Community Impact

Al Santino-Northeast Community Transformation

CFA’s network has impacted over 450 neighborhoods across the United States.  One example is Common Grace Community Connection in the rural town of Athens, Maine.  CFA member, Al Santino, came alongside Tim Curtis as he worked to form this community action group.   The group has grown in size and impact as they go about the work of community development.  Some highlights over the past year have included increased participation in Common Grace, continued initiatives such as a local garden pathway project, and new working relationships being formed among four area churches.  Training and exploration of asset based community development principles have led to more involvment and a neighbor led initiative called, “The Bridge.”  This outreach benefits residents of a local women’s shelter who have the opportunity to learn skills such as gardening and canning while being encouraged spiritually.  Excitement continues to grow as neighbors seek to impact their community in positive ways.

To learn more about the work of CFA members click here.


Owning the Change

Al Santino – Northeast Community Transformation

Safe Haven’s mission statement is “to effectively love, serve and empower youth in the context of their community by educating and equipping them spiritually, creatively and intellectually, that they may own the change happening in Newark.” This mission reflects a participation in God’s eternal plan to reconcile and restore all of his creation through the work of our Lord Jesus Christ. The Apostle Paul affirms this in Colossians 1:20 when he states, “and through him [Jesus Christ] to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.” This making of peace, or shalom, through thePrince of Peace is the working of God’s kingdom to reconcile people to Himself. It is also the work of the kingdom that restores people, communities, socio-political structures and nature itself to the image of their Creator. As God’s people participate in mercy, justice, and community development, they shine forth the light of the Kingdom; a “foretaste” of the ultimate restoration of all things when Jesus returns as triumphant King.

In the Ironbound neighborhood of Newark, this light shines as Safe Haven employs teenagers and young adults from the community for their after school program and mentors them in their spiritual and social development. Growing in work responsibility, sound values, and learning how to serve the children, these teens are helping the young people to own the change in their community. Several of them have been doing surveys and speaking with other youth as to how they can own the change in their community that will result in more educational, recreational and social opportunities. Rashim has the opportunity to use his artistic gifts to teach children in the after school program. Martin is helping to organize a boxing program that will utilize discipline to help young people address important life issues. Eric Morgan, the Crossover Teen Ministry leader, is mentoring several young people who he hopes will eventually own the change as leaders in this ministry. God is planting seeds of shalom that are growing to bring transformation to this community. His kingdom is on the move in Newark!

Strong Citizens and Effective Ministry: We Need Both for Stronger Communities

When ministries engage with the full range of community resources, they are more effective. They are more powerful community actors when they are effectively connected to the citizens, resources and other assets of the local community, rather than simply focused on needs, problems, and deficiencies.

We are called by God to be good neighbors, working to bring His shalom to our communities. Asset‐Based Community Development (ABCD) offers an important set of skills and tools to build relationships with your neighbors, community organizations and institutions in order to work together for the common good.

NECT offers a variety of resources to help your church or ministry make these connections. We offer consulting and tools to help with strategic planning — from developing mission, vision and organizational capacity, to establishing measurable goals and outcomes, and multi‐year goal planning.

In addition, NECT can assist with program development — practical steps in organizing your ministries in response to community needs, identified through community input and participation.

Our goal is to provide both a framework and a set of tools designed to improve a ministry’s capacity to transform its neighborhood, to give communities a foretaste of what they will be when Jesus comes again to make all things new!

Al Santino, NECT Director

To find out more about NECT email Al Santino by

Touched by Christ…Touching Her Community

Linda DiFazio has been touched by God’s grace and is in turn touching her Newark “Ironbound” community through her love for its children and families. She is a staff member of Safe Haven Urban Redemption, a youth and family development ministry and NECT partner affiliated with Trinity Reformed Church (RCA).  In 2003, Linda was touched by the love of Jesus Christ through the ministry of Trinity and committed her life to the Lord.  At the time she was volunteering as an aid in the community school but now the Lord has magnified her burden and gifts for her community in a way she could never have imagined.

These gifts were recognized by Safe Haven Director Danny Iverson who invited her on staff.  Her responsibility as Food Service Director at Safe Haven includes teaching Home Economics as part of the after school program, preparing community meals and helping to organize the food pantry.  The after school program (SHAC) is conducted in coordination with the neighborhood school, Hawkins St. School.  Students are held accountable for behavior and academic performance and rewarded accordingly.

Another “hat” that Linda wears is as coordinator of the Hawkins St. School Community Association where she is organizing parents to address issues such as: school safety and cleanliness; parents and teachers working together to address child behavior; fundraising, and advocating for quality programs and against budget cuts.  Some of the results of her efforts include raising funds for graduation caps and gowns and the board of education removing junk furniture which was blocking fire exits.

The Lord has wonderfully knitted her ministry and community roles together as she has been a bridge builder between Safe Haven and Hawkins St. School.  She is helping Safe Haven to be a servant to the school and she is bringing parents and youth into the Safe Haven community where they are being touched by the love of Jesus.  She has become a friend, example, and counselor.  She is known in the community as “Mommy” or “Titi”.

Linda comments on her calling to serve her community: “I do this for our children’s future.  I do this because I see the potential in them.  I do it with the hope that I can reach a handful of parents and help them get involved in the community and in the life of their children.”

Al Santino

An Open Door for Shalom in Harlem

Dear Friends,

We thought it would be a good time to catch you up on the latest Santino venture, as well as introduce ourselves to those of you who don’t know us well. My wife Haydee, son Lorenzo and I have recently become members of a core team launching a new church in East Harlem – or “El Barrio” – the center of Puerto Rican culture in New York City. In recent years East Harlem has been growing into a community of diverse ethnicity and social class, representing much of the “flavor” of the Big Apple.

Several years ago we began asking the Lord to lead us to a church that would enable us to express our gifts and passion for community development. We especially wanted to be in a Christian Reformed Church, which would work in concert with my role as Director of Northeast Community Transformation (NECT). In His providence, the Lord reconnected me with Johnny Acevedo, who had been a long-time friend. It soon became obvious that the Acevedos and the Santinos shared a common vision for a church that would be engaged in its community as a good neighbor working to represent God’s Kingdom in word and deed. This reconnection helped catalyze Johnny and Melanie becoming church planters with the CRC and thus Open Door Fellowship was born.

Haydee, a native of the Dominican Republic, has served as a middle school teacher and math coach at PS/MS 15 in the Bronx for 14 years. Her dedication to seeing her students excel is evident in the lives of many who overcame personal difficulties and have gone on to be successful in high school, college and vocation. She envisions leading an after school program as well as a ministry to the single mothers. My own desire is to connect with residents and help them come together as a community of responsible citizens addressing social needs and justice issues. Our son Lorenzo is a first grader at Manhattan Christian Academy. He loves learning piano, Little League baseball, trains, and the city life. He has recently been wrestling with the deeper issues of his heart and what God is all about. He is becoming a good example to his classmates and friends.

In this new and challenging venture we see a wonderful opportunity to share the glorious Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. We want to be used by the Lord to lift up the name of Jesus especially to the least of these…people who are broken and oppressed who need the healing of our Lord in body, soul and spirit. Open Door Fellowship will indeed be an open door for God’s shalom to come upon East Harlem.

To the Least of These – The Undocumented

by Al Santino, NECT Director

My wife Haydee and I have been ministering to Juanita (not her real name), a 19 year old single mother who is an immigrant from Mexico without documentation or as some would say, “an illegal alien”. Juanita was a middle school student of Haydee’s in the Bronx. As with several of the girls at her school, Haydee had become her mentor, “mother” or “big sister”. She took the opportunity to invite Juanita to a recent movie night hosted by our church, Open Door Fellowship of East Harlem and this gave us an “open door” to minister the Gospel in both word and deed.

Juanita came to the US as a one year old child. She currently lives with her mother, 18 year old brother and younger sister. Juanita dropped out of high school but wants to work to help support her family and eventually get a GED and go to college. We accompanied her to an Immigration Clinic in East Harlem sponsored by the CUNY Law School hoping and praying that a lawyer could lay out a pathway of hope. However, there was little to rejoice about since she has no documentation and short of any immigration reform, no viable pathway to citizenship. Her brother was born in the US but cannot petition for her until he is 21 and even then there could be a 10 year wait for a Green Card. Upon hearing this sobering news, the look of despair upon her face was obvious. Juanita, like many in her condition, is trapped in poverty and despite her willingness to take responsibility has no open door to a fruitful life for her and her child.

Recently, myself and several local Hispanic ministry leaders in our denomination, the Christian Reformed Church, attended an Immigration Forum at Princeton Theological Seminary. One message was central to all of the presentations; “Will the Church be a herald of justice for the aliens among us or remain on the sideline in indifference.”? Through our Justice Education Program, Northeast Community Transformation is seeking to take an active role in educating and advocating for accessible and just legal services and immigration reform that will reflect God’s care for the least of these…the undocumented. Recently we began a partnership with David Nachman of Nachman and Associates, an excellent immigration attorney who is consulting us on some of these matters. We will continue to keep our partners and friends updated about workshops, legal services and other important information.

The immigration debate is complex. Emotional, simplistic or knee-jerk answers will not do. Neither will indifference or apathy. The Lord is calling His people to seek His wisdom and fulfill His call for mercy and justice. Those like Juanita are not “illegal” in God’s Kingdom. May God grant us mercy over our failure to work for justice and may He grant us conviction to love those such as her, ones whom Jesus called “the least of these, my brethren.”

On Justice, Opression, and Suffering: Our Present Hope in Future Glory

by Al Santino, NECT Director

As God’s people we are called to bring relief and hope to those who are suffering under poverty, oppression and all manner of calamity.  Now at times this may seem to be a futile mission for in the ebb and flow of history there appears to be no lasting remedy and we can only cry out, “How long Oh Lord!”

So many of the old Negro spirituals speak of a yearning to go to the Promised Land “up yonder.”  In their chains, the slaves could envision no earthly restoration to remedy their suffering.  The Apostle Peter wrote to Christians who faced imminent torture and death at the hands of Rome, “But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when His glory is revealed (1 Peter 4:13).”  Indeed, when the Lord returns and establishes the new heaven and earth, there will be no more tears and suffering for His people.

Are such notions just “pie in the sky” theology being used to explain away suffering or deny its harsh reality?  Yes and no.  If we offer pious platitudes about the restoration of all things and neglect to weep with those who weep, render deeds of comfort, and cry out against oppression, then we are certainly being too heavenly minded to be of any earthly good.  However, if we are also not certain of the hope that the Lord will complete the good work He began in us, then we will spend our days in dissipation; angry and depressed in our travails.  We will not be zealous for the Lord and for good works in His name if we do not hold fast to the hope set before us when Christ appears.  As we have shared in His suffering, we shall also share in His glory.

Justice will ultimately roll down when our Lord Jesus Christ returns.  In the Psalms we hear David crying out to the Lord that there appears to be no justice.  The wicked are prospering through their exploitation of the righteous-or so it seems.  Reformed theologian D.A. Carson comments, “Assessments of fairness and proportionality based solely on what takes place here and now in this world are bound to be premature at best, entirely misguided at worst.”  We do see manifestations of the Lord’s shalom in this present world as the Gospel is restoring people to dignity and fruitfulness as His image bearers.  However, our ultimate hope is in our covenant God who has made us the sheep of His pasture to dwell with in Him in eternal joy.  The Lord will triumph over every evil and make every path straight and so His people will glory in the triumph of His justice.  In Revelation 19:1-2, we hear the multitude in heaven proclaiming, “Hallelujah!  Salvation and glory and power belong to our God, for true and just are His judgments.  He has condemned the great prostitute who corrupted the earth by her adulteries.  He has avenged on her the blood of His servants.”

In the New Jerusalem, the City of God, children will play in the streets without the fear of erupting gunfire.  Mothers will no longer be lamenting the plight of their young sons given over to drugs and gangs.  Children will no longer be ravished by AIDS.  Every race and ethnicity will be around God’s throne, worshipping as one, without envy and strife.  The promise of this glorious future should give us hope for working out our salvation with fear and trembling her and now.  The healing of the poor and oppressed begins as they receive a foretaste of this glory to come.  When we pray, “They will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” that is a call for us to do the works of mercy and justice today, albeit in a glass dimly, but still as a reflection of the Gospel and the Kingdom of our Lord Jesus, with its power to transform people, communities, and cultures.


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