WORCESTER ÔÇö Sometimes, the institutional church doesn’t quite fit into a place of great need.

That’s what inspired the Rev. Meredyth Wessman Ward, an Episcopal priest, to pursue an innovative new project in the Main South area, helping to support a community facing a number of challenges.

The project, which aims to assist young families in the city ÔÇö especially those with parents who are struggling to stay sober, is funded by a grant from the Episcopal Church that is being matched by the Episcopal Diocese of Western Massachusetts.

“This project came out of a lot of years of thinking and praying and wondering what it was that was unfolding in my life and in the life of the city,” Rev. Ward said.

The Episcopal Church offers funding for new initiatives and ways of doing ministry in underserved areas, called “Mission Enterprise Zones.”

There are currently 38 MEZs in the United States, according to Rev. Ward. Through the grant, she was named Urban Missioner for Worcester, where she resides.

“The old model of church planting was that you would build a church in a suburb and put the sign out and say, ‘come,’ and people were brand loyal and the cultural expectation was that people worshipped and so people would sort of show up on your doorstep,” Rev. Ward said. “That doesn’t work anymore.”

She said there are many people who wouldn’t necessarily turn to the church for help. Instead, she hopes to retroactively build a community through engaging with people in the area and finding out what their greatest needs are and how those needs can be met.

“Maybe in the future that becomes a worshipping community, but the primary goal isn’t to get people to put their butts on seats on Sunday morning, but to build a community of people that can be helpful to each other and supportive of each other,” Rev. Ward said.

As someone who has a passion for young families, Rev. Ward, 59, hopes to kick off the initiative with a project to aid parents, especially those in recovery for drug or alcohol abuse. This is an especially important issue to Rev. Ward, as she herself was in long-term recovery and has almost 30 years of sobriety under her belt.

“Nobody can be sober by white-knuckling it and doing it all by themselves,” she said. “It requires a community.”

Rev. Ward, who served as interim rector in 2014 at Saint Michael’s-on-the-Heights in Worcester, is collaborating with faculty from local schools on the project.

One of those people is Holly Dolan, who teaches in the education department at Clark University. Ms. Dolan also serves on the board that oversees Rev. Ward’s grant, and is an active member of the Episcopal Church in North Grafton.

“Right now, some of my job has ÔǪ been kind of facilitating conversations and helping Meredyth connect with people who have the information about what the need is, where the need is and how a project might take shape,” Ms. Dolan said.

A main focus of the project, she said, is looking at how to reach children and families at the early childhood level to provide services, such as nutrition counseling, help develop good literacy habits at home and connect parents with healthcare providers.

“Research has shown that this is a really critical age, particularly with kids who may have suffered trauma,” Ms. Dolan said. “We have a lot of immigrants and refugees coming into the Main South neighborhood, kids who are bouncing around from one living place to another, so whatever that trauma might be ÔǪ the earlier we can get to them to help kind of get them back on track, the more likely they’ll have success.”

Eventually, Rev. Ward said she’d like to work with student volunteers on the project to help provide child care and other services. She envisions, for example, helping families choose healthy food and teaching them how to cook it and make it appealing to kids.

But for now, she’s making as many connections as possible within the community, including at local organizations such as the Boys & Girls Club, and just by talking with strangers on the street.

“What I try to do is, every day have at least a couple of formal conversations with people about what’s going on the neighborhood, and every day try to grab a couple of informal ones,” Rev. Ward said, adding that the next few weeks will be a listening exercise to check her instincts against the needs of the community.

Although Rev. Ward was officially appointed Urban Missioner Jan. 1, she received the grant for the project last summer.

At the time, however, Matthew Ward, her husband of 31 years, a computer science professor at WPI, was ill and in hospice care. After he died in October, she said she took some time to grieve and is ready to put her heart and soul into something new.

“One of the things that I learned through my husband’s illness is that you can’t go it alone. When hard things happen, you can’t do it by yourself,” she said.

“I don’t come in assuming I know exactly what this community needs. I know what skills I bring and what passions I bring, but my hope is that six months from now I’m doing something that I didn’t expect to be doing, because that means I listened to the community.”