The Palmer Place Apartment Ministry epitomizes the concept of a community that exists for purely compassionate reasons but necessarily encompasses all the skills and structures of a complex business organization.
Call it a property management company, a well-oiled business, an efficient financial machine, all accurate descriptions. But in reality, Palmer Place exists purely to ease the dire circumstances in which people find themselves when their lives are thrown into upheaval by a serious medical diagnosis. And it is able to operate only because of a group of people with well-honed business skills who put them to use for purely compassionate reasons.
The business of Palmer Place Ministry is renting six fully furnished apartments at an affordable rate. It brings in the money with rent collection, security deposits, donations, and in rare instances, grants. It spends the money on apartment leases, utilities, water and sewer and maintenance, cable TV and internet; it reconciles the revenue and expenses by apartment, reporting monthly and year-to-date on a working spreadsheet.
But the ministry’s compassion for the circumstances endured by the people renting the apartments adds another layer to the business of renting an apartment, with the ministry’s pastoral spirit governing spending decisions that likely would not otherwise be addressed: the extra soft fabric in the sheets on the beds, the cheerfully colored towels like those you would have at home, the cozy recliners and the sofa that converts to a bed for a loved one spending the night. Everything you need – a washer and dryer, dishes, silverware and appliances, are supplied so that guests can concentrate on their medical treatment and get the rest they need.
“Anything,” says Ministry Leader Sandra Begalke, “that makes them feel cared about.”
Recently the apartment complex discovered the deep passion and commitment of Palmer Place when it announced it was hiking rents by 10 percent. Sandra and Norma Beazley, who oversee the ministry’s finances, were on-site in a flash with a firm and swift response – Palmer Place is a pastoral ministry that does not make a profit, they said, and the rate hike would wreck the budget. As Sandra and Norma charged on through the negotiations, using every technique available – complaints about the condition of one of the apartments, the dire pastoral needs that would go unfilled without them – management relented and dropped the rent increase to 2 percent.
In all, 16 members of Palmer Church work in the Palmer Place Ministry. The rents are collected by Frances Vonk who is assisted by Norma. Guests may stay between two weeks and three months, in some cases longer with confirmation from their doctor that they need continued treatment.
And as with other aspects of the ministry, the rent collection is not just about the rent. Frances and Norma set aside extra time for each of their rent collections so that they are available to visit with guests who need the comfort of company. They are equally comfortable with guests who want to be alone. One guest, who has since passed away, once told Norma, “I feel terrible. Here’s the check. I’ll get the receipt next week.” It was confirmation that their relationship was based on honesty and trust, and that the ministry’s first priority was always about what the guest needed in that moment.
The rent money, which is collected every week, goes to the church operating fund and is journaled by Palmer’s Financial Officer Jessica Evans to the Palmer Place ministry. Jessica also pays the ministry’s bills, which include rent, utilities, water and sewer, internet and cable and cleaning.
“It’s a well-oiled machine,” said Sandra, who in recent days had turned around an apartment in 24 hours for a new guest. Les Douthwaite, who volunteers on the maintenance team, was in the apartment at 7:30 AM hanging clean drapes. “Everyone just steps up” said Sandra. “I feel very blessed and honored to lead the ministry but more blessed and honored by the volunteers themselves. Everybody , when needed, is just there.”
Both Norma and Sandra, and all the ministry members for that matter, said they feel blessed to know the patients and family members they serve in the Palmer Place Ministry. “When you’re dealing with people at the absolutely worst point in their lives it’s so reassuring to know I’ve made their day a little bit better,” said Norma.
“We always tell them we’ve been blessed,” said Sandra. “We learn so much from them.”