NBTS Recognizes RCA Ministers' Service to Staten Island's Homeless Men, Women and Children
When she accepted the degree of Honorary Doctor of Divinity from New Brunswick Theological Seminary on May 18, 2013, the Rev. Dr. Terry Troia surprised many in the audience. "I'm so very honored," she told us. "And even more so because I can't believe that here with us today is Rev. Dr. Roland Ratmeyer, Class of 1963. It is Reverend Ratmeyer who had the vision to start Project Hospitality more than 30 years ago. He is the one who should be up here receiving this degree!" Dr. Ratmeyer and his wife Una were there celebrating his 50th reunion at NBTS.
Catching up afterwards at a local pub, Rev. Troia recalled the day in 1982 that she saw a newspaper ad asking for volunteers to feed homeless people near her home in Staten Island. Together with her mom Gloria, her father and her aunt, Terry's family served homemade chili to the folks who were staying the night in the basement of Brighton Heights Reformed Church on Staten Island. Next she volunteered to stay the night. A few months later Rev. Ratmeyer hired her as outreach director. She never left.
Today Rev. Troia is the executive director of the non-profit Project Hospitality, leading its transformation from an interfaith coalition of volunteers who ministered to Staten Island's homeless population in rotating church basements and soup kitchens into a full-service, $20-million agency. Today 350 staff members and a network of more than 600 volunteers serve more than 30,000 people annually.
As in Rev. Ratmeyer's time, churches-now they number eight-still provide temporary shelter. But they are surrounded by a "continuum of care" provided by a Family Center that is home to 103 children and 46 women, multiple transitional residences, supportive permanent housing units, and a Recovery Center that provides mental health, alcohol and drug abuse counseling. An AIDS Center coordinates care for HIV+ individuals. "We do intensive outreach," explains Troia, "We start aggressively, taking in people from the streets. They get shelter and a bed, then transitional housing and if they need it they can move to supportive permanent housing. All the people we serve receive comprehensive counseling services. "
Rev. Ratmeyer recalled how it all began. "New York City Mayor Koch had this crazy idea that churches could put homeless people in their basements during the winter," he said. The city would come and inspect but there was no city funding. It was a new idea. "I know I had a little trouble with my consistory at first." At this comment the table, including Troia's partner Mark, mom Gloria, and Una Ratmeyer, erupted in laughter. "A little!" they exclaimed.
"I remember walking home from the church-the parsonage was about three blocks away-and how wonderfully I felt that the consistory, not unanimously, gave us the green light to move ahead and get our basement approved." He explained, "The hard part was the community outrage against some of the things we were doing. When people would take the ferry to work from Staten Island to Manhattan, it was an eyesore. We tried to reach out but that was clearly not the thing to do. They wanted to know, why don't we just get rid of homeless people so we can have a clean ferry terminal?"
NBTS is thrilled that Dr. Troia honored her mentor and former boss who paved the way for her enormous achievements in expanding Project Hospitality. Since Hurricane Sandy, Rev. Troia has been at the forefront of relief efforts. She turned Project Hospitality's food truck into a mobile commissary to distribute cleaning and household supplies, food and water in the disaster area. Project Hospitality continues to manage the Sandy evacuation centers on Staten Island and has created and leads the long-term recovery organization for Staten Island and coordinates the services and placement of vulnerable, disabled and seniors affected by Hurricane Sandy. The organization also supports new immigrant communities through the collaborative day laborer project, El Centro del Immigrante, one of two in the City of New York.
Given its commitment to urban ministry, NBTS conferred the honorary doctorate because Dr. Troia provides a model of practical and prophetic theology in her imaginative, courageous, prophetic and faithful approach to negotiating world of church, government, and public and private agencies on behalf of New York City's most vulnerable clientele.
Rev. Troia holds a B.A in Theology from Loyola College, an M.A. in Theology from St. Mary's Seminary and University, and has pursued post-graduate studies in ethics from Union Theological Seminary, Seminario Bibilico Latinoamericano, University of Leidens and management from Columbia University and UCLA. She holds Honorary Doctorates from Wagner College and New Brunswick Theological Seminary. The Rev. Dr. Terry Troia is the minister of the New Utrecht Reformed Church in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn. Things were different back when she went to Seminary, she told everyone at this year's NBTS Commencement. The Seminary had asked some questions about her degree from St. Mary's Seminary in Baltimore, MD. "The truth is that back then," she told us, "where I went to seminary in 1974, a woman couldn't get an M.Div. degree, so I had to get an MA which I hold near and dear to my heart." Rev. Troia was ordained as a Specialized Minister to the Hungry and Homeless in the Reformed Church in America and serves as the minister of the New Utrecht Reformed Church in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn.