United effort of churches, community support agencies envisioned

When people are down and out, they may turn to pastors and churches for assistance. Help is available, but churches and support groups are disconnected and there are gaps, according to a group of local ministers.

The Ministerial Alliance has been discussing a solution for several months, and is now ready to move ahead with Hope Center, said Scott Powell, pastor of Abundant Harvest Community Church of the Nazarene, at a meeting Tuesday night. About a dozen congregations were represented.

The vision Powell outlined called for a commitment of support and financial assistance from churches, partnering with resource groups, formation of a not-for-profit corporation, hiring a director, either full- or part-time, depending on resources, and securing a location.

Two models were presented. At the least, the group would like to have a part-time director located in an office, who would build strong relationships with sources of help, such as Red Cross, Salvation Army, Department of Children and Families, alcohol and narcotics support groups, counseling and food assistance.

The second scenario calls for a large, centrally-located, easily-accessible building, where many services could be located, sharing overhead costs and volunteers. Each group would maintain its own identity — "think antique mall," Powell said.

There is precedent for a center like they plan, Powell said. Free Methodist Pastor Terry Stafford mentioned a center in a Washington community where he lived for 12 years that not only was successful in helping the intended population but was also a "tremendous spiritual benefit to the community."

He cautioned, however, that that may not be what is needed in Pratt.

"You can't see a whole program happening somewhere and expect to re-create it here," he said.

"This is something we need," said Walt Stockwell, who heads the Pass It Forward ministry.

His group provides the "stuff" people need to re-establish households, finds a way for some to keep utilities turned on and food on the table, and, in a few cases, survive without a home.

Powell wrote a scenario for the group's vision, summarized below:

A man comes into the Hope Center, a bright, positive and welcoming environment. He is greeted by the director, who asks, "How can we help you?"

The man says he recently lost his job, bills are piling up and they are having difficulty paying utilities this month.

The director asks about family — do they have food? Warm clothing for winter coming on?

Help for utilities, food and clothing are all available at the center, but the director wants the bigger picture.

The man admits he lost his last job because he was smoking marijuana and didn't pass a drug test. The director gives him information about groups such as Narcotics Anonymous and Celebrate Recovery.

He also suggests options for marriage or family counseling and signs the man up for an upcoming session on "Getting My Finances Under Control."

As they walk around the center, the director introduces the man to directors of other resource groups, volunteers and pastors who are there to help.

The man leaves, feeling hopeful, with real help extended...and has experienced Jesus through the compassion of The Hope Center and those involved.

Such a center would be financed by commitments from churches, fund-raising, grants, and shared resources of other agencies.

Mike McGovney, a Cunningham pastor who heads the Pratt Ministerial Alliance, believes the community would support Hope Center if they believed in its mission. His small church has put on Judgement House in Pratt for several years, at first partnering with 11 local churches.

At the last event, 21 churches were involved. The group has raised funds for Judgement House expenses, plus an additional $4,000 for a trailer the church uses in other mission work. Eighty percent of contributions have been from the Pratt area, McGovney said.

"This community does dive in and open their pocketbooks," he said. "I believe they will support this program."

The ministers hope to hire a director and set up a facility by August and host a presentation to the community and a fund-raiser in September.

Follow on Twitter @CarolB_Tribune