By Brett Hetherington*
What can you do with a vacant car dealership?
With some work, and a lot of volunteers you can convert an old building that sold and repaired cars into a place that provides a positive impact for the people of the community. That is exactly how J.I.M.’s Place came into being – and its impact on New Philadelphia has been remarkable.
J.I.M.’s Place is a ministry of First United Methodist Church (Tuscarawas District) in New Philadelphia. The name J.I.M.’s Place stands for Jesus In Ministry, and the goal is to serve the community in the name of our Lord and Savior. J.I.M.’s Place is a mission space serving the Tuscarawas County community through programming, free space, and social services. J.I.M.’s Place is also a first-year Advance Special Ministry of the East Ohio Conference.
Rev. Brandon Keck shares that the building is used regularly. “There are two Alcoholics Anonymous meetings here every week. We have had groups from the community rent out the space for private functions, and until recently we hosted a weekly youth outreach here in the building.”
The building has been utilized by the library as a space for patrons during construction on its own building, the open hall space has hosted many receptions, birthday parties, and for a time there was even a class teaching English to the many Guatemalan immigrants living in the area.
Today one of the primary programs that runs out of the front portion of J.I.M.’s Place is the twice-weekly Clothing Closet. Originating in the early 1980s, this outreach provides free gently-used clothing to anyone who needs it every Wednesday evening and Saturday morning. Clothing Closet Coordinator Tim Billiter said, “We give away probably between 400 and 500 items each time we are open. My goal is to pump it through here and get it out there.”
Billiter also has a unique perception of the ministry that the Clothing Closet provides. “I like to look at it as an opportunity to be involved relationally with the people who come through, get to know them, love them, let them realize that Christ loves them – make it more about a ministry of Christ and His love than just giving them free stuff. That’s nice, Jesus fed them, but He also looked to feed their spirits, and help them understand that their sins can be forgiven, and their names can be written down in the Lambs Book of Life through Him.”
This perspective is not lost on those who come through the doors into this unique vision of church. Though few were willing to give a quote or identify themselves by name, every person inside the walls of J.I.M.’s Place on the Saturday morning I visited was quick with a smile. “I feel loved every time I come here” shared one woman as she searched for a pair of jeans for her husband to wear for work. Another woman with child in tow spoke of how grateful her family was that the Clothing Closet exists, and she is not certain how her family would be able to keep themselves clothed otherwise.
“We try to meet the needs as best we can,” said Iva Riggle, a long-time volunteer who has been with the Clothing Closet since its early days before J.I.M.’s Place existed.
With the limited space allocated to the Clothing Closet, storage can become an issue. “Sometimes we get more clothes than we know what to do with,” Billiter said.
Excess items that J.I.M.’s Place cannot process are often donated to other ministries such as Redbird Ministry in Kentucky, Rekindle Ministry in Yorksville and the Church of Christ in New Philadelphia. What the Clothing Closet is able to distribute itself tallies approximately 45,000 items a year. Riggle told me, “We give away a lot that we don’t even keep count of,” such as clothes and other items that fall outside the realm of pants, shirts and coats.
J.I.M.’s Place is serving the community of New Philadelphia in tangible ways, and the church has visions for the future as well. “Right now, we are looking at J.I.M.’s place and saying, ‘what can we do?’” Keck told me. There are dreams of expansion for the Clothing Closet ministry, and partnerships with other programs in the community. There is a Zumba class that currently uses the building that could open more doorways for J.I.M.’s Place.
Jeff Fahner serves as an overseer for J.I.M.’s Place, and he shared that the church’s United Methodist Men’s group will be installing new lighting in the Clothing Closet space along with updating the ceiling. He also shared that the building continues to be used by other organizations and individuals for many different events throughout the year. As he succinctly put it, “It’s all here for somebody to use.”
J.I.M.’s Place is an investment for First United Methodist Church.
“At the beginning of the year when we open the doors to the building we are committing to the $25,000 annual cost of running this building,” Keck said. The church sees there is value in J.I.M.’s Place, and the community has benefitted greatly. There is much space to be utilized, and the opportunities for ministry and partnership are great. The dream is alive, and people are lining up.
Learn more about J.I.M.’s Place and all East Ohio Conference Advance Specials on the East Ohio Conference website at https://www.eocumc.com/finance/advance-special.html.
If you have a story of how God is using your local church to transform the community, please contact us at email@example.com. The East Ohio Conference Communications team wants to tell your story.
*Brett Hetherington is the Communications specialist for the East Ohio Conference of The United Methodist Church.