ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF
The most visible evidence of recent changes at Main Street Ministries is the 133 new replacement windows that have spruced up-and warmed up-the stately old brick building on South Main.
The $46,000 project has been the key component of a $55,000 capital campaign drive that is almost two-thirds completed.
“We’re still optimistic that we’ll reach that goal, although we wanted to meet it by the end of the (2000) calendar year,” said Shawn Winter, who is in his first year as director of the non-profit Christian ministry.
Main Street Ministries seeks to provide material, emotional and spiritual resources to people in transitional crises of various sorts.
“The money is still coming and people are seeing some changes happen here,” Winter said.
The new windows have been a boost to Main Street Ministries in numerous ways-not the least of which are personal comfort and cost savings on utility bills.
“We haven’t been able to look at the numbers yet as far as heating bills,” Winter said. “When we start measuring that, I think we’ll be able to tell a difference, especially with the cost of natural gas going up.”
But residents and staff have already felt a big difference in their comfort level.
“This made a tremendous difference in just sealing up the building,” Winter said. “I know there’s a couple of apartments, mine included, that it’s made a 15-degree difference in the last few months.”
The new windows have also improved the looks of the building, which was completed in early 1920.
“We really feel we made a solid, long-term investment,” Winter said about the windows. “The building is structurally sound yet, so we’re assuming it’s going to stand for a while yet. We think this is sort of the last stage of fixing the place up physically.”
A second significant part of the capital campaign was to develop intentional and accessible office space for the first time in the ministry’s 10-year history.
Part of the lower floor of the North Annex is being extensively remodeled into an office, meeting room and computer room at a cost of about $7,000.
“I think the new office space will be an essential part of the future of Main Street,” said Lillian Bookless, assistant director.
Added Winter: “A major frustration of the public has been that they never know where to find anybody. We’ve had no office and no signs. As people from different health agencies and churches stop by, they pull up out front here and go, ‘Now what?’
“We’ve had people walk through the building knocking on doors trying to find us,” he said.
The new computer room will be used primarily to help residents enhance their marketability for jobs.
“It will help them in retraining skills, if they need to write resumes or learn to type,” Bookless said. “For kids who need to do homework, we’ve got a set of encyclopedia they can use from a shelf of resources.”
The new area will also be used for board meetings and small-group meetings for youth and Bible study.
Winter said he has been encouraged by the public’s response to the capital campaign.
“People have responded really well,” he said. “We realize, too, that Hillsboro feels pretty tapped out when it comes to fund-raisers because there’s so much of that going on here. We try to remain optimistic and hope someday to meet the goal.”
The money has come from myriad sources and in a wide range of amounts, Winter said.
On the larger end, the five Mennonite churches in Hillsboro have taken advantage of Mennonite Mutual Aid matching grants to generate $5,000 for Main Street. Several thousand dollars came in from memorial funds designated in the name of the late Heddie Harder of Hillsboro.
Large gifts are nice, but Winter said the Main Street board and staff also value the many smaller contributions that have come in.
“A lot of time people feel that if they can’t make a sizable contribution, then they’ll just not do anything,” Winter said. “We’ve really challenged people to give even a little bit.
“That has started to happen. A few individuals have sent in $10 or $15 a month. With that kind of support, we’re hopeful we can maintain things and at least pay the bills and keep going.”
In addition to facility changes, Main Street has experienced a major addition to their staff. Scott and Jennifer Proffitt sold their home on Adams Street and moved into the apartment building in December.
The Proffitts will continue their tree-care business, but will also tend to needs that arise within the ministry.
Scott will focus primarily on maintenance concerns in the early weeks, Winter said, and may become involved in small groups for men.
Jennifer will help with organizational duties and the clothing center at first, and will become involved in small groups for women as time allows.
“They’ve got a lot of energy and excitement; we’re just thrilled that they’re with us,” Bookless said. “I see them as a real gift to Main Street.”
In addition to Winter, Bookless and the Proffitts, two other staff members live on site: Amber Kesler and Marcy Sperling.
Staff are not compensated for their work at Main Street. They earn their living off campus and pay rent for their apartments.
Winter said he is exploring ways to provide some compensation for staff so they are less dependent on outside employment and can devote more time to the needs of residents.
“Basically, it would free us up to do the things we really want to do,” Winter said. “If we have to work outside of Main Street in different jobs to pay the bills, that’s OK. We’re willing to do that. But our desire is to be here and work.”
Winter and Bookless agree there is so much Main Street Ministries could do if financial and personnel resources were available.
“There are so many hurting people in our county,” Bookless said.
To help fill the void in resources, they encourage local people with a heart for others to consider donating their time and energy in addition to, or in lieu of, financial gifts.
“We hope people would respond with their own talents and skills and by offering their time,” Winter said. “You need money to keep things going, but time is almost more valuable.”
Volunteers of all ages have come forward in recent months, Winter said.
One local pastor has offered to lead life-skills workshops. Another local professional has offered to help residents develop interviewing and job skills.
A local couple has been caring for the young children of one resident so she could pursue employment. Others individuals have helped sort clothes at the clothing center.
“We would hope the community would embrace what we’re doing here in ways like that-to be more personal with the people who live here, and to extend themselves and get to know them and just meet their needs,” Winter said.
“Even if it’s just for an hour,” Bookless added. “It isn’t that much for (the volunteer), but it’s huge for us.”
Said Winter: “We can provide what we’re capable of. The rest has to come from somewhere else. That’s the bottom line. When everybody does their part, we’ve really seen how things flourish.”
Main Street Apartments can house up to 30 people, including staff. An apartment is rarely empty for long, but the transition is continuous as needs of some residents are met and they move on, and new residents move in.
About 75 percent of Main Street residents come from within Marion County, Winter said, but some have come from as far as other states.
Residents generally stay anywhere from a couple of weeks to a maximum of two years.
The average length of stay is about six months.