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Vacant Factory Creates Opportunity for Renewed Hope

JAMESTOWN, NY (February 16, 2010) – What do you do with an old factory and a community whose poor and disadvantaged residents need multiple services? In the case of Jamestown, an ecumenical outreach center was the answer.

Youth using the BMX-Skate Park

Under the direction of Evangelical Covenant Church minister Amy Rohler, a vacant furniture mill building known as the Gateway Center was transformed to house a BMX-Skate park, teen café, thrift store, used-furniture showroom and a large sewing room. They are part of an eight-year-old ministry known as Community Helping Hands (CHH).

“We seek to be a place where life skills are learned,” says Rohler. Volunteers and staff work to establish mentoring relationships with the people who are assisted through CHH.

The organization tries to help clients meet the challenges of limited opportunities, resources, and connections, says Rohler. “When you are in poverty, you have a very small network.”

The Alpha Café and Indoor Skate Park provide a place where area teens can come and skate, eat at the café, play foosball and video games, or simply hang out with their friends in a safe, Christ-centered environment. If a teenager cannot afford the skate park admission or to rent the equipment, they may have the opportunity to do tasks for the center in lieu of paying.

Amy Rohler, Covenant minister, shows quilts from The Patchwork Place, which helps young mothers learn life skills.

Young mothers have the opportunity to learn sewing and quilting skills in The Patchwork Place. Here, volunteers work alongside expecting mothers, helping them make a quilt for their baby, teaching them sewing skills, and passing along some beneficial life skills in the process.

The Gateway Center also houses a large thrift store where donated clothes and other goods are provided. This time of year, warm clothing for all ages is needed, but especially so for men. Rohler says coats and jackets for men are not donated as frequently as children’s clothing, but are still in demand.

CHH also operates a furniture showroom where donated furniture, kitchen items and other household necessities are sold. The store has served a wide-range of needs from one or two specific items to furnishing an entire apartment. The ministry is often called on to help furnish apartments following emergencies such as fires or other events that dislocate families.

Community Helping Hands has affiliated itself with numerous other agencies trying to make as many services available to the region’s poor as is possible.

Rohler’s husband, Adam, is senior pastor at First Covenant Church.

About the Author

  • Marianne Peters is a freelance writer, master gardener, and environmental educator. She lives in Plymouth, Indiana with her husband, two teenage daughters, and two mischievous ginger cats called Fred and George (after the Weasley twins of Harry Potter fame). From 2008-2013 she wrote the Creation Care column for Covenant Companion magazine. In 2011, her family decided to downsize by half, a decision that led to the publication of her book Declutter for Good: Share Your Life and Reclaim Your Life. She blogs about green living and gardening at www.freshwordswriting.com.

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