WILMINGTON — Workers from Sugartree Ministries will soon be providing landscaping services as part of a transitional employment program designed to provide hope and opportunity for those who are struggling.
The program will allow those in recovery to earn money, learn how to budget, and work toward more stable employment while still healing from homelessness, trauma or addiction.
“This is a win-win,” said Sugartree Director Lee Sandlin. “It’s an opportunity for people to learn, to grow, to move out of addiction, and to become employable. And it will allow people to give back to the community at the same time.”
One of the issues faced by people struggling with addiction or homelessness is keeping a steady job while doing the work of recovery, Sandlin said. He said the new program will give people flexibility that isn’t always available at a traditional job.
“Our goal is that when someone does fall apart, which happens, instead of being terminated, they’ll be surrounded by people who can help them get back on track,” Sandlin said. “We believe in the rehabilitation process, and we hope this can be a compassionate transitional place for people that will eventually make them more employable. A whole person is employable. And wholeness is our goal.”
Thanks to donor Mike Rorie of Ground Systems Landscaping, Sandlin said the ministry now owns landscaping equipment and is preparing to get the program off the ground.
“We are going to bid jobs as normal and start with our original base crew who have worked with us and who are on the other side of addiction and homelessness,” Sandlin said. “As we go, they can begin to actively recruit others who are struggling and build a crew.”
One of the initial crew members will be Jason Hollingsworth, a recovering meth and heroin addict who credits Sugartree Ministries with saving his life.
“I’m here to help people now,” said Hollingsworth, who will be celebrating three years clean this October and graduated from the You-Turn Recovery Docket (drug court) on July 30. “I know what it’s like to be on the streets. If I can give other people hope of a better life I’m all for it.”
Michael Hutchins, who has been volunteering with Sugartree for the last two years, said he was homeless for years before finding hope at Sugartree.
“Through this place I’ve found fulfillment,” Hutchins said. “To do something for someone that they can’t repay, this place gives you that and gives you the opportunity to learn how to do that for others.”
Mark Bigger, who has been volunteering since showing up last July to complete a community service order, said he is looking forward to being part of the program.
“I’m excited for it to get off the ground,” he said. “I continued to come back here because this is a safe place.”
Kaleb Holcomb, who is on staff at Sugartree Ministries after years of healing from a troubled past, gave credit to the ministry for standing with him.
“This is a place where people came beside me. Despite my defects they stood by me while everyone else in society would have pushed me away, and now I’m able to be part of the community,” he said. “How much pain can be mitigated by helping someone regain their humanity … Day by day things are better and better than they’ve ever been in my life, and this is the place that God used for that.”
The new employment program will be one more addition to a growing ministry that has served the community for more than two decades. Sugartree currently provides a food pantry, soup kitchen, men’s emergency shelter, a 12-step program, blanket closet, coffee shop, warming and cooling shelter, grocery delivery program, community garden, counseling, and emergency services such as hotel rooms for domestic violence survivors and payment of bills for struggling families.
One hundred percent of the staff comes from a background of homelessness and addiction, Sandlin said. The ministry is also preparing to hire its first social worker.
“We will only be taking donations for our landscaping services, and we want to give people who care about our mission the opportunity to invest in this rehabilitative work,” he said.
Crew workers will receive salaries, budgeting help and housing. Once a week, the crew will provide a free landscaping job for someone in need.
“Once a week we’ll do a pro bono job for someone who is elderly, handicapped or struggling to keep up their lawn, to keep the cycle of giving going,” Sandlin said.
The program is yet another effort to promote healing and rehabilitation among homeless and addicted people in the community, Sandlin said.
“One of the things I’m often asked is, ‘Why can’t everyone just pull themselves up by their bootstraps, why don’t they have jobs?’ But sometimes there are barriers to even working,” he said. “If you’ve had a bankruptcy, eviction, or a felony, life gets exponentially more difficult. For some of our folks who are disabled, broken and addicted, sometimes they’re not ready to work a full-time job. Work can be an important part of recovery but if you’re not ready, it can cause other setbacks.”
Sandlin said those on the landscaping crew will be involved in church and a 12-step program.
“Work is going to be part of that recovery process,” he said. “We are most concerned with the healing of the soul and working toward getting people to a place of recovery that is more sustainable.”
For more information, contact Sugartree Ministries at 937-382-8359. All work will be done for donation.