Pastor Anthony Moore has a very clear vision of what his community needs – a place for single mothers with HIV/AIDS to live and with support grow to be self sufficient. Now he just needs money – and quite a bit of it.
Moore, who heads Carolina Missionary Baptist Church in Fort Washington, is on an all-out campaign to raise $6.5 million to build My Sister's Keeper, a 40-unit apartment complex where mothers and their school-age children will be provided with educational opportunities as well as counseling, peer support, health care, job and life skills training. Each unit is expected to accommodate one mother and her three or four children and families would be housed and supported for as long as 24 months.
The project is in partnership with the nonprofit Harambee Community Development Corporation of Fort Washington.
Moore, 50, who has been pastor at Carolina Missionary Baptist Church for 25 years, said he doesn't have to go far to see the need for such a facility. It's right there in the community surrounding his church, he said. He rattles off the statistics: Prince George's County ranks second in Maryland for HIV/AIDS cases. African Americans are disproportionately affected by the epidemic – 87.4 percent of those living with HIV/AIDS are black. Females have become a larger proportion of the cases.
Moore said his church is compelled to respond to the "great need" that exists and by focusing on single mothers with children, multiple generations can be helped.
"It's an opportunity to affect the present along with the future," said Moore. "It's not just about housing, it's about us ministering to them comprehensively and holistically."
Through the facility, children are expected to receive tutoring and homework assistance from trained volunteers. They also are expected to attend weekly support groups and be taught that "they are not alone and that being a child who is affected by HIV/AIDS does not diminish who they are or limit their ability to achieve greatness and be successful in life," according to information from the church.
Dedra Spears-Johnson, executive director and co-founder of Heart to Hand Inc., a Prince George's County nonprofit organization that provides HIV/AIDS testing and links people to community resources, agrees that there is a dearth of affordable housing options.
"There's a serious need for housing for women living with HIV and who have children and even men as well," said Spears-Johnson, who said she is familiar with the My Sister's Keeper project and is excited by it.
She added that through medication people with HIV/AIDS are living longer and are now having to contend with age-related illnesses.
"It's tremendously hard to keep people in housing because of how expensive it is living in Prince George's County," said Spears-Johnson, adding that housing subsidies for those with HIV/AIDS are extremely limited.
"It's never been enough," she said.
Moore criticizes the church in general for initially not responding appropriately to the AIDS crisis. He said he's seen minimal progress from the church on the issue over the years, and he disagrees "whole heartedly" with the view that HIV/AIDS is a curse from God.
"The church can't afford to be silent," said Moore, adding that his congregation has been negatively impacted by the epidemic.
Carolina Missionary Baptist Church got involved in HIV/AIDS work four years ago, holding quarterly HIV/AIDS testing during worship services. He said he and his wife Cynthia Moore were the first to have the test. Results from the testing done at the church, which is still ongoing, can be known in 20 minutes.
"I want folks to understand [the importance of] getting tested and knowing their status," said Moore.
In the four years since Carolina Church began its HIV/AIDS testing, several hundred congregants have had the test to determine their status and each time someone has found out that they have the virus, he said.
In addition to the individuals who conduct the testing, personnel are on hand during the testing sessions to counsel anyone who tests positive. That type of support structure is important so that individuals are not left alone to deal with their feelings and what they should do next. The church partners with the Prince George's County Health Department, Heart to Heart, People Living With AIDS and Family Medical Services Center.
Moore also has been involved in developing an HIV/AIDS education program for other churches through the Congress of National Black Churches.
Bessie Hayes, the church's chief operating officer, said some funds have been raised for the housing facility but it's a "far cry" from what they need.
The church has been working on this project for the past three years and has raised $150,000 from the Maryland legislature, $50,000 from the Maryland Housing Opportunity Trust and $10,000 from the congregation, which Moore estimates to be 564 active members. He also points out that the congregation has embraced the project and agreed to make available part of its 18-acre campus to house the facility.
Moore explained that while Carolina Missionary Baptist Church has a family life center on its property, it has yet to build a church because its philosophy is to build lives first, missionaries second and facilities third. A church will come in time, he said, but for now the facility for single mothers and their children is more important.
An all-out blitz is being made to apply for local, state and federal grants to fund the project. Moore, who hopes to break ground for the facility in the next 12 months, said he has no doubts that the money will be raised.
"We walk by faith," he said. "I am on an assignment from God. We are on course. I am not at all disturbed by the goal. Six and one-half million dollars is a lot of money – not for God."