The demise of the Fresno Area Council of churches in 1968 and the departure of First Methodist Church from downtown in 1970 were the two primary events that led to the creation of Fresno Metro Ministry. The Council of Churches became a victim of community dissension over the grape strike and other issues as funding was abruptly pulled by the supporting churches. Shortly after this occurred, The First Methodist Church of Fresno began its merger with Wesley Methodist Church which was located in the north area. The merger committee of the two congregations created a plan to start "Fresno Metropolitan Ministry" to minister to the community that was being left behind. First Methodists Associate Pastor, Art Gafke, was assigned the task of building the organization and became Metro's first Executive Director.
Fresno Metro Ministry was intentionally organized so that it did not claim to speak on behalf of its member congregations, but rather spoke on behalf of its own Board. Metro Board members are not "instructed delegates" from congregations or denominations, but rather speak for themselves so a Board consensus can more rapidly be reached. The Board was created so as to be able to accept community individuals as members as well.
Metro trained volunteers to be change agents in various communities; supported interracial education; provided training on racism and institutional change and training on "Parenting With Justice"; began a counseling service; completed a Fresno power structure analysis; organized Southeast Fresno Concerned Citizens for Home Improvement Loans; began an Alternative Sentencing Program; and organized the Low-Income Housing Task Force. The Reverend David Mann and the Reverend Penny Mann became Metro's new Co-Directors in June, 1976.
The Interfaith Task Force for Valley Medical Center helped stop the sale of the County's hospital in 1982 and 1983, leading to the development of Community Medical Centers. The Task Force also pushed for the construction of a new Level 1 Trauma Center and the continuation of the hospital as a teaching facility in the late 1980's. Metro also developed the proposal for the creation of and funding for the City of Fresno Human Relations Commission in 1986 and supported the Commission in its early work, including community hearings on excessive police force. Metro continued its work to improve police community relationships and provided leadership to the Martin Luther King, Jr., Unity Committee.
Metro's Hunger Task Force produced the "Hidden Hunger" video and mobilized support for the food bank. The Mental Health Task Force mounted a "Cultural Diversity and Helping Approaches" conference and blocked the diversion of $1.1 million from county mental health services. The Convalescent Task Force developed educational workshops and engaged eight congregations in the work. The Homeless Task Force developed supportive relationships between congregations and the homeless shelter residents. The Thanksgiving Festival of Choirs was instituted in 1985 as a free event and a "Thank You" to the community. Walt Parry became Metro's Executive Director in March of 1985.
Metro provided leadership in a collaboration with Fresno Unified School District's Climate Subcommittee, focusing on cultural understanding and conflict resolution training and techniques. Metro supported the Peace and Nuclear Age curriculum and the expansion of Family Life Education in high schools. Metro's Youth Committee sponsored "Churches At Risk Reaching Children and Youth At Risk" and developed three partnership models. Metro also helped block attempts to eliminate funding for the Human Rights Commission and the City's Ombudsman. Metro developed the Cross-Cultural Clusters curriculum, a six-part educational course designed to build bridges between diverse cultures and organized clusters in schools, congregations, and the general community.
Developed and began the annual publication of the "Making Connections Resource Directory", a listing of more than 350 community organizations and services available in Fresno. Metro secured and distributed $160,000 to needy individuals and families who were suffering as a result of a major winter freeze. The Mental Health Task Force developed workshops for the initiation of support groups. Metro also initiated the Hate Violence Prevention and Response Network and held four community conferences on Welfare Reform. Throughout the decade, Metro also addressed issues related to religion, schools, and health care including Managed Care and Medi-Cal. Metro also developed and presented for 10 years the Health Care Round Table, a monthly forum on emerging and critical health care issues in Fresno.
Metro successfully advocated for the hiring of a full-time qualified bi-lingual doctor to head the County's Department of Public Health, worked to change the income eligibility threshold for indigent adults allowing greater access to free or low-cost health care services, a threshold which had not been adjusted since before 1996, and developed New Leaders for Better Health to provide health education and advocacy training for low-income residents, many of whom were non-English speaking and immigrant and refugees.
Metro assisted in the expansion of the acceptance of the electronic food stamp debit card, EBT, by farmers markets and flea markets to provide low-income persons greater access to more affordable and healthier foods and, through a City zoning change, expanded the areas within the City where Farmers' Markets can be located. Metro also developed Urban Tours, a tour of the Fresno area to assist key individuals and organizations discover and address community needs. Richard P. Yanes became Metro's Executive Director in January of 2008.
In February 2014, Keith Bergthold took the helm as Executive Director. With new leadership and our longstanding history of community action guiding our vision, Metro enters a new era…
In August 2014, Metro staff and Board completed a comprehensive strategic direction process, adopting a new mission-vision of ‘Learning, Connecting, and Engaging to Achieve Healthy People and Healthy Places.’ As a result, we have launched three new programs:
- Cross-sector Community Leadership and Innovation
- Community Food Systems
- Resilient Communities
These new programs were designed to build on the success of our previous Environmental Health, Hunger and Nutrition and Healthcare Access programs, and all work together to build and support a long-term vision for an active Healthy People and Healthy Places Network in Fresno and across the San Joaquin Valley.
Today, our theory of change focuses on building partnership programs using Asset-Based Community Development to implement our new mission-vision. Metro’s execution strategy is to be a backbone organization in partnership with RCI for building and supporting the performance and positive impacts of diverse, interconnected partnership programs, each with independent community advisory committees and branding.