New organization forming to meet needs in community

What if people struggling with poverty, homelessness, drug addiction or mental illness could make just one stop to get the help or referrals they need to get back on their feet?

What if area churches came together and pooled their outreach or benevolence dollars into one fund to distribute to people in need?

A group of local residents is looking to bridge the gap between those in need of assistance and those with the means to provide support to make it easier to help and be helped in Jackson County.

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On March 10, more than 20 people met at the Boys and Girls Club of Seymour to discuss starting an organization to act as a clearinghouse to more efficiently collect and distribute money and resources to individuals in crisis to help pay for housing, utilities, transportation, food, clothing, medications and other needs.

Funds also would be used to support the work of organizations such as The Alley, Anchor House Family Assistance Center and Pantry, Cold Night Out Shelter, Human Services Inc., Community Provision of Jackson County Inc., Community Diner of Seymour, Jackson County Clothing Center and others with similar outreach missions.

Facilitating the discussion and planning locally are Jessica Olsen with First Presbyterian Church, Robin Everhart with Central Christian Church, Karen Browning with Double Down Outreach Ministry and Ryon Wheeler of the Boys and Girls Club.

They recently attended a meeting organized by Wabash College where area church leaders, nonprofit directors and local volunteers discussed the community’s strengths and challenges and how to come together to tackle them.

They identified Jackson County’s strengths as increased awareness of issues such as homelessness and poverty and the many independent people and organizations in the community doing good work.

“For challenges, we struggle to collaborate across organizations when it comes to leadership, and we also lack the follow-up piece,” Olsen said. “We have a lack of awareness of what each organization is doing, some repetition and even some competition between organizations.”

In 2013, Central Christian Church was going through a strategic planning process to determine what the needs were in Jackson County and what organizations were doing to meet those needs, Everhart said.

“One of the things that really stood out was that we needed a centralized location for all of the community services,” she said.

Every day, people visit the church seeking financial assistance, but the church only has so much money to give, she said. So people have to go to multiple places to find help.

“One organization can’t help everyone,” she said. “The community needs to come together to help these families.”

At that time, Everhart spoke to the Jackson County Ministerial Association about Central Christian’s concerns.

“What we need is for the churches to come onboard and help support financially what we would like to see happen with this centralized location,” she said. “They thought it was a great idea because if we got all the churches in town to pool all their money into one, we could really help these people.”

With a larger pool of money to work with, Everhart said it becomes more than a handout of money or just paying a bill.

“We want to help people with their lives,” she said.

Although it wasn’t accomplished in 2013, Everhart said maybe today, it can be.

To solve its issues with homelessness, poverty and addiction, Olsen said the community needs to do a better job of working together.

“We need to strengthen the programs that are right here in the community and that are doing well, not reinvent the wheel,” she said. “We need organization and communication among all of our wonderful agencies so that those in the community who need and deserve the help get the help they need.”

For the long term, Olsen said there is a need for follow-up and step-by-step plans to break the cycles of poverty, homelessness and addiction.

Their first step is to organize a steering committee of 10 to 12 people to serve at least one year to get the ball rolling. This group will be tasked with naming the organization, creating its bylaws and establishing a board of directors, budget and funding plan.

Right now, the group is scheduled to meet the second and fourth Tuesday of every month at the Boys and Girls Club, 950 N. O’Brien St., Seymour.

The next meeting is at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, at which time the steering committee will be finalized. Anyone interested in being on the committee or helping in any way should attend.

The group is using the Ecumenical Assembly of Bartholomew County Churches, more commonly known as the Love Chapel Center in Columbus, as a model. That organization is comprised of 25 area member churches and does not receive government or United Way funding. Funds are provided by churches, foundations, schools, businesses, groups and individuals in the community.

Love Chapel provides a food pantry, a mobile pantry and hot meals, transitional housing, emergency financial assistance and medication assistance.

Browning said Double Down Outreach, which operates like a street ministry meeting people where they are, is helping an average of 30 homeless people a week. Volunteers have a mobile service providing food and other supplies to people.

“What we are seeing is a pervasive need of services,” she said. “The problem is we see people at some of their lowest times, the worst times in their lives.”

Browning said one big issue homeless and poverty-stricken people in Jackson County are facing is lack of transportation. Although there is a public transit system, Browning said it is not ideal for the people they serve because it does not have regular routes and the cost can add up.

Another barrier is not having proper identification for proof of residence to access social services that may be available, she said.

“So how do we overcome these barriers?” she said.

Wheeler said the new organization needs to either acquire a 501(c)(3) designation or work under an existing church or nonprofit agency.

What he and the rest of the group don’t want to see happen is nothing.

“We wanted to make sure that we weren’t going to kick the can down the road, that it wasn’t just going to sit there for another two months because people are ready to make something happen,” he said.

One of the goals for Seymour is to get more community groups signed up to use Charity Tracker, an online network for tracking assistance. The tool is helpful in reducing duplication of services, increasing accountability and producing measurable results.

Since 2010, $533,510 has been provided in assistance to 3,064 households in Jackson County, according to Charity Tracker. That money went to providing shelter through Cold Night Out and paying for rent and hotel stays for people, providing presents to children at Christmas, paying utilities and for bus passes, food, medications and clothing.

Only 11 local churches and community organizations are currently signed up for the service. The cost to register is $135. For information, visit

“In this county, we are not utilizing Charity Tracker to the degree we should be,” Browning said. “When we use Charity Tracker, we can have a better conversation than what we are being able to do today. We are not having getting the full picture because we know organizations are giving out more dollars than are recorded here. We know that more families are being served.”

Browning said the money people are donating to help people in Jackson County needs to do just that.

“This is about making sure that Jackson County is funded fully in all the areas,” she said. “Whoever needs the help, that money is there in one pot to make sure those individuals are cared for in a loving, sustainable manner so that they can become productive citizens of Jackson County.”

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What: Community action meeting to start an organization to address issues including homelessness, poverty, addiction and mental health

When: 6:30 p.m. Tuesday

Where: Boys and Girls Club of Seymour, 950 N. O’Brien St., Seymour

Agenda: Synopsis of previous meeting and goals, question-and-answer session and forming a steering committee

Information: Email [email protected] or call Ryon Wheeler at the Boys and Girls Club at 812-522-2434