Midway Hills begins capital campaign

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer taffet@dallasvoice.com

Roger Wedell
Roger Wedell

Midway Hills Christian Church has kicked off a capital campaign to raise $400,000 to renovate and update the facility. Spokesman Tom Peck called it an “express campaign” to raise the money in August.

Campaign co-chair Roger Wedell said the total goal was $900,000 and the improvements would help the church better serve the community.
The church has a long history of welcoming the LGBT community. In the 1970s, Midway Hills was one of only four Dallas congregations to co-host a program on churches and homosexuality.

Midway Hills was one of the original rehearsal spaces for the Turtle Creek Chorale, and fFor more than 15 years, the church hosted P-FLAG.

Early in the AIDS crisis, Midway Hills met the challenge when other churches shunned people with AIDS or ignored the problem. It was one of the first churches to form an AIDS Interfaith Network care team.

Wedell said the renovations to the building would create more flexible spaces.

“We hope to accommodate a wider variety of groups in the community,” he said. “And a wider variety of worship and contemporary expressions.”
Rather than fixed pews, the main sanctuary would have modular seating and the chancel would be moveable

“We have a long tradition of incorporating music,” said Wedell. The new configuration would make it easier to incorporate those elements, he said.

“The current entrance to the sanctuary will converted into a new chapel,” he said.

Also in the plans is reconfiguring the entrance.

“Right now, it’s difficult to know what door you should use,” Wedell said.

He said the new main entrance would be handicap accessible. The current front entrance does not meet federal standards.
That entrance will open to a large gathering space for displays, small group use and fellowship.

Wedell said the building is already booked four nights a week. He said the church hosts English as a second language classes, 12-step programs and a square dance group, among others. He said he couldn’t think of a group affiliated with the church that didn’t include LGBT members.

The church had its start in the 1950s and has always been located at its current Midway Road location just north of Royal Lane. At the time, there was lots of open space in the area and large tracts of land were just being developed for housing.

The church is a member of the Disciples of Christ denomination. Wedell explained that congregations in the denomination have a national affiliation but strong local control. He called it the oldest indigenous U.S. Protestant denomination, formed in the 1800s from a merger of several smaller movements.
“As a small denomination, we’ve been involved far beyond our numbers in ecumenical work,” he said.

The congregation has about 200 active members.

“It all goes back to the vision our original members had for the church,” Peck said, “to make an impact far beyond the walls of the church.”

When Dallas first desegregated its school, members of Midway Hills voted to bus their own children. During the Vietnam War, the church became a Shalom or “peace” Congregation, and it was involved with resettlement of Southeast Asian refugees. During the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Midway helped settle Afghan refugees.

“We helped them with housing and getting stabilized in the community,” Peck said.

In addition to its own congregation, a Peace Mennonite church hold services in the building early on Sunday morning and a new Latino congregation is also using the facility.

To raise the initial $400,000 and eventual $900,000 for additional renovations including resurfacing the parking lot, redesign of the peace garden, remodeling the restrooms and retrofitting the fire protection system, church leaders hope to reach out to the broader community.

“We’re contacting people and organizations we consider to be friends,” Wedell said. And over the years, the church has developed lots of friends.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 6, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens

AIDS Outreach gets SMART

Fort Worth agency offers alternative to ‘12-step’ addiction programs that’s tailored to gay men with HIV

Tammye Nash | Senior Editor nash@dallasvoice.com

FORT WORTH — Addiction recovery programs aren’t one size fits all.

That’s why AIDS Outreach Center recently started a new program, SMART, according to Shawna Stewart, the agency’s director of mental health services, and Leslie Guditis, the therapist heading up the new program to help the agency’s HIV-positive clients overcome addictions to alcohol and drugs.

Self Management and Recovery Training — or SMART — is intended as an alternative to “12-step” programs, Stewart said. But they stressed they aren’t suggesting SMART is “better than” 12-Step programs. “It’s just different,” Stewart said. “It’s another option for people who haven’t had success with other programs.”

Although AIDS Outreach recently had to close its Arlington offices and cut staff due to budget constraints, SMART will continue. Stewart said it’s funded with a special grant through the federal Ryan White CARE Act. The grant pays for Guditis’ part-time position to administer the program.

SMART, Guditis said, is different because “it doesn’t come from a disease model. It doesn’t label. You don’t go to a meeting and stand up and say, ‘I am an alcoholic.’”

Instead, the SMART program “teaches more about taking responsibility and looking at why one drinks or uses drugs or has any addiction, like an addiction to sex, eating. And when you know the ‘why,’ you can manage that ‘why’ instead of just saying, ‘I will never do it again.’”

“This program is about teaching an individual the tools that hopefully last a lifetime, rather than saying go to a meeting every day or every week,” Guditis said.

The 12-step programs “come from a disease model,” the therapist said. “I am not bashing any other programs. But I do think that this is a more positive way to look at addiction.”

Stewart believes this different model for recovery could be more effective for some of AIDS Outreach’s clients, many of whom are gay, because it doesn’t include reliance on a higher power. Many gays and lesbians and many people with HIV, she said, have had bad experiences with religion. So the idea of relying on a “higher power” may be less effective for people who may have felt rejected by God, she suggested.

Although she said she doesn’t necessarily believe SMART would work better for LGBT people or those with HIV in general, Guditis does think it would work better for some of them.

“I think LGBT and people with HIV sometimes already have a lot of shame, and this [SMART] is all very positive,” Guditis said. “It helps people feel like they have control over their lives. What we are trying to do is empower people.

“People with HIV feel powerless in a lot of ways, and this is really a self-esteem-building program,” she continued. “I went to a [SMART] meeting [not specific to people with HIV or LGBT people], and the people in the meeting were so proud of their ability to be in control of the choices they make. They were proud to feel like they do have a choice. I saw people’s chests almost swell with pride in being able to manage their behavior.”

Guditis also noted that despite the acronym, a person doesn’t need to be “smart” to succeed in the program. “The techniques are very simple and pretty well spelled out,” Guditis said. “This is a kind of psycho-education type program. People don’t just talk about their problems or a binge over the weekend. It’s a more positive and supportive, a mutual learning environment. There are no sponsors, no hierarchy. It’s a setting of equals with a facilitator managing the discussion. That is my job, to be the facilitator.”

Another difference from a 12-step program is that SMART doesn’t require abstinence, Stewart and Guditis said.

“Abstinence is promoted, but if someone comes to a meeting and they have been using, they are still welcome in,” Guditis said. “We work from that place to manage the behavior, and not try to make them feel shamed for using. We talk about emotions, triggers for addictive behavior. People take pride in being in control of their behaviors.”

Guditis, who recently received a doctorate in family therapy from Texas Women’s University, spent the month of June training in the SMART program. She held the first SMART session at AIDS Outreach on July 6. “We initially wanted to have three SMART groups each week, but we are starting with one, each Tuesday. We want to have at least two groups a week, though,” Guditis said. “We will add more as we see the need.”

The sessions at AIDS Outreach, she added, are only for the agency’s clients. If the program proves effective at AIDS Outreach for alcohol and drugs, it could eventually be expanded to include those fighting other addictive behaviors, too.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 9, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens