Established in 1914, Baptist Fellowship Center, BFC, serves hundreds of children and families each month through after-school programs, youth mentoring, family empowerment and support, and other community services. “We have ministries coming out of this building like you wouldn't believe,” said Rev. Matthew Smyzer, Jr., executive director of BFC.
For example, BFC’s After-School Reading Program has eight locations throughout Louisville. “If a child is not reading on grade level by fourth grade, he or she has an 85% chance of dropping out of high school,” he said.
In order to better serve the community, one of Rev. Smyzer’s taglines is "Collaboration and cooperation, not duplication." BFC collaborates with Jefferson County Public Schools and institutions of higher learning, Metro Louisville and state agencies, fellow churches, and many other organizations. We can collaborate and cooperate together and make a difference in the communities we serve,” he said.
Rev. Smyzer came to this position with a long history of leadership. He served as executive director of the organization from 2002 to 2014 and then served as the CEO of Metro Leadership Foundation until late 2018. “I was going to retire,” he said. And then the board of directors of Baptist Fellowship Center asked him to come back and serve again as executive director. He was delighted to do so, and has implemented a new concept and guiding principle. “Instead of a hand out, a hand up.”
Given the current situation of youth involvement in violence and gang activity, the latest project Rev. Smyzer is launching through BFC is Save Our Youth, SOY, as a mentoring program for young people ages 10 to 17 who have found themselves on the streets. The mentors themselves have been in that very situation, and they are teaching future generations about the importance of education, jobs, and citizenship. “I have convened a group of ex-offenders, 10 guys, who collectively would have 180 or so years of incarceration, that have paid their debt to society, who have a heart and a love to want to give back to the communities they at one time took much from,” he said.
One of the heartbreaking things Rev. Smyzer has witnessed has been seeing several grandparents choosing between buying their own prescription medicine or feeding the grandchildren they were taking care of. He reached out to Carol Baldwin with the Kentucky Prescription Assistance Program so that the program could be administered within the Baptist Fellowship Center. BFC prints out the paperwork for each qualified individual, who can then take it to their doctor to sign off and mail to the pharmaceutical company, who sends prescriptions to them for free or at a significantly reduced cost. “It's a state program many people don't know about,” he said.
Fuller Center for Housing, a spinoff from Habitat for Humanity, has its headquarters in the BFC building, so Rev. Smyzer is happy to collaborate and cooperate with them as they help renters become homeowners with an interest-free mortgage.
Rev. Smyzer has collaborative relationships with Simmons College of Kentucky and Jefferson County Public Schools to help anyone who’s interested get their GED. With a GED in hand, BFC can help students get enrolled in a 10-week certification program at Campbellsville University to become phlebotomy technicians and hirable at hospitals. Rev. Smyzer asked Campbellsville if they would be willing to let the students go on another five months to be certified as a medical assistant. The university agreed. “In less than 9 months, you went from no income, no job path, to making $40,000 a year,” he said.
Through Baptist Fellowship Center’s encouragement and collaboration, Campbellsville University has donated a $500 scholarship to 150 first graders each year since 2015.
Volunteer opportunities abound at BFC, from working with students and any of the center’s programming to monetary donations, from spearheading the clothes closet to replacing any of the building’s 128 windows that were originally installed in 1949. “My biggest need is a volunteer coordinator,” he said.
To donate or volunteer, visit Baptist Fellowship Center at bfcenterky.org