By Charlene Oldham | Photography courtesy of City of Refuge for Men
The works of art from the City of Refuge are not only inspiring to those who buy them, but also to the men who create them.
It takes a lot of money to feed and house about a hundred people, but City of Refuge for Men relies on hard work over handouts to cover its costs.
The wake-up call comes at 5 a.m. for residents at the faith-based addiction recovery facility in Lucedale, Mississippi, where the day begins with a devotional reading, prayer and an hour of chapel each morning. The men also attend an hour of chapel each evening. In between, new residents spend most of their time in classes while those who’ve been in the program longer devote more time to mastering hands-on tasks in the wood shop, paint and body shop or one of the City of Refuge’s other work areas.
“They go to six years of church in six months, so there’s a lot of church,” said Sandy Delchamps, City of Refuge’s director and pastor. “But we do a lot of work around the facility because I feel a lot of people have never been taught any skills.”
Residents spend a minimum of six months in the program, which is free. But they are expected to put in work hours and participate in other parts of the program, which includes leadership training, mentoring groups, individual and group counseling sessions and community service, among other activities.
Some enter the program voluntarily. Others are assigned there by drug court judges, probation and parole officers and other officials, with about 30 men coming from nearby Harrison County. But the program accepts residents from across the country and is currently building a facility large enough to house 450 men. It also offers transitional housing options for those leaving the residential program. Although the nonprofit receives some donations, City of Refuge gets the majority of its funding from the goods and services its residents produce.
“So whatever we’re bringing in either helps run things or we’re putting it back into the ministry,” Delchamps said. “Our power bill is $5,000 a month, so we have to learn how to support ourselves – to take care of ourselves. And it teaches the men how to do that.”
Some of its most-popular products are the hand-painted crosses and plaques that bear Bible verses or inspirational sayings. The wood plaques are designed in the City of Refuge’s in-house design shop and are carved using a computer numeric control, or CNC, machine.
“People learn some design skills, some computer skills, and we also have an engraving machine that laser engraves some other items too,” Delchamps said. “We have people work in all different departments so they get an idea of how everything works.”
But it takes a while to master the machinery for those residents who’ve hardly hefted a hammer before coming to City of Refuge. Delchamps said they often start with scrap wood from the facility’s sawmill or donated pallets.
“Some guys have never read a tape measure before. So, we take old wood and turn it around to make crosses, and some discover skills they never knew they had.”
The City of Refuge sells its wares online. Residents also go out to visit local retailers and festivals or set up a table in front of big chain stores when the locations’ managers will let them. There, residents share their stories, which sometimes bring people who need help into the program. For instance, Delchamps says the current body shop supervisor is a program graduate whose mother first encountered City of Refuge residents selling crosses and plaques in front of a Walmart store.
The grassroots sales force also attracts interest from people like Claire Agner, who was inspired to support the residents’ recovery efforts after a couple of them came into her store offering some of their products for sale. Agner, who owns Commerce Street Market in Hernando, Mississippi, says she asked the men to share their stories and was so moved by them that she soon called the organization to learn more and place a bulk order. Today, her store carries plaques produced by the City of Refuge, including some that feature personalized touches like Hernando’s signature water tower.
“People love them because, not only are they supporting a great organization, they have a Bible verse that speaks to them and some also have a Hernando landmark,” said Agner, who loves the idea of supporting a Mississippi-based organization. “Just like that organization spoke to us because they are giving these men a second chance and they are part of this community.”
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