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Friday, November 28, 2014
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Published: Friday, 8/29/2014 - Updated: 3 months ago

COMMENTARY

Cherry Street Mission ready for next step

BY KEITH C. BURRIS
COLUMNIST FOR THE BLADE

“We don’t try to soften the anger of our guests. We tell our counselors, ‘‍Don’t try to make anger go away,’ because no one makes a change in his life unless he is angry.”

Dan Rogers, head of the Cherry Street Mission, said many interesting things to me the other day — but that was the most interesting.

Mr. Rogers is a fascinating mix of prophetic voice and entrepreneur; of pastor and hard-nosed manager. He is always asking his board and his staff: What is the next step? I sat down with him a few days ago and got his latest answer: Jobs.

Cherry Street serves more than half the Toledo homeless population. An amazing statistic.

It cares for about 1,700 people a year. And the amazing thing, to me, is that none of those people has an entry requirement. Cherry Street takes you as you are. You don’t have to change — stop using, drinking, or making bad decisions — to get in. Yet of that 1,700 a year, 1,000 to 1,100 say they want to change, which means they can graduate from the basic level of assistance — shelter, clothing, food, and medical assistance — to the next level: “exchange.”

Exchange is a trading of work for a higher level of assistance.

“I am a fan of giving a hungry man bread,” Mr. Rogers says. “That’s biblical. But not on the second day. Then the question becomes what has he got of value that I need?”

If he works, he gets the next level of help.

The third and final level at Cherry Street is recovery. And recovery, says Mr. Rogers, is for all “knucklehead behavior” not just dependency. Every human being in distress needs a recovery program.

But he also needs hope — not just a program but a future. Work. Gainful employment.

Of the 1,000 who want to change, only about 100 a year are finding work. Not good enough for Dan Rogers.

And that is where Cherry Street’s new building, the old Macomber High School, comes in. It’s a big building. It used to be a vocational school. Mr. Rogers wants to make it a “platform” for vocational programs that already exist or could be easily created by those who have a specific need.

For example: training in body shop work. Jobs in this field go begging. Two major auto dealers in town are willing to create their own program and house it at Cherry Street. Similar programs could be created, as a beginning, in hospitality and in driving for package delivery services. Skilled workers are not out there now. Those who need workers are willing to train them in appropriate numbers — at Cherry Street.

More, much more, on all this, to come.

Mr. Rogers says Cherry Street will always house the homeless and feed the hungry as it currently does, with doors open for admittance 24/​7. But the next stage of its development is emerging as a “residential adult vocational school.”

Fascinating and inspiring stuff. Visionary leadership.

Keith C. Burris is a columnist for The Blade.

Contact him at: kburris@theblade.com or 419-724-6266.



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