Tom Sawyer House is a refuge for youth
BUCKEYE LAKE - A comfortable bed, food, video games, computer access, a welcoming fireplace ... the new Tom Sawyer House is more than a temporary respite for homeless youth. It’s a home, because there’s love.
The Tom Sawyer House is a model ministry project affiliated with Water’s Edge Ministry, which has been in the community for years. The house is adjacent to the Water’s Edge building on Walnut Road and officially opened for guests in late June, after months of hard work by volunteers.
Water’s Edge pastors Bob Beyer and Carol Kirk were familiar with the work of Huckleberry House in Columbus, which houses young people temporarily, usually because of family issues. Seeing a need in their own community, they turned a little house in need of repair into an inviting off-shoot called Tom Sawyer.
It’s not a baby-sitting service. Youth sign themselves in and out when they find themselves kicked out of their home or in need of a safe place to stay. Parents and even the police are notified of the young person’s location, and they are allowed to stay there for 72 hours before a call must be placed to Children’s Services.
“It’s to help our young people get off the streets, stay out of jail,” said Kirk, Tom Sawyer House Program Director. “It’s a cooling off period. A lot of times it’s not an issue of troubled youth, it’s troubled parents.”
Kirk said she knew the program would work when its current location was just an empty and run-down house wrapped up in an estate after the former owner passed away. “We began to pray about it,” she said. “I said, ‘I don’t know how, but we’ll get that and that’s our Tom Sawyer House.’”
Water’s Edge and the Tom Sawyer House are operated under a parent church, Jacksontown United Methodist. A bid of $32,000 for the structure was accepted, and then the real work began.
Churches, businesses and sponsors from all over Licking County stepped up to help support, repair and furnish the house. It needed new floors, new walls, doors, molding and more. Youth groups from other churches came to work. Children from Buckeye Lake who are familiar with Water’s Edge also chipped in, cleaning up the house and yard. “They were so excited to see this come about,” Kirk said.
Now the house boasts an enormous kitchen with two tables, a resident parents’ bedroom with a bath, a downstairs youth bedroom with bunks and homemade quilts, a youth bathroom, more beds in a loft, a large living room area complete with big screen TV and XBox, and a backyard community garden with vegetables and fruit trees.
Water’s Edge ministries is keeping busy in other ways from its established site, as well. They are currently housing a Summer Lunch Program in partnership with Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Catholic Church, providing free lunches on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday at noon. When school starts, free tutoring and food is available after school on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday. A Helping Hands Free Clothing Store is open Mondays noon to 3 and Thursdays from 5 to 7 p.m. Teen Night is held every Tuesday evening through the school year. On Wednesday evening, area churches bring meals in to feed about 70 kids and adults dinner. Children use a short indoor basketball court for basketball and even dodge ball tournaments. Beginning this fall on Fridays, Water’s Edge will offer a “Celebrate Recovery” program. On Sundays at 12:30, lunch is served to anyone who wants to eat, followed by a time of spiritual renewal and fellowship at 2 p.m. and another meal for a new crowd.
About 20 churches and businesses give money, school supplies, food, gardening items and prepare meals. “We could never accomplish the ministry we do here without the partnerships we’ve formed,” Beyer said.
He said the Tom Sawyer House in Buckeye Lake is serving as a model for a new project being launched called “Community Ministry of Licking County Churches,” in which a coalition of churches fixes up foreclosed or fixer-upper homes and sells them very affordably to struggling families.
“We’re teaching other churches to be in ministry,” Beyer said, “whether it’s starting a youth group or a church camp or whatever. A lot of good things are happening.”
For now, those good things look like 110 kids from the village laughing, eating and playing at Water’s Edge. They look like the teens in need of a safe place to sleep and have a meal who will benefit from the new Tom Sawyer House.
To get involved with the Tom Sawyer House ministry, or to find out more about temporary shelter opportunities, call Kirk at 975-3114.