Not your grandfather’s ‘Center of Hope’

Feb 13, 2023 | by Brad Rowland

Not your grandfather's ‘Center of Hope'

By: Major Frank Duracher

In June 2019, when newly-commissioned Lieutenant Carla Lawson walked across the stage to receive her first appointment, she had no idea what her post had in store as corps officer for Pascagoula, Mississippi. What she found was daunting; but she believes the Lord gave her a vision of what could be for her community.

"When I moved here the shelter had already been closed," Lieutenant Lawson says. A three-bedroom house, formerly officers' quarters, had served as a shelter for years. Hurricane Katrina severely damaged the aging structure, but insurance money wouldn't even come close to bringing it up to code. Subsequent years of neglect wrought further deterioration, with gaping holes and mold throughout the walls, roof leaks, and water damage.

"I thought to myself, ‘Why would any homeless person even want to stay here?' But I wished so much that we could use it for some type of ministry!"

Adding insult to injury, COVID closed Pascagoula's only Family Store, and Hurricane Ida (2021) "finished the former shelter building off," she explains.

Enter Ingalls Shipbuilding Corporation, which itself was facing a twofold dilemma. "Ingalls wanted a ‘hands-on' extreme makeover project, called ‘Ingalls Cares,'" says Major Jerry Friday, Mississippi Gulf Coast area commander, "so they were looking for the perfect project. But even a greater need for them was to find about 3,000 new employees—so what this project morphed into benefits the community, Ingalls, and The Salvation Army!"

"Two members of our advisory council have direct connections to Ingalls," adds Lieutenant Lawson. "(The Army's and Ingalls') mutual needs came together in a type of Center of Hope that redefines the model."

Ingalls not only poured $80,000 toward the renovations, but the company and many of its vendors are providing the labor—easily doubling the initial investment.

"A traditional shelter type of Center of Hope was scrapped, due to community concerns. Besides, there is already a soup kitchen in Pascagoula—so we needed to come up with something outside the box," she says.

Ingalls volunteers began by completely gutting down the three-bedroom house to its studs. They are now hanging drywall, painting, flooring, and most other carpentry needs for a complete makeover. In addition, Ingalls has office furniture in storage, so they are providing desks, computer-stations, and other furnishings. The Army agreed to provide a new roof, HVAC system, windows, and electrical wiring.

"One day I counted nearly 50 volunteers—like worker bees—in this tiny house, painting and hammering. It is really something to see!" Lieutenant Lawson marvels.

The new Center Of Hope will be laser-focused on "Workforce Development," an Army program designed to help social service recipients obtain employment training, computer workspace, and all preparations for people not only unemployed, but underemployed, according to Major Friday.

"We have folks that have a job, but are still struggling to pay the bills," he says. "They make some money, but not nearly enough to support their family during these trying times."

Workforce Development is made possible by a grant from MDEQ (Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality). The grant stems from funds obtained by the state due to the BP oil spill.

"Major Gary Sturdivant applied for the grant back when he was the area commander here, and it only now came through," Friday explains. "The grant is specifically designed for employment training," so it's a Godsend for what we want to do here.

"Ingalls is very interested in our Workforce Development program, to meet their need for workers," he adds. Ingalls employees already working will even be able to improve their skills for advancement in the company.

"Ingalls Shipbuilding is proud to partner with The Salvation Army on the renovation of their new Jackson County facility, which will assist individuals with pre-employment services critical to both the community and our business," says Lisa Bradley, Ingalls Shipbuilding corporate stewardship and community relations manager. "By investing in agencies like The Salvation Army, we ensure the important support services are available for our shipbuilders when they need them."

Social workers helping with rent assistance will be able to also offer Workforce Development to clients. More than providing rent for this month, how can we help you achieve something greater?

"I am a fixer by nature," Lieutenant Lawson muses, "and I never expected my first appointment, especially for a single officer, to be presented by a challenge like this. "But I think God has given me a dream to match the challenge—a different type of Center Of Hope which will meet a lot of needs here in Pascagoula!"

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