Charles "Charlie" Ness sends out church bulletins through the Franconia Mennonite Conference saying, "Anyone interested in working with prisoners meet at Skippack Meetinghouse on June 2nd." By pooling all interested people and resources available, the groundwork for Liberty Ministries begins to take shape. A steering committee is formed, chaired by Charlie, to look into the idea of getting a halfway house started. John Rush, director of Freedom Gate - a Mennonite halfway house in Reading, is sought to give advice and guidance.
Liberty Ministries incorporates in March of 1980 as a non-profit religious organization in Pennsylvania under the Franconia Mennonite Conference. This enormous step of faith and commitment is a culmination of much prayer and discussion.
Liberty Ministries procures a row house (pictured on right) in Philadelphia after an unsuccessful attempt to acquire an abandoned building on Cherry Street in Norristown. The Christian Center, an outreach of Liberty Ministries, opens at 3054 N. 5th Street in Philadelphia. Mennonite Disaster Service sends people to fix up the house and the center is opened in May. John Roman is appointed the first resident director. The program becomes two-fold in nature:
1. It helps prisoners to cope with society as a whole
2. It helps drug and alcohol abusers to kick their habits.
Young Glenn AlderferThe first Liberty Ministries Board of Directors is formed and consists of the following members:
Charles Ness, President, Upper Skippack Mennonite Church; Claude Wisler, Vice-President, Skippack Church of the Brethren; Al Karp, Secretary; Glenn Alderfer (pictured above), Treasurer; Lee Greaser, Ann Angelichio, and Gene Nellinger,
all of Towamencin Mennonite Church; Keith Heavener, Salford Mennonite Church; Ed McCafferty, Valley Forge Christian College; Floss Stephens, Lower Providence Baptist Church.
Montgomery County renovates Building 52 on the Norristown State Hospital grounds and begins to utilize the facility as a prison for women. Ann Angelichio joins Liberty Ministries as a staff assistant to organize the Sunday afternoon service and a weekly Bible study for the women in this newly formed "Women's Prison."
Amid growing frustration surrounding the poor location and distance of the Philadelphia facility from the local community, the Board begins to explore other options for a half-way house. Harold Nyce, a board member and local real estate investor, takes ownership of a large building in Schwenksville. His initial plan is to "flip" the property for a profit. However, he ultimately offers to rent a part of the building to Liberty Ministries for running its discipleship program. After much discussion by the board of directors, Liberty Ministries decides to accept Harold's offer and relocates to the current site at 565 Main Street, former site of the old Schwenksville Hotel. The building is in deplorable condition and barely habitable. Liberty House rents an apartment in the building and begins its ministry with just a few men. Karl Shisler is the first Resident Director of this new facility. He is later followed by Gene Nellinger, and then by Herb Brown.
Charlie Ness becomes the first Executive Director of Liberty Ministries. Because of his
position as a local pastor and sparse Ministry funds, Charlie works for Liberty Ministries on a part-time basis.
Conrad Moore is hired as Resident Director of Liberty House. Accompanied by his wife, Theresa, he serves the ministry for almost nine years. He leaves a tremendous legacy in his love for the men and his ability to mentor and disciple those that come through the Liberty House program. Conrad and Theresa leave Liberty House in the summer of 2000.
Tony Lapp becomes the first full-time Executive Director. Under his leadership, a plan is developed for the purchase of the current facility which is finalized in the spring of 1997. A capital campaign is initiated to raise funds needed for purchase of building and much needed renovations. A $25,378 annual operating budget for Liberty Ministries is approved by the Board.
Renovations begin on the Liberty House building at 565 Main Street. Many volunteers are enlisted to help replace the roof and build a kitchen and conference area for the residents. These initial renovations were completed in 1998. Significant renovations continue until 2004. Realizing that this ministry cannot survive on church donations alone, the Board decides to open Liberty Thrift as a means of helping to fund the ongoing work of Liberty Ministries. Ruth Mumbauer is selected as chairperson of the Thrift Store Operating Committee. Liberty Thrift officially opens in Schwenksville in 1998.
Bill and Nancy Shupp become Executive Director and Administrative Assistant for Liberty Ministries. During their brief tenure, the Ministry is computerized. Databases are created to track applicants and donors. Computer-based fiscal tracking systems are implemented. Also, policies and procedures for the Ministry are formalized and documented.
Mark Goins, a recent graduate of Philadelphia College of Bible, joins Liberty Ministries as Executive Director. His goals are to make Liberty Ministries a model for aftercare while providing strong leadership at a critical stage in the Ministry's development. Liberty Ministries begins a Pre- Release Preparation Program in the Montgomery County Correctional Facility, a collaborative effort between the chaplain, Prison Fellowship, and Yokefellow ministries as a means of better preparing inmates for life beyond incarceration and as a means of reducing recidivism in and around Montgomery County. Over the last five years, over 200 men have passed though the Pre-Release Preparation training. Liberty Ministries begins to provide training to all volunteers entering the Montgomery County Correctional Facility.
The success of Liberty Thrift and the need for additional retail space propels Liberty Ministries to consider an additional store. Liberty Thrift & Home Furnishings Opens in January of this year in the space occupied by the old Main Street Video store in Schwenksville. June Jones is the manager of both stores. Liberty Ministries approves a $155,000 operating budget for the year. Liberty Thrift provides about 18% of the total ministry budget. Liberty Ministries also begins to gain exposure and support from churches outside of the Franconia Mennonite conference network. The ministry is supported by over 300 churches, over 55 local businesses, and over 600 individuals.
Lack of parking and insufficient retail and storage space make it a challenge to accommodate a thriving thrift business in Schwenksville. Liberty Ministries begins to look for additional retail space. The owner of the old Homemart Hardware store in Collegeville is approached about leasing his building to Liberty Ministries. After months of dialog and negotiation, a suitable lease agreement is reached and Liberty Thrift and Home Furnishings opens in Collegeville in May under 8400 square feet of retail space.
The original Liberty Thrift store is kept in Schwenksville and is later converted to Little Liberty, a children's clothing and maternity shop. With most of the interior renovations complete on Liberty House, the Ministry can now accommodate 10 men in the nine-month residential program. Additionally, four apartments are available which can accommodate an additional five men in the Ministry's Post-Residential Support Program.
A new Liberty Thrift & Home Furnishings store opens in Gilbertsville. Little Liberty moves from Schwenksville to a larger facility in Collegeville. The ministry now operates three stores that provided about 35% of the ministries' annual operating budget of over $300K. The combined total sales of the three stores under the direction of Brian Jones exceed $700K! Liberty House hires a Program Director, Rick Young, who is participating in a graduate counseling program. This is an initial step towards having a certified drug and alcohol counselor on the Liberty House staff.
2006 & beyoond
Liberty Ministries is actively planning for the ability to support additional full-time chaplain's assistants at the Montgomery County Correctional Facility. We also see an aftercare support center that will assist ex-offenders in the community who are not eligible for our resident program but need assistance plugging into local social services. Our vision also includes an aftercare facility for women and a residential facility that will support 50 men.
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