Tent ministry moves into building


By Kevin Spradlin

EAST ROCKINGHAM — The Place of Grace tent ministry is in tents no more.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com Pastor Sonny Diggs, left, Dianne Raines, outreach coordinator for Place of Grace, and Pastor Gary Richardson.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com
Pastor Sonny Diggs, left, Dianne Raines, outreach coordinator for Place of Grace, and Pastor Gary Richardson.

A new sign was installed at 559 Airport Road in East Rockingham on the shell building for which New Life Christian Ministries Gary Richardson has signed a six-month lease with an option to buy. The building will house up to 16 homeless or less fortunate individuals — each visitor there on a temporary basis — and be not a hiding place, but a safe haven in which clients will be put on the path to self-sustainment shortly after entering.

Move aside, ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. Richardson has his own challenge to Richmond County churches and business owners: if each contributes a one-time $1,000 donation to the nonprofit organization, “that will pay for the building and operate that building for probably two or three years.”

That breaks down to $83.33 a month.

“Some churches can do more,” Richardson said.

Richardson and his small army of volunteers have moved fast over the last several months. The move into 559 Airport Road comes a month after the Richmond County Board of Adjustment offered a grace period of sorts for the tent ministry when, after a lengthy conditional use permit public hearing, board members voted to delay any decision for up to 12 months.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com

Richardson and his volunteers didn’t need that long.

During a tour of the shell building, which already has seven cots ready, along with a separate area for women, a family room with a television and couch as well as an administrative area, Richardson said the rules will still be enforced. Curfew is 8 p.m. Doors will be locked at 9 p.m. and lights out at 10 p.m. each night. Anyone trying to enter after 10 p.m., Richardson said, must be escorted by a law enforcement officer from the Rockingham Police Department or Richmond County Sheriff’s Office.

A partnership with local law enforcement is key for the safety of both the clients already inside the building and those who wish to come in, Richardson said. He’s hoping to expand that relationship with a novel idea: for those who are not from Richmond County and who desire not to participate in the program, “let’s offer them a one-way ticket to where ever they’re from.”

He hopes city and county officials agree to foot the bill for that expense.

“I think it’s fair,” said Richardson, noting the positive impact the church volunteers will have in helping to get homeless people off area streets.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com

There is also a set of high expectations. Richardson has an agreement with Terry Thompson, the continuing education coordinator at Richmond Community College, to bring high school equivalency degree instructors to Place of Grace. They’ll be taught the skills they need to pass that test and WorkKeys, Richardson said.

“We’re trying to provide a good service to the community,” Richardson said. “They can come out the other end having a good chance of getting a job and getting their life back on track.”

Richardson is not without his own personal trial.

“On Jan. 18, 199, I left a crack house,” Richardson said. “So, anyway, here I am.”

His personal experiences help him to “know when (clients) are using (our) kindness as weakness.”

Seven people, he said, after already been released from the program. They are welcome to request consideration for a second chance after a week, Richardson said.

Gary Williams, county building inspector, is tasked with ensuring the building is up to code. The building still needs a shower, which Richardson said will be installed at no charge by Ronnie Hawks, of Hawks Builders, and donated plumbing work by Al McCormick.

Richardson said he believes this step allows the conditions under the grace period of the conditional use permit application to be “still in compliance with what they wanted us to do.”

“We’re making sure the building’s sufficient,” he said. “It just worked out.”

The work has, to be sure, moved fast — timeline has moved from concept and sermon in May to a tent community in July to a building in November.

“A couple of months ago, it was just a dream,” said outreach coordinator Dianne Raines.

Richardson said there’s growing community support.

“I think it’s because Richmond County is ready to see something happen for these folks,” he said. “We’ve already helped a pile of people. We’re going to help a pile more.”

Richardson said the tents will remain, and the area will be used for overflow between Spring and Autumn.

Filed in: Featured News, Latest Headlines, News, Religion, Rockingham

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