Healing Place Church in Baton Rouge is well-known for its service and outreach throughout the community and even the world.
“This is what God has called us to do and sometimes it puts you in the limelight a little more, but we work with some phenomenal churches that just do great things, and we could not do it without them,” said Claudia Berry, executive director of Healing Place Serve, a nonprofit organization that grew out of the church in 2010.
One of Healing Place Serve’s most important services is working with homeless youth — either by working with law enforcement and the state Department of Children and Family Services to come in contact with youth who have aged out of the state foster-care system or by hitting the streets in the 70805 ZIP code, a notoriously crime-ridden area in north Baton Rouge.
“People have no idea that there are homeless kids in Baton Rouge because you don’t see them under the bridge or on the side of the road, but they’re there,” Berry said.
One of several components of Healing Place Serve is the Anchor House (formerly This Amazing Place), a six-bed residential home. There are also plans for a new home on Government Street for as many as 12 youths.
“We take youths who are at-risk or homeless, and we provide them with housing, education, employment and life skills,” Berry said. “We’re developing something that will really make a difference in the lives of 70805 kids, kids aged out of foster care (and) kids who have been trafficked in the past.”
The housing program has received federal grants, but Berry said more is needed to help with the remodeling of the new home, expanding its after-school program and purchasing a van. Its major fundraiser is the This Amazing Place 2014 Gala set for 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 23, at the Renaissance Hotel, 7000 Bluebonnet Blvd.
The theme for the gala is “Unlock a future: You can be the key!”
“That’s our main fundraiser, but it’s also a matter of awareness,” Berry said of the event that will feature presentations, jazz music, a silent auction and a three-course dinner.
Berry, 65, said she was a math teacher for 12 years but really found her calling in fundraising and rallying others to share her passion for serving young people.
“I’ve had a great life,” the Baton Rouge native said. “I’ve great parents. I didn’t go through a lot of things that these kids go through. God has given me the ability to resource people that have on-the-ground passion. … I just have a heart to build up whatever program that is out there to help those that are most at-risk.”
Writing grants is one of the gifts God has given her, Berry said. “That’s my role: bringing people, getting the initial funding to start things and then let God take control,” she said.
Her passion makes it easy for Berry to go to work each day, she said.
“It is the most fulfilling thing you could ever do,” she said. “When you’re walking in what God has called you to do and it’s making a difference in someone else’s life, there’s no better feeling in the world.”
Berry said she’s also blessed with a staff of about 25 full-time and part-time workers, many of whom have been in the shoes of the young people they serve.
“A lot of people who are in our street outreach ministry are people who have been there, done that,” Berry said.
Healing Place operates the two-day-a-week after-school program for younger kids out of the Dream Center at its Winbourne Avenue campus.
The faith-based program is careful about proselytizing, but Berry said youth do find an opportunity to bond with people of faith.
“The two things that research teaches us is that kids need a hope for the future and a permanent connection with a positive role model. Everything is kind of centered around that,” she said.
All churches are called to serve, Berry said.
“(Serving) allows the church to get into the community and work with the community and serve the community where they need,” Berry said. “The church and I think each person is called to do what God has called us to do. And if we all do that, I think that’s how we build God’s kingdom.”
Special weekend for women
Betty Carter’s family didn’t understand why she married a prison inmate nine years ago. Carter initially had a hard time with the idea herself.
“They thought I had lost my mind. They didn’t understand why I was doing this,” she said. “I didn’t understand it either, but it was what God wanted me to do. I didn’t just jump up and marry this guy.”
Carter’s relationship with God and her incarcerated husband has allowed Carter to help minister to other women in similar situations.
The Baton Rouge woman is one of the driving forces behind a special Kairos Weekend set for Sept. 26-28 at Camp Istrouma, 25975 Greenwell Springs Road, Greenwell Springs. A closing ceremony is set for 2:15 p.m. Sept. 28.
The free event is for invited wives, girlfriends, mothers and sisters who have close relationships with incarcerated men.
“We try to show them that just because their loved ones are incarcerated doesn’t mean they are forgotten,” Carter said. “We just want to love all over them.”
Carter, 66, is the East Louisiana representative for Kairos Prison Ministry of Louisiana. Kairos is part of an international Christian organization ministry that addresses the spiritual needs of incarcerated men, women, youth and their families.
Thirty-nine women have been invited to Camp Istrouma for three days of discussions, relaxation, fun and entertainment.
“We get them to open up, and many of them just really break down because they just have gone through so much,” said Carter, a member of Praise Worship Center in Baker.
Carter knows that feeling. She said her family ostracized her.
“From my experience, I knew God had to take me through this” to be an advocate for women with incarcerated loved ones, she said. “So many people have turned their back on them. Their families have turned their backs on them, and friends and everyone else.”
Carter said she was bitter about her family situation and losing loved ones until she was the recipient of the love and support of others at her own Kairos weekend.
“I was angry at God, but then I went to this weekend and saw all the unconditional love,” she said. “They didn’t see me as being married to someone who was incarcerated; they saw me for me, and it made me feel different.”
Kairos has been a lifesaver for Carter, she said.
“I know that without a doubt, if it would not have been for this particular ministry, I don’t know where I’d be,” she said.
Carter met her husband, who is serving a life sentence, while visiting a cousin at Angola. Her first marriage of 20 years had ended in divorce. “I told him God was first in my life and if he couldn’t handle that, then don’t mess with me because I don’t have time to play,” she said.
God has allowed both members of the couple to work with the Kairos ministry.
“He ministers up there to the men, and I’m doing it out here. We’re both doing the same work, but we’re doing it in different areas. But it’s still powerful,” she said
Faith Matters runs every other Saturday in The Advocate. Terry Robinson can be reached at (225) 388-0238, or email firstname.lastname@example.org