Carpenter’s Place – Where Lives Can Be Rebuilt

ROCKFORD, IL (May 25, 2010) – Allan and Cathy Barsema purchased a run-down building in a rough section of town and rehabilitated it so he could house his construction company offices there. They never imagined that someday the building would become Carpenter’s Place, where the lives of homeless people could be rebuilt.

The construction company was located in the building for several years. Then the Barsemas rented the space to another company that later left. From the time they first purchased the building, the Barsemas, members of First Covenant Church in Rockford, were aware of the homeless people who wandered the streets during the day.

“They could stay in shelters at night, but they had no place to go during the day,” says Cathy, who serves as the director of guest services. When the last tenant in the Barsemas’ property moved out, the couple decided to open the doors to the people on the street. That ministry led to the birth of Carpenter’s Place, founded on the idea that “Jesus was a carpenter, a shaper of lives.”

When it opened in 2000, Carpenter’s Place had a staff of one. Eight people from the street used the day room. It was started with assistance from the Central Conference of the Evangelical Covenant Church using Churches Planting Ministries funds.

Carpenter’s Place received the Excelsior Award in 2007 . . . for its “significant positive impact on the community.”

The faith-based nonprofit now employs 12 staff members and “lots of volunteers.” An average of 97 people use the day room each day and thousands of people receive assistance.

On June 10, the ministry will celebrate a decade of service with a dinner from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. at the Radisson Hotel & Conference Center in Rockford.

Carpenter’s Place provides services that are based upon a “Life Recovery Plan” (LRP) process. The process involves extensive interagency collaboration and advocacy.

Cathy emphasizes that although the nonprofit organization is faith-based, the clients do not have to hold any particular religious belief, nor do they have to participate in any religious service to receive assistance.

The work has been so effective that the Rockford Register presented Carpenter’s Place with its Excelsior Award in 2007. The newspaper gives the award to an organization that has had a significant positive impact on the community.

The plethora of services include a day room, job assistance, life skills training, health care, case management, and drug and alcohol counseling. Another key component of the Carpenter’s Place process is finding housing, and the ministry either owns or operates several residences:

  • Rents a 12-unit apartment building for its Transitional Housing Program – each unit houses two men with full supportive services for up to 24 months.
  • Provides permanent supported housing for the chronically homeless.
  • Offers jail alternative housing for up to six men at a home supervised by a resident manager. The residents would have otherwise been homeless upon their release from jail.
  • A three-bedroom brick ranch style house is home to three honorably discharged homeless veterans. Each veteran can live at the home for up to two years while receiving supportive services.

In just 2009, according to the nonprofit’s website, 321 homeless persons transitioned to stabilized housing, including 246 into their own apartments and 75 into transitional housing. The ministry helped 89 people find full-time employment and 25 people gain part-time jobs.

Assistance needs to be provided holistically if any of the services are to be effective, Cathy says. Many of the clients suffer some form of addiction or form of mental illness that need to be treated. Others lack access to job opportunities.

Cathy still can be surprised at how few life skills some people have. For example, one man who was provided transitional housing had never used a measuring cup.

Private donations and government grants each provide about 50 percent of the organization’s funding, Cathy says.

Cathy says the rapid growth has been a “rollercoaster ride.” She placed a timeline on the website and says, “It looks like we intentionally planned all these services, but most were started as the need arose.”

The dinner celebration will feature photographic portraits “reflecting the hope of people in our community,” Cathy says. “We wouldn’t be here if we didn’t have hope.”

The photographer is building a room that can be taken down and rebuilt in other communities in order to display the pictures.

For more information call Executive Director Kay Larrick at: 815-964-4105, extension 211.

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