Why we do what we do.
Elder Charles C. Kennedy and Mother Mary Beth Kennedy founded the Community of Caring in 1980. There are independent local chapters in several U.S. cities and multiple countries in Africa and the Caribbean.
If you’ve ever spent any time with Mother Kennedy she probably had you sing, “Love Can Change the World” with her. We believe EVERYONE not only can, but IS, changing the world. Every action you do, every choice you make, makes the world better or worse.
We believe that loving relationships change lives. And we are aware of how much God loves us, we want to share that love with others in practical ways. We do this because of God’s love, not the person’s worthiness. And because we have all been forgiven by God’s grace, we believe in extending this grace to others. We expect people to deal with the consequences of their actions; but we will always give them another chance, because this is what we believe God wants us to do.
What do you do when you lose your job or have a catastrophic illness and you’re suddenly no longer middle class?
This was the situation for many during the recession of the late 70’s. People who were previously self-sufficient suddenly needed to look to others for help.
When Mother Mary Beth Kennedy and Elder Charles Kennedy saw a need, they responded. Community of Caring (COC) started with a few bags of donated groceries. From there, with the help of dedicated volunteers, they began passing out food bags every week. Soon they were serving had hot meals from the kitchen at their church, House of Prayer Church of God in Christ, and began the Erie tradition of offering free holiday meals at major Holidays.
As the numbers of homeless people grew, the need for a shelter became obvious. The shelter began with a few bunks in the back of the church.
After Elder Kennedy retired from pastoring, the main body of the church was converted into office space, with the help of grants from the Erie Community Foundation, Erie County, and others. A chapel preserves some of the original furnishings of the church. The rest of the 1st level holds offices and a conference room. The ground level contains the bunkhouse with room for 12 men, the public dining room, and a commercial kitchen. There are laundry facilities for both men and women, a public bathroom and a bunkhouse bathroom. The second floor has apartments (bedrooms and bathrooms) which can house 12 people.
As the need has grown, so has COC. Over time COC grew, adding more programs and units. COC now has 9 buildings and can provide housing for up to 40 people. The food pantry passes out food 3 times a week, making it one of the oldest continually running pantries in town. The kitchen serves more than 60,000 meals a year. And there is a community center which offers a free Sunday Family Dinner and programs for children and the community.
As a continuation of the Kennedy’s long term mission work in Africa and the Caribbean, COC also has international branches in Democratic Republic of Congo, Cuba, Ivory Coast, Liberia, Haiti, and Zambia.
The Erie Community Foundations
2016 Annual Report
The Edward C. Doll Community Service Award, named after Ed Doll, longtime volunteer leader of The Erie Community Foundation, honors those who inspire our community through philanthropy and volunteerism. Foundation Trustees proudly recognize Mother Mary Beth Kennedy as our 2017 honoree.
Mother Kennedy is a Mission Supervisor of the Church of God in Christ, an associate member of the Order of St. Benedict, and director and co-founder with her late husband of the Community of Caring„ the Community Drop-ln Center and the Community Country Day School.
Raised in Erie, Mother Kennedy was valedictorian at Strong Vincent High School.Awarded a full scholarship from Temple University, she earned a B.A. degree in 1948, and a master’s degree in Bible theology from the International Bible Institute and Seminary in 1981. She received a professional teaching certificate in the education of mentally/physically handicapped students from Edinboro University in 1983. The University also bestowed an Honorary Doctorate of Public Service upon her in 1991.
In 1946, she met her husband, Elder Charles Kennedy Sr.They married very quietly in June of 1949 in a Quaker chapel in New York City.They lived in Puerto Rico where she taught elementary school and he worked in a government hospital; eventually they became involved in missionary and social work.
In 1955, the Kennedys came to Erie for training to become missionaries in Africa. In January of 1956, they established and operated a mission school in the Liberian villages of Tugbakeh and Wissekeh. After returning to Erie in 1964, they founded the House of Prayer while Mother Kennedy worked as a substitute teacher in the Erie School District.Deeply concerned about children with social and emotional difficulties, the Kennedys founded the Community Country Day School in 1968.Many of these children needed•a safe haven outside of school, and the Kennedys created the Community Drop-ln Center, now Community Shelter Services, in 1973.
In 1980, the Kennedys founded the Community of Caring, a social service agency that concentrates on providing the basic necessities of life.This developed into an international organization which is active in Cuba, Haiti, Democratic Republic of Congo, Zambia, Liberia and Ivory Coast. The Kennedys believed God called them to “a ministry of reconciliation” bringing various races, classes and nationalities together. Even though Elder Kennedy passed away in 2005, Mother Kennedy continues their life work of changing the world with love.
Over the years, Mother Kennedy received numerous accolades, including an Apostolic Blessing from Pope John Paul Il for her service to those in need. She was the 1995 recipient of the prestigious United Way of America National Alexis de Tocqueville Award, an honor previously bestowed upon Bob Hope, Henry Ford Il, President Ronald Reagan, President Jimmy Carter and the Gates Family. This award was presented by former Edward C. Doll Award recipient Susan Hirt Hagen at the annual meeting of United Way of America in Cleveland, Ohio. She is a gifted writer and published author of inspirational poetry and instructional books.She has four children – the late Rev. Charles Kennedy, Jr., Mary Kennedy Brown, of
New Orleans, Elizabeth Kennedy Rooks, of Denver, and Grace Kennedy Foster, M.D. She is also blessed with eight grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
Mother Kennedy designates the proceeds of the Edward C. Doll Community Service Award to
Community Country Day School, Community of Caring and Charles and Betty Kennedy Legacy of Love Foundation.