By: Katie Sobiech
“Are those all of your belongings?” Perry Clark, Director of Truly Reaching You Ministries (TRY) asked, looking at a small plastic bag and a tiny Bible lying on the table.
“That’s it,” a homeless man being interviewed to move into one of TRY’s transitional homes replied.
This particular man had been wandering from place to place, describing one of the places he slept as “one of them vacant lots where the grass is.”
He also had a little blanket, but someone stole it while he was sleeping.
Its men like this that Clark hopes to reach, giving them a “hand up” instead of a “hand out”. He does this by offering those who are coming out of prison a place to stay, and showing them how their lives can be transformed by the power of God. By doing this he says “It amazes me to see how their lives change.They’re trusting in God, and it’s just the power of God. I tell them, ‘We’ve tried everything ourselves, but let’s try God, let’s try Jesus… we’ve tried everything else but have we really tried Jesus wholeheartedly?”
Clark, once in prison himself, has made it his business to reach out to men who’ve been recently released. It all began in 1998 after having a dream. In this dream he saw an old friend of his buying liquor. When the friend saw Clark he said, “Man you’re doing so good, you look so good!”
“You know what, you can do good too,” Clark responded “just take that 40 ounce back to the store.”
It was in that same dream that God questioned Clark, asking him “What are you doing?”
So he asked himself ‘What am I really doing to help someone?’
From that point forward he felt a strong call on his life to reach out to those who are so often labeled and rejected by society – sometimes for the rest of their lives. He wants to offer them a second chance, and the love and support that they need, but don’t often get. He does this by not only offering men a home to live in, but community service opportunities, Bible studies, and various other opportunities to get them back on their feet.
When a man gets out of prison, he is offered little to no opportunity. This is why Clark finds it crucial to help the men who are getting out of prison and have nowhere to go to find housing. With this in mind he has established 3 transitional homes (several more are in the process of being cleaned up). He purchased the first home in 2004 with his own funds, and in 2006, he began bringing men in. It took 2 ½ years to remodel, filled with many late nights for Clark. He would go straight to the house after work to fix things up, staying as late as 2:30 in the morning.
At each home there are rules that the men must follow; such as being in by curfew, not bringing women into the home, becoming a member of a church and attending Bible studies and meetings. They must also be actively seeking employment.
A Divine Set Up
It’s evident that Clarks training for this task began years ago, during his stay at four different correctional facilities in Ohio. When in a prison in Mansfield he was presented with an opportunity to go out and rehab houses; and after three years he and his team put 11 homes together that were going to be destroyed. Those difficult days were perfect preparation for what he is doing today.
Remembering how blessed he felt when let out of prison on June 28, 1997 he realized the importance of having someone to come home to (his mom), and having friends and people that he could call. Also, not sticking himself in an environment that would suck him right back into what he used to do. So he thought, “Why not create housing that would give guys out of prison a better understanding of Gods love? To reach out and say ‘You know what, you can make it!’”
He believes that it is very important for the church and the Body of Christ to surround, love and embrace men that are coming out of prison so that they don’t fall back into what landed them in prison in the first place. They need accountability.
Giving a Hand Up
Steve Wewer, Associate Pastor of the Church of the Holy Spirit, who has come alongside Clark in this mission explained how difficult it is for guys to get decent paying jobs and to support themselves when they get out. “One of our guys was a supervisor of a small family owned rubber plant and his wife was working, but they still couldn’t support themselves.”
Between paying restitution, school loans and the daily cost of living they just can’t seem to break even. “Man I’m so stretched,” one of the men, recently out of prison and doing community service said, “I am so motivated to going back to drugs because at least I could break even. I could make a ton more money doing that.”
Another temptation the guys face – not working the system. “They have the constant pressure of not being able to pay bills, going further into debt and having to get hand outs from the church, which makes them want to go back to playing the welfare system,” Wewer explained.
Providing a home and an opportunity for them to get off of their feet is a huge benefit, making it possible for them to become independent and not having to rely on drug dealing or other illegal money making schemes. With the help of this ministry they can become functional citizens. “I used to have to stand on the corner and worry about having money in my pocket,” one man who was helped by the ministry said.
Not anymore. He now has a job, a relationship with God, and is spending all the time that he can with his kids to make up for the years lost to drugs and alcohol.
A Trip to the Oriana House
On this particular morning it was pouring rain, but rain or shine, Clark stays on task. Walking up to the doors of the Oriana House, a half way house in Akron, you could see guys lined up and waiting for Clark. As one man opened the door, an overwhelming amount of greetings were showered upon Clark. One young man immediately walked up to him, asking if he had a bike – he had just gotten a job at McDonalds and had no other way of getting there.
Every Monday, Wednesday and Saturday, you will find Clark along with a couple of other men picking up guys at the Oriana House to complete a variety of tasks. They do landscaping, remodel houses, and complete other tasks that provide job readiness skills. They are shown the love of Christ. “We seek to build a relationship with the guys when they’re out,” Clark said.
While staying at the Oriana House the men are required to find employment, but many are not willing to hire ex felons. Plus, the more serious the charges, the harder it becomes to get a job.
For this reason, Clark recently partnered with Wewer in order to find the guys employment. Wewer has been working alongside Clark for about a year now; and after many years of working in the corporate world – he knows a thing or two about job placement.
Not only does Clark work with Wewer and the Church of the Holy Spirit, but he has been working with other ministries, including C.O.R.E. (Community Outreach Resources Center). C.O.R.E.’s furniture decorates many of the TRY homes, and in return, Clarks’ men help out at C.O.R.E.’s warehouse.
TRY also works with Kingdom Builders, He Brought us Out, True North, and Heart to Heart – all ministries in the Akron area. Clark often gets calls from other ministries and churches, who request help from his men which he sends out to do community service.
However, its not just ministries have helped. A local business owner just donated a house to TRY and he is also giving them space in his company’s warehouse to hold their materials. “See how God is bringing these connections together?” Wewer smiled, “Perry has skills that I don’t and I have skills that he doesn’t, and so if we come together we become the Body of Christ, where the burden can be light and the yoke can be easy.”
In addition, men that have done community service TRY in the past still call to see if they need any help, because they want to give back. Some of the guys have even done over and beyond what was required of their community service – putting in up to 300-600 hours, when only 40 were required.
Clarke and his team are already dreaming ahead. “We’re looking to hopefully have a lawn care service as this keeps growing,” Clark said.
By next spring they want to hire men and give them paid jobs until they find something better. They also want to do more staffing; making contacts with companies who will hire felons with the harder charges. “If they don’t get a job, it’s only going to draw them back to their crime,” Clark explained.
They also thought of having a deli, which would be opened after hours due to the fact that when people come out of addiction it’s really hard because they are accustomed to staying up late at night, then all of a sudden they run out of things to do. There would be a Christian library and TV set up for them to hang out and meet other likeminded individuals.
How You Can Help
Their vision is big. If you would like to help the ministry in any way – they have many needs including; financial, building materials, dumpsters, relationship building (companies who are willing to supply supplies/services/or hire men), lunches for the men, and work boots.
“If we wait patiently for God to bring the connections, then a God sized thing could happen,” Wewer said, “A God sized thing could transform the families of the inner city and this neighborhood; planting one Christian family at a time in this neighborhood, to take it back for families versus for drugs and crime.”
If you are interested please call (330) 785-9394 or visit our website at: trulyreachingyou.com/