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Wayside Cross plans to build in downtown Aurora

Wayside Cross Ministries Auroris expected get $7.9 millifacelift sothanks grants donations from community. The ministry was recently awarded $500000 grant

Wayside Cross Ministries in Aurora is expected to get a $7.9 million facelift soon, thanks to grants and donations from the community. The ministry was recently awarded a $500,000 grant from the Dunham Fund. | Erika Wurst~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: August 8, 2013 6:43AM

When it comes to transformation, James Lukose has seen it all.

As executive director of Wayside Cross Ministries in Aurora, Lukose has witnessed hundreds of men walk through the ministry doors tattered, battered and broken — and walk out with renewed hope in life.

For 85 years, Wayside Cross has been part of the community, providing shelter, safety, work training, religious guidance and mentorship to the downtrodden. Men from across Illinois come to Aurora, seeking a new beginning, and they have found that in the ministry.

But, as times change, so do the needs of the community, Lukose said, which is why he is pleased to announce that the ministry that has given so much is about to undergo a transformation of its own.

A $7.9 million project will soon take place, marking the start of a new era for Wayside Cross. The more than 100-year-old building, which houses more than 90 male residents and dozens of support staff members, will be demolished, and from those ashes a new facility will rise.

The building on New York Street served as a meat-packing facility before it served as a ministry for those in need. It is hardly equipped to handle the changing needs and growth of Wayside’s mission, officials there said.

The building is currently home to Wayside Cross’ Master’s Touch Program, a residential transformation ministry for those suffering from addiction. The men commit to a six-month program that addresses spiritual, vocational, educational and social needs.

“This new building is a demonstration that things are going further and progressing,” said 30-year-old program participant Luis Cintron. “That’s pretty cool.”

Thanks to generous donations from individuals and organizations, ground is expected to break soon on the new 48,000-square-foot facility.

Currently, the program’s 90-plus men are sleeping in cramped confines. There is only one room for individual counseling to take place in, and the basement dining hall isn’t large enough to feed everyone at once.

Classes are held in the chapel, and other small, un-equipped rooms throughout the facility.

“The building is not an answer [to these people’s problems], it is a tool,” Lukose said. “It is a very effective tool in our goal to transform lives.”

It was almost a decade ago that Wayside Cross directors began conjuring up thoughts for the building’s future.

They looked at the cost of a remodel versus the cost of a new building, and determined the latter would be most effective.

In 2008, a feasibility study was conducted that “gave us direction and confidence that, by the grace of God, this could happen,” Lukose said.

Shortly after, the economy tanked, and the dream seemed as if it might be put on hold.

“We either had to kill the project, keep it on hold or keep pushing. Once you lose momentum, it’s hard to get that back,” Lukose said. “We thought that it is God’s ministry, and God had led us this far, so we should keep pushing.”

Slowly yet surely, the persistence paid off.

A recent $500,000 grant from the Dunham Fund toward the “Bridge to Life” campaign put Wayside Cross over the top in terms of where it needs to be to begin construction.

A construction committee, with a combined experience of 200-plus years, is on hand to make sure everything goes as planned as soon as ground is broken.

Once permits are in place and bid are finalized, Lukose said construction will begin. It will take 12 to 14 months to complete the project. When it is complete, he said, Wayside Cross will be ready for another 85 years of service.

Multi-purpose meeting rooms, dormitories, resident staff rooms, a wellness center, kitchen and large dining hall are in the plans. Classrooms and private counseling rooms will help cater to the needs of residents.

“The new building will be more geared to help prepare guys in our situation,” Cintron said. “There are just some things this building doesn’t allow for. It will be a lot easier to focus on Bible work and studies when there aren’t [building issues] to take our focus off of them.”

For more information on the Wayside Cross Bridge to Life campaign, visit www.

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