five Southside churches: All Saints Episcopal, Lakewood Presbyterian, Mt. Oliver Baptist, Mt. Zion AME, and South Jacksonville Presbyterian. They discussed the possibility of expanding the city's federally funded Meals-on-Wheels program to Pine Forest, a predominantly black and poor Southside community. On Saturday, September 30th, 29 volunteers from the five churches (with Lakewood United Methodist joining shortly thereafter) began delivering meals.
Over the next six months, representatives from these and other churches met with Highleyman and Rev. Gene Parks, urban minister of the United Methodist Church, to determine how to expand these volunteer efforts on a permanent basis. On May 22, 1979, the informal Southside/Pine Forest Network of Churches became UCOM with Archie Jenkins, then a part time staff member at South Jacksonville Presbyterian Church, coordinating the effort.
The name was important. Should it be United Christian Outreach Ministry, or United Community Outreach Ministry? All participants at that point were Christian, but a majority chose the term "Community" to welcome broader support later on. And of course later, Congregation Ahavath Chesed became a member.
Twelve charter churches were Assumption Catholic, Christ Lutheran (later withdrawing to be replaced by All Saints Episcopal), Hendricks Avenue Baptist, Lakewood United Methodist, Lakewood Presbyterian, Mt. Olive Baptist, Mt. Zion AME, St. Mark's Lutheran, San Jose Catholic, South Jacksonville Presbyterian, Southside Baptist and Southside United Methodist.
UCOM's Meals on Wheels program has expanded.
Minority Youth Employment Program (MYEP) was started in Pine Forest, which by the year 2000 1440 minority youth succeed in their first job experiences.
UCOM Emergency Assistance Program opened November 2, 1987, with the efforts of centralizing to eliminate costly duplication of services. (Then located at 1603 Minerva St)
The twelve original churches have grown to 32 congregations, black and white, Protestant, Catholic and Jewish.
In 1988, UCOM joined with Church World Service to initiate the first CROP walk in Jacksonville where 3/4 of the funds raised go to combat world hunger and 1/4 goes for local emergency assistance.
In 1998, a founder of UCOM reflected upon the shortage of trained nursing assistants in the community to provide support for elderly, infirm or disabled residents. Thus, started UCOM's CNA Scholarship Program of which by the year 2000 350 people had upgraded their skills and their wages.
In 1990, was the first UCOM fundraiser featuring fall concert of sacred music.
In 2015, UCOM initiated their first annual chili cook-off fundraiser.
Excerpts from "The UCOM Story", by Jim Crooks
UCOM's journey began in the summer of 1978. The recently formed Jacksonville Ecumenical Right to Eat Advocacy Board under the leadership of its president, Laura Gordon, and executive director, Ardith Highleyman, met with volunteers from
1979-80 Rev. William S. Thirlwell, Southside Baptist Church
1980-81 John Finn San Jose Catholic Church
1982-83 Sister Nancy Corrigan, Diocese of St. Augustine
1983-84 Sister Nancy Corrigan/Rev. Bill Thirlwell
1984-88 Jim Crooks
1988-89 Carolyn Matthews (now Ettlinger), Lakewood Presbyterian Church
1989-90 Rev. John Nicolson, Lakewood Presbyterian Church
1990-91 no president (UCOM vice-presidents shared leadership)
1991-94 Marian Elliott, Southside United Methodist Church
1994-95 Rev. Vicki Thomas, Lakewood Presbyterian Church
1995-97 Kate Schellenberg, San Jose Catholic Church
1997-98 Rev. Wayne Wiatt, Southside United Methodist Church
1998-99 Rev. Mark Wilbanks, Southside Baptist Church