Ryan Smith, Flower City Outreach

Read Time: 8 minutes
By: Ryan Smith

Interview by City Gospel Movements

What got you into this city movement work in the beginning?

I have a diverse professional background. I started my working career in Marketing at Nike, creating and placing athletic footwear in markets around the world. I also served in the Oregon Army National Guard as an enlisted soldier and as a Reserve Police Officer with the Beaverton Police Department. When the economy turned, I experienced four layoffs in quick succession – from Gerber Legendary Blades in Oregon, Rubbermaid and Remington Arms Co. in North Carolina and finally SentrySafe in Western New York. I gained an amazing amount of experience, had moved my family twice and in 2012 was essentially stranded in Rochester, NY with no prospect of work.

This is where ministry enters my story.

I started to pay attention to a desire inside of me to get involved in my city. I heard about Flower City Work Camp, which acts as a serve week sending students and adults into the city to fix people’s homes. Because I had the time, being unemployed, I signed up and volunteered.

The problem was…I hated it.

At one point during my week I found myself installing a toilet in the home we were working on. I made four attempts but none of them were successful. It was frustrating because I signed up to make a difference in my community, and I couldn’t even fix a toilet. I remember telling God that there wasn’t a place for me at Flower City Work Camp. I determined right then and there that I wasn’t going to volunteer again the next year.

In the months following Flower City Work Camp I ended up becoming friends with some of the leaders. They shared with me that they had a need to incorporate, get insurance in place and run themselves like a business for the first time in their 30 year history. But, they didn’t know how to do any of that.

I realized that I wasn’t skilled to fix a toilet, but I could help lead this local organization.

We joined forces and I was able to get the incorporation and tax exempt status established in record time, bylaws written, a Board of Directors chartered, bank accounts set up, a huge liability insurance policy in place – in the span of 4 months we got the ministry relaunched as a non-profit corporation. And, at the conclusion of that work they asked me to stay on and serve as their Executive Director. I told God that there wasn’t a place for me at Flower City Work Camp. He told me I did have a place—it just wasn’t installing toilets!

For the past 33 years, Flower City Work Camp has been doing its best to meet many needs in Rochester. What once was an amazing capital of industry and economic vibrancy, Rochester is a shell of its former self. Kodak went bankrupt here; Xerox offshored; Bausch & Lomb moved to New Jersey. Each of these corporate transitions had a ripple effect on the local economy as families and jobs were lost or relocated.

Rochester is the fifth poorest metropolitan area of the 75 largest in America. The needs have quadrupled in recent years. We have realized that the need is too great to simply host a serve week once a year.

What are you currently doing?

FCO continues to run Flower City Work Camp, which functions as a local mission trip experience. Instead of paying thousands of dollars for an international trip, families can pay $135 for their youth to gain service experience and learn about living mission-minded in their own community. Students shed their electronic devices, parental supervision and potential vacations to live at one of two local church hosts throughout the week of Spring Break. Joining with them are hundreds of adult volunteers serving as site leaders, roving experts, gofers, kitchen staff, security, nurses and other roles to make sure Camp runs smoothly.

In 2017 we welcomed 764 students in 7th-12th grades and another 830 adults for Flower City Work Camp. 58 churches are involved and we log about 30,000 hours of community service in the span of 4 days.

We also partner with Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) to run basketball and soccer camps for teens in the city who are out of school for the week. And, there are 36 sidewalk clubs which are mini-Vacation Bible Schools hosted on vacant lots or in parks around the community for neighborhood kids in elementary school or younger. Our students hang out with those kids, make crafts, sing songs, read the Bible with them, and get to know their families.

We are starting to host regional worship nights—or God celebrations. Denominational hurdles are real here, but FCO is being seen as a neutral third party that churches can agree on. The fact that we are bringing churches together is so important because it aligns with our passion to do projects that are larger than any one church could accomplish.

What do you hope for the future?

As I look towards the future I see an even stronger network of churches who are praying, worshipping, and working together to make Rochester a better place to live. I also see Christians who aren’t scared about tackling something big. I want to see the church get excited about taking on projects and ideas that are bigger than themselves.

About the Author

Ryan Smith is the Executive Director of Flower City Outreach, a non-profit ministry organization serving the greater Rochester (NY) area. The primary ministry focus is Flower City Work Camp where 700+ students and 400+ adult volunteers from more than 50 churches serve at worksites in homes, in sidewalk clubs and at soccer/basketball camps to bring the gospel of Jesus Christ to some of the neediest areas of the city.


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