Lincoln faith-based nonprofit enforces its ministry standards

City Impact Logo
Courtesy: City Impact

LINCOLN, Neb. (Nebraska Examiner)  — City Impact, a faith-based Lincoln youth nonprofit, has recently lost staff and volunteers upset over a set of ministry standards that states, in part, that any sexual relationship beyond sex in a heterosexual marriage “constitute sexual immorality.”

Over the last week, City Impact has notified families of program cancellations. Its reading program, which helps kids grow their literary skills, has been canceled indefinitely because of a staff/volunteer shortage.

The organization’s faith programming, held on Tuesday and Thursday nights, has been delayed until spring, according to an email sent to families. The email did not link the cancellations to its ministry standards.

A former staff member, a volunteer and the mother of a child who had been involved with the organization told the Nebraska Examiner that they have had great experiences at City Impact and have become very close with the staff. However, they said, changes at the organization have left them feeling hurt and confused.

City Impact’s ministry standards document, obtained by the Nebraska Examiner, highlights different expectations of its leaders, board members and faith-based employees, including the expectation that they engage in sexual relations only with a spouse of the opposite sex and refrain from gossip, angry outbursts, profanity, and drug and alcohol abuse.

A volunteer’s experience

Tai’an Williams, a Lincoln resident and member of the LGBTQ community, said she had participated in City Impact’s programming since the fourth grade. City Impact’s administration asked her to come back as a volunteer after she graduated from high school.

“I was more than willing because that’s where I grew up,” Tai’an Williams said. “And I didn’t want to leave that part of my life yet.”

While she volunteered this summer, City Impact created a paid internship program, and staff members encouraged her to apply. She said she completed the necessary paperwork but didn’t hear back and tried to follow up multiple times. Last week she received a call from a staff member telling her she could not participate anymore.

“He basically told me, you being in a same-sex relationship is a problem for City Impact,” Williams said. “They just created this new standard and this new rule for staff that if you’re promoting, in, or support a same-sex relationship, then you’re no longer welcome there.”

Tai’an said she felt more hurt than angry and cried after the conversation.

“I dedicated my life to this place,” she said.

Kristy Goodwin, City Impact’s executive director, when asked for comment on the ministry standards, loss of staff and cancellation of programming, said she was “not at liberty at the moment to have this conversation right now.”

Goodwin then emailed a statement saying: “For 25 years, City Impact has loved and served thousands of kids and their families in the community. Nothing has changed. As a faith-based nonprofit organization, we have always had ministry standards in place, just as all organizations have internal policies for their staff and leadership.”

“We exist to mentor, teach, and empower all kids and families in need and will continue the work to build youth leaders of today with love, just as we have always done.”

Goodwin was hired earlier this year after the former executive director resigned.

Former employee

Seth Roepke, a former employee who resigned at the end of July, confirmed that City Impact has always had ministry standards but recently decided to enforce them.

Roepke said people applying to work for the organization must agree to the standards while completing an online job application. He said the online application prompts the applicant to check four boxes, one of which is for the ministry standards. However, the standards are not available to view during the application process.

Roepke said he was a part of conversations with the former executive director and the program director involving the future and growth of the organization so the new executive director would be aware of City Impact’s direction. That’s when he discovered what was included in the ministry standards.

“I had never even received the documentation of our ministry standards until I started looking it up in the databases that we had,” Roepke said. “I brought them to those conversations, and then they reworked that document to fit what they now are standing by.”

Because of the ministry standards and enforcement change, Roepke said, he decided to leave the organization.

Lack of transparency

Kristin Williams, a Lincoln resident who is in a same-sex marriage, said her 10-year-old daughter has participated in City Impact’s programs since kindergarten. She said she and her wife decided to remove their daughter after learning of the standards.

Williams (who is not related to Tai’an Williams), said she heard about the document last week from a friend who volunteers with City Impact during the school year.

“She was getting ready to go, you know, sign her new agreement or do whatever she needed to do to get started,” she said. “And they let her know that this was the requirement, and she refused at that point in time to be involved.”

Kristin Williams said that is when she noticed a trend of staff and volunteers quitting, which she saw as a red flag.

After learning about the document, she said she began reaching out to City Impact’s leadership to learn more about the changes but could not receive confirmation the document existed. After a few days, the executive director offered to speak with her in person about the matter.

“When City Impact adopted the new ministry standards over the summer, they did not notify parents. To this day, City Impact has not been transparent with parents and donors about their new policy,” Williams said. “I have not been provided a copy of the standards to review, even though I’ve asked multiple times. I expect transparency from an organization who interacts with my child on a regular basis. The lack of transparency has eroded my trust.”

Leaving the program has been difficult on her family, she said, because the organization has become a part of their routine. Still, she feels uncomfortable sending her daughter somewhere where she feels she and her wife are not welcome.

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