Joplin ministry offers a hand up to those in need
Marsha Whitford remembers what it was like to be a single mom in the ’90s, living paycheck to paycheck while attending college. “I was living life and trying to get by. I guess it seemed like I had it all together because people began seeking me out and asking if I could help them find solutions to some of their needs,” recalls Marsha. “It was great to help, but it also became overwhelming pretty quickly.”
It was around that same time Marsha met her future husband, James. The two often found themselves working side by side ministering at homeless camps in the Joplin area. But it was a mission trip to Texas that solidified the couple’s hearts to help improve the lives of others from the inside out. The two soon married and began brainstorming a way to truly help change lives, and Watered Gardens Ministries was born in 2000.
“The name Watered Gardens comes from a scripture in Isaiah 58 where God is saying if you will give of yourself, you’ll be like a watered garden,” says James. “He gives the promise of a flourishing life as we learn it’s better to give than receive.”
Today, with a staff of 30 and more than 600 volunteers, the nonprofit aims to help those in need earn the basic necessities for life. Watered Gardens helps people achieve their goals by rewarding work ethic instead of simply giving whatever is needed. The organization’s motto, “Work awakens worth” is compassionately shared in every situation with those seeking assistance as the organization chooses to walk alongside a person as they move forward toward a better life.
“We’ve got to start using our heads with our hearts and love people enough to know it can be harmful to just hand people whatever they seem to need,” James says. “It feels good to give and God instructs us to give, but we need to understand that sometimes not giving over and over again is often the best answer.”
Today, Watered Gardens has four different properties in downtown Joplin offering help with everything from chronic addictions to preparing people to join the workforce.
Watered Garden’s Outreach Center and Overnight Shelter serves as the starting point for individuals who find themselves in need of help resolving issues. The shelter offers separate spaces for men and women as well as a small respite unit for those who have been released from the hospital but have nowhere else to go while they continue recovery.
James says many of the people seeking help from Watered Gardens are looking for shelter or food. This is where the Worth Shop comes in. If overnight space is available, the person’s name goes on a list, then it’s off to the Worth Shop. There, they will work from a half hour up to 2 hours helping recycle donated items, stocking shelves, creating items for sale and more. For their time, the person earns vouchers which can be used toward a bed, showers, meals and more. This is part of the ministry’s desire for people to realize they’re worth investing in and that they have the ability to earn what they need.
The Garden Exchange Thrift Store is another way Watered Gardens assists people. “Here, we price the items with time,” says Garden Exchange Manager Laurie Tandy. “Anyone can come in and shop for what they need. We then bag the items and set it back until they’ve earned the voucher at the Worth Shop in exchange for the items.
“We have the same people work in the Garden Exchange each week, so when someone comes through those doors, we’re developing relationships with those we’re serving,” Laurie says. “The time spent with people is like planting seeds and watching them grow.”
Shelter Director Jocelyn Brisson knows exactly what those who walk through the shelter doors are thinking and needing. The formerly homeless methamphetamine addict of 38 years was raising her son on the streets of Los Angeles years ago. She ended up completing 400 hours of court-ordered community service at Watered Gardens in Joplin.
“I was pretty sure God couldn’t love somebody like me because I’d done some pretty bad things,” Jocelyn says. “But I’m living proof you can be on skid row living in a cardboard box and turn your life around. So I don’t want to hear anyone tell me, ‘I can’t do this’ because they can if they want it bad enough. I started college when I was 50 and have a bachelor’s and a master’s degree. Anything is possible.”
Those staying in the shelter also meet weekly with a member of the Care Coordination Team to set physical, emotional and spiritual goals as well as receive help with housing and employment assistance. The hope is when the time is right, the individual should be able to transition into self-sustainable living and healthier relationships.
The Washington Family Hope Center helps homeless mothers and children, allowing them to stay together as a family until the time they can get back on their feet. Mothers help in the house in exchange for food and board for their family.
Another arm of the ministry is the Forge Center for Virtue and Work. Men who walk in the Outreach Center’s doors and work for room and board can, after three months, apply to participate in the Forge program. There they take steps in the intensive program to make the changes, both inside and out, which will get them to their long-term goal of freedom from their former lives. The program averages 16 months but can be longer if monthly goals are being met by the student.
“I came from a drug addicted, very broken family. By the time I was 11 years old, I was using,” says Mike, a 36-year-old resident of the Forge program. “I feel like I’ve finally found peace and I’m learning that I have value.”
Forge Director Jamie Myers began with Watered Gardens as a volunteer seven years ago. Today, she’s one of the instructors at Forge.
“This is the hardest job I’ve ever loved. I get to walk alongside these guys and have a front row seat to what’s happening in their lives on a daily basis,” says the dedicated teacher. “I know what we’re doing here works because I’ve seen the ashes God has taken and turned into something beautiful.”
Watered Gardens Ministries is funded through private donations. Last year, 29,437 needs were met with 70% of those being earned by clients partnering with the Worth Shop.
For more information about Watered Gardens Ministries or to make a donation, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 417-623-6030. Hear more about Watered Gardens Ministries at gotc.us/moreaboutwg. Watered Gardens is located at 531 Kentucky Ave. in Joplin.