‘The need is great’
By Erika Wurst firstname.lastname@example.org October 26, 2013 8:08PM
The Sideway in front of the Wayside Cross Ministries Building is closed off to the public as a Material Handler removes debris from the demolished Wayside Cross Ministries building at 215 E. New York Street in Aurora, IL on Wednesday, October 23, 2013 | Sean King / For Sun-Times Media
Updated: November 28, 2013 6:41AM
A new chapter has officially begun for Wayside Cross Ministries in Aurora.
On Friday morning, local dignitaries helped break ground at the New York Street building, which will be transformed over the next year into a new haven for struggling residents seeking change in their lives.
“The need is great. Being the second largest city in Illinois, we can never get enough help,” said state Rep. Linda Chapa LaVia (D-Aurora). “(Wayside Cross) has definitely served a need in the community that government can’t even serve. I don’t think we have anything close to (Wayside).”
Which is why Wayside Cross Executive Director James Lukose is so thrilled about the project, which involves turning the more than 100-year-old building into a new living facility and counseling center for men in the ministry’s Master’s Touch Program.
“This is historical,” Lukose said of the nearly $8 million renovation project. “We are taking a new direction. It is a new era, and we are thankful, excited and thrilled.”
Out with the old
Demolition on the old main building at the site began last week, and when the building comes down, a new 48,000-square-foot, four-story structure will rise from its ashes.
It was almost a decade ago that Wayside Cross directors began debating the building’s future. They looked at the cost of remodeling their facility vs. 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.
He said the new facility will better serve the program’s 90-some residents, who commit to a six-month program that addresses spiritual, vocational, educational and social needs.
“There is a tremendous positive spirit (among the men). Ultimately, this is about them,” Lukose said of the project. “Recovery begins only when they feel secure. This will be a more secure, comfortable place for them 12 months from now.”
Current living conditions are dismal. The dark, drabby confines are hardly a place where one would expect such great change to occur. 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 small, unequipped rooms throughout the facility.
During the project, the men will be served through another building on the site until the new structure is finished.
When the new building is complete, the men will be better suited for recovery, Wayside Cross officials said. A learning center, a library, multiple counseling rooms and new dormitories will all lend themselves to the program’s main purpose. New offices will help house additional staff members the ministry also plans to bring on board.
“This is constructive destruction,” Lukose said of the demolition. “We cannot cling on. We cannot achieve the future by clinging to the past. We are looking to the future, learning from the past, pushing forward, and expecting something bigger and better.”
Demolition is expected to take approximately two weeks, and then the foundation for the new building will be laid, Lukose said.
“From there, everything will fall into place,” he said.
Paying for the work
Funds have been completely secured for the project, although Wayside Cross had to take out a line of credit for $1.1 million. That hole is expected to be filled during the ministry’s public phase of the Bridge To Life campaign, which will begin early next year.
“We will be appealing to everyone who could even send $5 to $10 toward this,” he said. “A lot of people are not big on brick and mortar. They want to give for need, but not for a building.”
What they must understand, Lukose said, is that the building helps the needs of each resident.
“The new building will be more geared to help prepare guys in our situation,” program participant Luis Cintron said this summer in anticipation of the project. “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.”
The Master’s Touch program houses and feeds each man for just $12 per day. This amount will not substantially change when the new facility is open, Lukose said. By comparison, the per-day costs of programming and housing for a man in prison is $300, in rehab centers $400 and in hospitals $2,200.
Plenty of support
Aurora Mayor Tom Weisner has been a huge supporter of the ministry.
“I think Wayside Cross has been a faithful purveyor of tough love for many decades. When it comes down to dealing with people who have made some wrong choices, that tough love is the best recipe for changing that,” he said. “They have a proven way of doing things and a proven track record.”
Chapa LaVia agreed.
“Wayside Cross has been a true partner in our community. They see an issue and fill a void. I am really excited to see their next 50 years, and what they become,” Chapa LaVia said. “I welcome any new additions, and anything they can do to provide more services in our community for men and women.”
Lukose said that depending on the severity of this winter, and whether construction can continue to take place through those months, a grand opening is expected in December 2014.
For Weisner, the amount raised to date by Wayside Cross is testament to the faith people have in the project.
“The number of people who came forward and gave small and large sums of money to help Wayside Cross achieve its goal and continue its mission is testament to their success,” he said. “I think it shows that in Aurora, doing good is still a popular thing.”
For more information, or to donate to, the Bridge to Life campaign, visit: http://www.waysidecross.org/about/BridgeToLife.php