New Directions Warming Center dedicated at Jacksonville Grace UMC


By Greg Olson
Jacksonville Courier-Journal
JACKSONVILLE -- As brightly colored balloons rose heavenward, dozens of people gave thanks for the blessings bestowed on New Directions of Jacksonville.

About 80 people turned out Sunday afternoon to dedicate a warming/cooling center for the homeless the local not-for-profit organization has opened in Grace United Methodist Church.

“It was heartwarming to see so many people who care to come out and join others in this dedication ceremony,” said Alan Bradish, the organization’s treasurer and the master of ceremonies at the dedication, which was held in Grace church’s west parking lot.

The warming/cooling center “is meeting a need in the community which had not been previously met,” Bradish said.

Grace church offered New Directions the use of some rooms in its west annex in January and the warming/cooling center opened Feb. 2.

“We have served about 35 people since we opened,” said New Directions president and center director Vanessa Tyus Fane. “Some of those individuals stay here regularly, some just want showers, some just want food and some just want personal hygiene bags.”

The center is open 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. every day, but it still needs volunteers, especially from 1 a.m. to 7 a.m., as well as donated meals for the homeless, according to Fane.

She added that a grant has been sent to the United Way seeking assistance for stipends for volunteers to man the center.

Nevertheless, Fane said the organization is thankful for all it has thus far received.

“We are grateful for the center and I thank God for Grace church stepping up to the plate,” she said.

Bradish said the organization wanted a permanent warming/cooling center from the beginning.

“It appeared that the best we were going to do was three separate locations, which would require the shelter being moved at least three times every week,” he said. “That was less than desirable, but doable.”

And then Grace put out the welcome mat for the organization. Something Grace Pastor Mike Fender said fits the church’s mission.

“As society is changing, churches and young people are looking for depth,” Fender said. “They want to do something of worth. They want it to matter.

“This warming/cooling center is very much a part of our Wesleyan culture. We are to practice acts of mercy, acts of piety. These are put into practice through five things: radical hospitality, passionate worship, intentional faith development, risk-taking mission and service and extravagant generosity,” Fender said. “This is what we need to be about. This is the church in action.”

The warming/cooler center is located in two former Sunday school classrooms and a former choir room at the church. Those activities have been relocated to other parts of the church.

Fane and Fender both spoke at the dedication ceremony, as did Alderwoman Michelle Hinchen, who represented the city of Jacksonville; and Illinois College art professor Jeff Garland, who introduced four of the five advanced painting class students who designed a logo for New Directions. One of the designers was unable to attend.

“What touched me the most was when the art students explained how they came up with the idea for the logo,” Fane said.

The logo represents many things, but especially the heart, compassion and the direction of the center, Fane said. “The logo is awesome.”

The ceremony concluded with the attendees forming a large circle, local ministers and others offering a blessing and the release of prayers attached to balloons.
(Reprinted with permission from the April 4 issue of the Jacksonville Courier-Journal,