Pathways Christian Fellowship was founded as a mission-focused church in 2006, with Dr. Frank Cerny as its pastor. Its congregation saw the opportunity to live their faith through action and make a positive impact both close to home and further away. Pathways Christian Fellowship decided early on that they would focus their ministry efforts on addressing poverty. They began multiple ministries to discover how they could best serve the community here in Western New York as well as across the country and around the globe.
By 2007, Pathways Christian Fellowship began reaching out to community members, experts in poverty and rural issues, and people with lived experience to determine how their efforts could be focused moving forward. These community outreach efforts and surveys informed Pathways Christian Fellowship of the issues facing those living in rural poverty in southern Western New York – transportation barriers, limited healthcare opportunities, food insecurity, housing instability, and many more challenges that often go unnoticed and unaddressed.
Pathways Christian Fellowship began hosting monthly free community dinners in 2009 at the South Wales Community Hall. These dinners were opportunities for the Fellowship and the community to meet and offer each other support. From the dinners, Pathways Christian Fellowship was able to better understand the needs of our rural communities.
As one of the ministries of Pathways Christian Fellowship, a group started collecting used furniture and appliances and redistributing them to families in need. Now called the New Paths Household Goods Redistribution Center, the goal of this effort from the start was to provide a hand-up rather than a handout. New Paths asks people to pay a small fee, trade for the item, or volunteer in exchange for the items they need.
Sarah’s Pantry, named in memory of Sarah Oubre, provides non-food items to families in need. These include items that are not covered by SNAP benefits, such as toiletries, paper products, cleaning supplies, baby needs, and more. Sarah’s Pantry continues to be run as part of the Women’s Ministry of Pathways Christian Fellowship and is open primarily to people engaged with the Rural Outreach Center. It is also available to community members in crisis.
Recognizing the need to support people living in rural poverty in our community with more focused social work services, Pathways Christian Fellowship brought on a per-diem social worker for a few hours each week. This social worker, Maria Knickerbocker, provided in-home services and helped families address immediate needs, connect with other services, and access mental health support, when necessary.
Also in 2012, the Rural Outreach Center (ROC) was incorporated as a separate entity from Pathways Christian Fellowship to allow for a focus on addressing the growing needs in the rural communities of southern Western New York. Within a year, the ROC became a 501c3 nonprofit organization with the mission to eradicate rural poverty in its community. Efforts began to find a home for both the ROC and Pathways Christian Fellowship – a place where services could be centralized and the community could gather.
After several years of hard work and providing services within the community, the ROC was able to secure a FEMA trailer from another organization. Land was purchased by Pathways Christian Fellowship just south of East Aurora with the intent of it being used to house the trailer until a more permanent structure could be built.
Within a few months, the ROC opened its doors to the public at its new home at 730 Olean Road in East Aurora. Our social worker could now conduct sessions out of an office, and the ROC was able to host a multitude of other programs focused on health, wellbeing, parenting, and more. The trailer quickly went from feeling too big to becoming crowded as word spread about the ROC and more people came to us for services.
The ROC experienced rapid growth and, by 2017, there was an urgent need for more space. The East Aurora Kiwanis Club approved a service project and funding for the Kiwanis Room, an addition on the back of the FEMA trailer that would provide meeting, programming, and therapy space. The Kiwanis Room quickly became one of the most-used spaces in the trailer and gave the ROC the time and space it needed to begin fundraising for a permanent building.
The ROC recognized the need to expand our direct care and administrative staff. With support from area foundations, the ROC was able to hire a Development Director to continue our growth, a social worker to help provide additional clinical services, and a care coordinator to help with basic human needs such as applying for SNAP, accessing safe housing, connecting with food pantries, and more.
COVID-19 greatly impacted our rural community, with more people than ever struggling with food insecurity. Although the ROC is not and has no intention of being a food pantry, during 2020 we partnered with FeedMoreWNY to provide food boxes to community members in need. These community food box distributions provided support to hundreds of families in our community, with up to 300 food boxes distributed frequently within a half hour of the distribution beginning.
In response to the social-emotional and academic gaps created for our rural children by COVID-19, the ROC created the Dream Big! Summer Experience – an opportunity each summer for children to learn, play, and grow in a safe and welcoming environment. Dream Big! has led to strong friendships, powerful insights, and true transformation among the children we serve.
After many years of planning, fundraising, community building, and designing, the ROC officially broke ground on the Scott Bieler Family Foundation Rural Outreach Center in June 2021. This exciting day was a celebration for everyone who had helped the ROC get to this point and marked the beginning of the construction process.
Construction officially started in the fall of 2021, after the site had been cleared. The ROC moved its offices to a temporary site in order for construction to progress. Despite delays and shortages, construction continued into the winter months.
Construction continued throughout 2022, with the building going from a vision to a reality within the year. By the end of 2022, the ROC was preparing to move into its new home in the new year, and we were able to gather with Pathways Christian Fellowship to celebrate the new building and the future ahead of us.
On June 8th, 2023, we celebrated the opening dedication and ribbon cutting of the Scott Bieler Family Foundation Rural Outreach Center alongside supporters and community members. We are excited for this new chapter for the ROC and for what our new space will provide to our community. Photo credit: Mary Wright