Editor’s note: This is part of the Eat, Play, Live special section.
Fifty years ago, a small nonprofit worked its way into the heart of Centre County. It began to partner with local congregations to meet the needs of local low-income families, helping pay for things like utilities and heat in the winter. That was 1968. Interfaith Human Services is celebrating its 50th anniversary of serving the community and has no intention of stopping.
IHS works with congregations spanning multiple faiths to provide help to individuals and families who are unable to make ends meet.
Its key services – emergency heating assistance, basic needs financial assistance, free furniture and appliance recycling program and financial care program – work together to give people the tools they need to gain financial stability.
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“We have about 30 congregations who support us and have representatives serve on our board of directors,” Executive Director Wendy Vinhage said. The congregations donate money to help support IHS, and their board member communicates back to them to tell them what funds or volunteers are needed.
When IHS was created, it didn’t offer as many programs as it does now, but that doesn’t mean its actions were any less impactful. Initially, its focus was combining funds to fill specific needs.
“If people were cold during the winter, there would be a fund,” Vinhage said. “They would help people who needed food, or help with their rent, or paying the bills; it was a lot of emergency needs … from there it just grew.”
As IHS has grown and evolved, its focus has moved beyond meeting immediate needs to providing education.
“Our program is more long-term financial stability,” Vin-hage said. It still provides financial assistance and other types of support but is more focused on giving a hand up as opposed to a hand out.
IHS operates the Centre County Fuel Bank, providing oil, wood, coal and propane for heating in the winter. To receive the fuel at least one member of the household is required to attend either an energy conservation class or a basic budgeting class every year they receive assistance.
The financial care program helps families maintain financial stability. “The program’s goal is to stabilize an individual or family so they are never at risk of being homeless, losing utilities or not having enough money for food and medications,” Vinhage said.
Although some families or individuals stay with the program for years, many are able to leave it entirely. Vinhage remembers one man who came in and proudly told them he didn’t need them anymore. “We love hearing stories like that,” she said.
As the nonprofit celebrates its 50th anniversary and contemplates the future, Vinhage reflects on the significance of IHS being in the community for as long as it has.
“It shows that there is definitely a need. We have been very fortunate to have this community, and staff and volunteers to make sure that we have been able to stick around for this long. It shows that a lot of people believe in what we do, and we’re really grateful to them.”