From crack house to community builder

Mission Cottage takes church to the unchurched

By Ariel Gilreath and Carol Weaver

BAMBERG—“It is not enough to simply give money to the poor without personal involvement. Problems do not simply disappear because we throw money at them.”

With those words, United Methodist servant Michael C. Watson laid out plans in 1995 for the Bamberg Shalom Zone Mission Cottage, which provides a Christian environment for lower income families.

Today a thriving operation, the Mission Cottage program was created by Trinity and Mount Carmel United Methodist churches and guided by Watson, a member of Trinity. Most of the programs cater to children 18 and younger, but there are opportunities for adults to engage in, too, such as AA meetings.

According to Alice Fleming, director of the Mission Cottage, the building that the cottage is located in was formerly a “crack house” in a “banished neighborhood,” but now is used to serve the community. She said the Mission Cottage is truly a place “for the church, but not in the church.”
A typical day at the Mission Cottage sees about 35 children. Kids start their homework and receive help from teachers through tutoring, plus do arts and crafts, play on the computer and go outside. A Girl Scout representative will occasionally come to teach kids, and sometimes adults, nutrition.

The mission seeks to provide church for the unchurched and improve the quality of living for those in need in the community, she said.

Trinity and Mount Carmel UMCs provide donations to help programs such as Latch Key, an after-school tutoring program where students are taught by volunteers and retired schoolteachers.

The Rev. Carol Cannon, Trinity co-pastor with her husband, Robert, said the success rate has been high, and it doesn’t simply provide a safe haven for children.

“It builds their character by providing a structured environment where they continue to learn after school is out,” Cannon said.

Fleming said kids involved in Latch Key improve not only in school, but also in their attitudes.

“Our goal is to enhance our young people,” Fleming said.

Children are also provided with a hot full-course meal before going home. According to Fleming, for many, that is the only hot meal they will receive that day. During the summer, they also receive a free lunch.

Fleming said the program also tries to help protect children in the neighborhood while giving them a stable environment.

“It’s like a home. The kids don’t feel like they’re in an institution,” Fleming said.

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