Pittsburgh Theological Seminary

Michael Stanton of Open Hand Ministry Wins Distinguished Alumnus Award in Mission

He doesn’t have all the right tools. He’s not a trade school graduate, a real estate agent, or a business finance guru. Yet Michael Stanton ’06 is organizing the efforts of Open Hand Ministries, a community-based agency working to “right a wrong” by rehabbing dilapidated houses in Pittsburgh’s Garfield and East Liberty neighborhoods.

Through three partner churches—East Liberty Presbyterian, The Open Door Church, and Valley View Presbyterian—Open Hand Ministries is providing low or moderate income, disadvantaged families the opportunity for affordable homeownership.

A decade ago, Michael and his wife, Holly, moved into the Garfield community. “Buying that house was definitely us responding to a sense of call. It wasn’t because it was a real estate investment. It was because we wanted to live in and be a part of the community in which we serve.”

Community is the driving force behind Open Hand Ministries. “I went to Garfield with a bit of the ‘red cape syndrome,’” Stanton said. “But I quickly learned that there was no place for the cape. We needed to overcome our collective challenges.” Without the cape and without the tools, Stanton now believes even more in the power of community. Dependent on others, he explains, “This is not a ministry that will rise and fall on my capabilities. It’s not meant to be. It’s meant to be a community—people and organizations pooling their resources.” 

Financing the work of Open Hand Ministries is a two-pronged job: funding renovations and keeping costs low. Covering the renovation costs are the home owners, church and foundation grants, Pittsburgh Presbytery, and individual donors. Keeping the labor costs low are trades people working for much less than market value and the hundreds of volunteers who donate their time each year. Additionally, partner groups also supply less expensive building materials. “Funding and doing these projects involves the whole community,” Stanton said.

Since 2010, the Seminary’s Miller Summer Youth Institute has volunteered with Open Hand Ministries. On these work days, high schoolers learn about mission and ministry in the community. Beginning this summer, SYI will host groups of youth and adults from across the country to volunteer with Open Hand and Garfield Community Farm (an outreach program of The Open Door—a church plant started by BJ Woodworth ’07 and John Creasy ’06). Additionally, SYI will provide three interns to support the work of these two organizations.

Since the beginning of the ministry, Open Hand has helped more than a dozen families become home owners, the majority of whom are single mothers who can now provide a safer and more stable environment for themselves and their children. Committed to an ongoing relationship with these families, Stanton does not see leaving Garfield any time soon. “It’s my community.”

In recognition of his transformative work in the community, the Pittsburgh Courier named him a Champion of Dignity and Respect in 2015, and Pittsburgh Seminary honored him with the Distinguished Alumnus Award in Mission in 2017.