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Christian Care gives participants hope

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For James A. Stanley, a price cannot be put on a sense of belonging at the Watertown Urban Mission, but the nonprofit's $2 million “Mission: Possible” capital campaign will assure more people will be able to call the mission their home away from home.

As part-time coordinator of Christian Care, the mission's drop-in center that offers conversation, coffee and friendship, Mr. Stanley oversees its operations. He also knows the program transforms lives, including his own. The success of the agency's capital campaign, he said, will fund needed renovations of its 247 Factory St. location and create an endowment to help pay for programs, such as Christian Care, for years to come.

Mr. Stanley came to Christian Care in 2005 when his mother volunteered for it. In 2007, she died, and Mr. Stanley began frequenting the program.

“Something kept drawing me here,” he said. “When I first came to Christian Care, they made me feel welcome. I felt all the family-oriented things. I try to keep that going.”

Christian Care started out in the late 1970s, separate from the mission. The nondenominational program morphed into the mission by 1985, and has since fulfilled people's spiritual needs, including a sense of purpose and connection with churches that support the mission.

On any given weekday, a few to a dozen people are gathered for the program at a long table toward a front corner of the building. Chairs are hard, and paint colors on the walls are not bright and inviting. It's adjacent to a large, open waiting area used for other mission programs.

Many sections of the mission have deteriorated, and some — such as Christian Care — are simply outdated.

Urban Mission Executive Director Erika F. Flint said environmental changes to the program will provide a sense of new for those who attend Christian Care.

“With the mission it's not about the things we provide, it's the dignity,” she said. “This will provide that and inspiration. I believe Christian Care saves lives; it certainly transforms them.”

That was the case for Kevin A. Heath, who became a Christian Care regular while he was on a path of recovery from addiction to several drugs, including crack cocaine.

“I got into Narcotics Anonymous, and it opened my mind to try different things, so I came here to meet people,” Mr. Heath said. “I came down here, and it was very humbling. Now, I want to give back. I wake up in the morning, pray to God and say, 'I don't want to use today.'”

He began going to First Baptist Church, State Street, and attended his first Bible study at Christian Care in late May. Mr. Heath, of Watertown, said the program's fellowship has helped to continue to guide him on the right path in life, free from drugs. The 52-year-old recently celebrated 18 months of sobriety after having been an addict for 38 years.

“I feel safe here,” he said. “It's not the bar scene. I meet new people, and I needed to change. What Christian Care and the Watertown Urban Mission does is help the community.”

Fellow Watertown resident Thomas C. Reid's social skills and self-esteem have vastly improved with five years of participating and volunteering in Christian Care. Before 2008, Mr. Reid secluded himself at home.

“It's brought me a long way,” he said. “Now, if people need (someone) to talk to, I can do that and help them with things they may not know. It's a good experience in helping people.”

Mr. Stanley said the program is open to anyone, and program participants might range from 19 to 70 years old. Christian Care is supported by a free-will offering from those who visit. Snacks are sold, but profits go to 10th Mountain Division soldiers.

The program also hosts a variety of workshops in partnership with area agencies, including Cornell Cooperative Extension of Jefferson County, which will offer budget classes this month.

Mr. Reid, Mr. Heath and Mr. Stanley said they encourage people to donate to the mission's capital campaign because Christian Care and other mission programs help people succeed in life when they often doubt their own strength. Andrew G. Mangione, Urban Mission development director, said the campaign has raised about $1.34 million thus far. To contribute, drop or send cash or a check payable to Watertown Urban Mission, with “capital campaign” written in the memo line, to the Watertown Urban Mission, 247 Factory St., Watertown, N.Y. 13601.

Donations also may be made online via the mission's website, www. watertownurbanmission.com.

This story was the second in a series on the Urban Mission.

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