Many of you may recall reading Amanda Coyne's July 21 article about the Jumpstart Prison Ministry in this newspaper.
Amanda accompanied me to Allendale Correctional Institution to see firsthand what this program looks like, up close and personal - and behind bars. Her story described the commitment of the men and women in prison who are working to take advantage of the life-changing opportunity Jumpstart presents.
It is very exciting to see the way this program is "breaking the back of recidivism" in South Carolina, saving the state tens of millions of dollars by reducing the number of prisoners, and therefore reducing the demand for prison beds, guards and infrastructure. Most of Jumpstart's work has been in the Upstate, where its Spartanburg headquarters is located. Greenville and Spartanburg counties are the first and third, respectively, in terms of the number of ex-offenders returning to society - hence Jumpstart's foundation in the Upstate. They are very strong there now, with a network of employers who prefer Jumpstart employees because of their positive attitudes, work ethic and determination to live productive lives.
For the past 12 months, we have been building relationships and friendships in the greater Charleston area. Charleston County is No. 2 in terms of offenders released and coming back into the community. Thus, it makes good sense to try to tackle Charleston next.
The three things that cause most people to recommit crimes are: 1) They have no place to live; 2) They cannot get employment; 3) They don't have anyone to help them or mentor them.
Jumpstart is actively working to solve all three problems. In Charleston, we have been presented with the promise of many jobs, as business people have said they are open to hiring men and women. And we have lots of churches and business people willing to support ex-offenders with mentoring and support. But the one thing that has been the most elusive is good supportive transitional housing. Property in the Charleston area is very hard to secure.
Last year, a team from our company, Custom Development Solutions, worked hard to get Jumpstart on the list of "approved nonprofits" with the National Community Stabilization Trust, meaning the NCST would begin to offer us homes which had been foreclosed on by the major national banks.
Our patience and diligence finally paid off, and we were given a home in North Charleston several months ago. Unfortunately, however, Jumpstart cannot use the home because it is too close to a school and a day care center. Many of the Jumpstart graduates have some kind of sexual charge on their records that requires them to register on the sex offender's registry. They are forbidden to live within 1,000 feet of a day care center or a school.
Thus, Jumpstart was awarded a property, but could not use it. It also was restricted from selling for profit since the National Community Stabilization Trust has strict rules against "flipping" homes.
All Jumpstart leaders and volunteers were crushed by that sad news. We thought about it and prayed about it, and decided we wanted to see it used by someone who really needed it, and someone who deserved it.
We decided to give it to Clay Hampton, whose home burned down on March 23, 2014. The Post and Courier published several articles (April 11, June 3, Nov. 28) explaining how Clay lost everything, including $50,000 worth of athletic equipment used by the Charleston semi-pro football team, the Charleston Blazing Hawks, that Clay founded and coached.
Since Jumpstart cannot use the house at 2786 Ranger Road for transitional housing, and yet wants to help the community, it is selling it at a bargain price to Clay. This incredibly deserving community leader, now 72, has been living in a storage room in the back of a restaurant in North Charleston ever since his home burned down. Jumpstart will sell this handsomely restored home to Clay for a nominal amount after the renovations. This will be done with a very small first mortgage. The property will be further protected with a second mortgage which will be forgiven over a period of time, perhaps 10 years, in equal amounts. This protects Jumpstart, ensures that taxes and insurance are paid (and is exactly what Habitat for Humanity does to protect its interests). Ultimately, as long as Clay makes his very modest payments and pays the taxes in a timely manner, the home will belong to him and his heirs.
We will rehabilitate this home through a Jumpstart community service project planned Saturday and Sunday. We have 10 men (Jumpstart Program graduates) coming from Spartanburg to work on the house and make some significant renovations. We have local volunteers who are planning to participate as well.
We are grateful that our friends at the S.C. Lutheran Retreat Centers' Coastal Retreat on the Isle of Palms have agreed to provide rooms for the men from Spartanburg. We will have a dinner for them at the Retreat Center each night, with fellowship and prayer. If you would like to came and participate, or volunteer to help with food or whatever, you are more than welcome. You can be sure that the time will be well spent and fulfilling.
I have had the good fortune to be able to take Jumpstart founder Tim Terry to meet several hundred leaders in the Lowcountry to prepare the way for a running start for our ministry expansion in 2015 here in the Charleston area.
If you want to know more or you would like to contribute in any way, please contact me at my office. Peace and blessings to you all, as we ring in the new year with a weekend in service to our brother Clay Hampton.
David G. Phillips is president of Custom Development Solutions, Inc., in Mount Pleasant.