Liberty Institute was very instrumental in helping us to resolve this matter and we were allowed to serve back on county property for Christmas Eve and thereafter. Praise God for how he moves!
On January 21st 2014 our soup kitchen in Halifax opened to those who live in the Upper Dauphin Area. It runs on Monday and Thursday evenings. This being a new thing in the area it took a few weeks for folks in the community to start to attend, but over the year it has grown and become a lively place where we are currently serving an average of 36 people per night. The clothing bank has been serving more and more people from the Upper Dauphin Area since it opened. Thousands of articles of clothing come in and out each month. God has really blessed the ministry by making this possible and we believe that this community will be impacted by that blessing as well!
In 2014 we also saw prayer answered in the ability to serve the men from the Dauphin County Work Release Program on a deeper level. While they still participate with us for community service, they are now allowed to participate in our LifeGroup which is now held every Saturday at our new location.
LifeGroup’s main attenders are actually from the Work Release to date. We are seeing great impact on the lives of those who come from the center that are open to allowing God to have control over their lives, be held accountable by others in the group, and who continue to attend after release from the center.
Not only have they been able to attend group, but we have been able to teach them about the ability to have fun and be accepted without having to go back to the lifestyle they once lived. They have attended WinterJam, the God’s Not Dead movie, Witness Festival, and many other outings with us.
The relationships built within this group have had a great impact not only on those we serve, but on those who are serving as well. This goes without saying for those served and being served in Harrisburg as well. God has an amazing way of using our faithfulness and obedience to bring such an awesome amount of blessing into our lives and ministry.
Isaiah 61 Ministries still continues to provide Tuesday and Wednesday meals, advocacy, new shoes and clothing upon request, helps to pick up prescriptions not covered by insurance, transportation to doctors appointments, help with bus passes, mediation between their clients and other agencies and organizations, transportation to church, Life Group, clothing bank, special events, spiritual guidance, writing to those incarcerated, helping individuals get into rehabilitation services, attending court hearings with clients, provides toiletries and Bibles, and healthy and loving relationships to those they serve.
One of the goals of Isaiah 61 Ministries is to continue to show the poor and homeless of Harrisburg as well as those who are incarcerated that God loves them and so does everyone involved with the ministry. Isaiah 61 Ministries strives to continue to be increasingly involved with other local ministries and to continue building working relationships that will better serve those the ministry is serving.
Isaiah 61 Ministries believes that God’s hand is on this ministry and that there are great things in store for the future.
Our vision for the future is to not only continue to serve at the capacity we are now, but to grow and expand. We see so many needs in our communities and believe that there is so much more we can accomplish to make all of Dauphin County a better place to combat homelessness and help those who may be facing homelessness in the future.
Another goal for future services of the ministry is to acquire a building in Harrisburg where we will be able to provide better services to those in need. This building would be a place where anyone in need could come for assistance. We would serve meals every day. A place to do job searches would be provided. Trades would be taught here and GED classes would be offered. Restrooms, showers, laundry facilities, and lockers would also be available to the homeless and would be accessible throughout the day. Individuals could drop belongings off and still have the ability to pick it up before they turn in for the night. The board of directors believes that this type of access to lockers would cut back on the amount of clothing and blankets that are being thrown away or stolen daily. This facility will also have shelter for those in need. We plan to have both short term and long term housing. The long term housing would help with job placement and/or training. Learning how to budget money and handle finances properly would also be very important in this facility. While working, an account would be set up for clients to save money toward the goal of attaining their own housing at the completion of the program.
In the future we hope to be able to expand into other communities in South Central Pennsylvania.
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- HOMLESS LIVE UNDER STAT STREET BRIDGE IN HARRISBURG PA