The Barnabas Connection developed as a result of a Wimberley UMC (WUMC) Sunday school class that, in 2004, began helping a family with basic needs connect with critical resources that improved their lives in a significant way. This experience inspired a vision to create a volunteer-based outreach and phone help line program that provides information and access to health and human resources for individuals and families in need of basic services.
The Barnabas Connection Program Director began working to implement services on June 1, 2004, and volunteers began answering calls on the phone line on August 9, 2004. Over the first year or two, volunteers responded to 20 to 30 calls per month and provided referrals for various health and human service options from a printed resource guide.
Today, Barnabas volunteers can respond to an average of 6 to 8 calls per day, with up to 12 calls daily and an average of 100 calls per month. Volunteers now provide referrals via an online software database created specifically for our program. This software program provides an array of referrals based on the caller’s issues and compiles and tracks caller information, data and activity.
The Barnabas Connection provides health & human services, client advocacy, and community education. Barnabas has grown to include advocacy with local utility providers and county and government services; annual events that provide for specific community needs, and direct financial assistance to clients.
Description of Services
The Barnabas Connection provides several layers of service that prevent and meet the needs of families in crisis. Our programs continue to serve more families each year, and we continue to diversify our programs to better meet the needs of this community. The Barnabas Connection provides direct assistance, sustainable resources and preventative care for low-income families.
The Barnabas Connection phone line operates Monday through Friday, as phone volunteers are available. The volunteer structure now includes a Level 1 volunteer who serves as a researcher on the phone with the client. The Level 1 volunteer works in tandem with the Level 2 volunteer who provided resource referral and data entry support. Volunteers staff the phone lines each day from their own home. Calls are managed through an online voice mail and forwarding system. Volunteers provide forms and applications for community services such as Federal CEAP, Medicaid/CHIP, Social Security Disability and often assist the client in completing the application. Volunteers provide contact information of helpful community organizations and become a companion and advocate that help the caller through the process of applying for and getting the assistance they need. This mentoring relationship helps ensure that these callers actually connect with the resources they require and are not sent in circles or left frustrated with tedious application procedures. Our volunteers understand that the callers are in crisis and need individual support while they find their way toward stability.
By making information on all of these resources available through a phone call, the Barnabas Connection strives to help families take full advantage of the many quality services available. The Barnabas Connection has helped clients become more independent and stable by connecting them with consistent streams of income like social security disability, food stamps, child health programs and mental health services.
In 2008, the Barnabas Connection began administering the Operation Good Shepherd Fund – a financial assistance fund provided by the Wimberley Ministerial Alliance. When families are in financial crisis due to housing, transportation, medical or utility needs, this initial financial help relieves the crisis situation and is an opportunity to connect with the family in crisis in a meaningful way. Once we can help alleviate the most critical issues, we can help the family establish sustainable living conditions through other resources that include the Online Job Connection, Habitat for Humanity, Federal Health and Human Service applications, specific resources to support parents and children in their community and school environments. In 2012, the Wimberley Ministerial Alliance committed to funding a part time assistant under the supervision of the Barnabas Director. The assistant meets directly with clients in need and provides the financial and application assistance.
After seeing many families struggle to provide for their children during the back-to-school season, the Barnabas Connection began hosting the Back to School Fiesta in 2006, an annual event at the Wimberley United Methodist Church that initially helped provide100 children with free school supplies and backpacks through the support of just a few community partners. The Back to School Fiesta has developed into a community-wide event with 20+ funding partners that include local churches, civic organizations, and corporate donors. The Fiesta provides school supplies, backpacks, a gift card for new shoes, haircuts, immunizations and access to local community organizations at no cost to approximately 500 children. Local organizations are also on site providing information and assistance. This event continues to provide the tools to be successful in school to more children each year.
In even-numbered years, the Barnabas Connection publishes and distributes a local free resource guide with information on available services to help children, families, and the elderly. The guide includes information on local low-cost or free childcare options for families and is distributed through local schools, organizations and businesses. The guide will be updated and printed every other year to help create resource awareness and education in our community.
An annual fall flu clinic has been provided in partnership with the Hays County Health Department as a preventative care opportunity for the entire community, but specifically targets low-income families. This project was discontinued in 2013 due to increased availability of flu shots.
In 2009 the Barnabas Connection launched a free online job connection service that was accessed through the Wimberley UMC website. This tool allowed employers and those looking for work to post requests and offerings of services and work. Our clients could use the local public library to access the internet and participate in this invaluable job site. This tool is under construction due to website transitions.
The Barnabas Connection began working with the Pedernales Electric Cooperative (PEC) Board and Staff in 2009 to raise awareness among the PEC stakeholders about the need for policies and procedures that support and assist their low-income clients. PEC policies have been found to be very punitive to low-income and disabled clients, and the Barnabas Connection continues to advocate for policy change that is supportive of low-income families and disabled individuals. The PEC Board passed multiple changes to policies in September of 2011 due to Barnabas’ advocacy.
In May of 2011, Barnabas presented a study of Ruby Payne’s book, Bridges Out of Poverty to Barnabas volunteers, and local community and faith-based assistance partners and community leaders. We hoped to encourage an in-depth dialogue and greater understanding of the issues of poverty.
In 2012, the Barnabas Connection Board of Directors participated in a study and discussion of the book, “When Helping Hurts” with the clergy of the Wimberley Ministerial Alliance. The discussion led to a small task group to consider ways “Operation Good Shepherd” and the services offered by Barnabas could be more in line with the premise of the book. The ongoing discussion with the task group led to a community meeting in May, 2014 to discuss the idea of a “social service community center” and was attended by clergy, social service providers, and civic and city leaders. From the meeting a group has stepped forward interested in pursuing next steps in the conversation.
In the Fall of 2013, the decision was made with Wimberley UMC’s blessing to pursue separate 501(c)3 status for The Barnabas Connection and the application was submitted in February 2014. The Barnabas Connection received 501(c)3 status in the Fall of 2014 and was made effective retroactive to the date of incorporation September 10, 2014.
In January, 2014 The Barnabas Connection hosted a meeting with area Christmas assistance providers to propose the concept of a “Christmas Store” which would allow families in need to shop for items for their family at a reduced cost. From that meeting and following discussions came the decision to host a pilot Christmas Store project between two churches and a limited number of families to learn and determine next steps for the community.