“The rain is going to stop in three minutes,” Knight said. “Just wait. We haven’t been rained out in four years.”
By 9:15, the sun shining through the clouds affirmed the ministry’s motto: “It never rains on Renovation.”
Eleven college interns and 16 youth, who traveled to Anniston for the week from Selma, gathered in the parking lot to form a dance circle and everyone began a passionate round of chanting and singing.
“This is what we call the send off,” said Chris Terrell, director and founder of Renovation Ministries. “It sets the tone for the day.”
Renovation Ministries is a non-profit ministry in Anniston that invites youth and adults from churches across the country to spend a weekend during the year or a month during the summer ministering to children in low-income neighborhoods in Anniston and Oxford.
Terrell, a former youth pastor, founded the ministry four years ago after his experience with neighborhood ministries in Memphis, Tenn., inspired him to create a movement back home in Alabama.
“We just saw a need right here in our own community,” said Terrell. “We thought, ‘What can we do to make a positive impact on these kids’ lives so they can experience something that’s hopeful and joy-filled?’”
The unique ministry offers several types of mission experiences that put students, youth and adults right on the streets of Anniston and Oxford’s low-income housing developments. During each week of the 10-week summer program, Terrell and Knight lead college interns as they facilitate mission activities for youth groups. Since the program began, Terrell estimates the ministry has brought in more than 2,000 people from seven states.
“The return rate is phenomenal,” said Terrell. “The two keys to our transformation are care and consistency.”
On a typical summer morning, the group ventures out into Cooper Homes, Washington Homes and Parkwin Homes in West Anniston and Don and Lee Trailer Park in Oxford where they knock on doors to retrieve children.
“One thing that makes us unique is that we actually go out and get these kids. We don’t make them come to us,” said Terrell. “We are out here everyday because we care.”
Once the children are gathered, the interns and youth lead the children in Bible study, crafts and games until lunchtime. Terrell says it is inspiring to see how the children begin to remember names and faces.
“We’ve really started to build trust with them,” said Terrell. “I don’t think we fathom the darkness some of these kids have to live in.”
In the afternoons, the youth and interns are divided into groups where they visit boys and girls clubs throughout the city, clean the church facilities and mow the lawns of each of their four neighborhood sites. Terrell says the ministry reaches an average of 150 at-risk kids per week.
“Everyone that participates is changed,” Terrell said.
Both the interns and youth sleep and eat at the church, where bunk beds and showers have been installed specifically for the ministry. Twyla Knight’s son Alex has been an intern with the program for three years and said he can’t imagine spending his summers doing anything else.
“My favorite part is my relationship with the kids,” said Alex. “It’s the best thing anybody could ever want to do.”
Brandon Hand is taking summer classes at UAB while interning with the ministry. Hand’s desire to serve stems from his experience with the program as a youth group member.
“Four of us came for one weekend and then we came down again for another weekend two weeks later,” Hand recalls. “We just couldn’t stay away.”
In addition to the summer program, the ministry offers weekend retreats and customized mission trips throughout the year. Terrell describes a Renovation weekend as a retreat and mission trip combined. Custom Renovation allows groups to create their own mission project anywhere in Calhoun County.
“We do a lot for the city’s parks and recreation department,” said Terrell. “We do everything from city cleanup to mowing lawns for the elderly.”
The ministry also partners with area churches to operate Thanksgiving and Christmas meal programs where volunteers serve hot meals to more than 300 community members in need. Terrell said that this fall, the ministry will launch its “100 for 100” campaign with the goal of getting 100 churches to donate $100 a month to the ministry for one year.
“The more churches we can get to donate for the cause, the more revenue we can turn back around in the ministry,” Terrell said.
In 2010, the ministry acquired the abandoned Downtowner Inn on Quintard Avenue but today the site remains unused with a “coming soon” sign. Terrell says he hopes to eventually acquire the funds to redevelop the hotel as the ministry’s primary facility.
For now, Terrell and his team’s priorities are keeping the chain of transformation alive between adults, students, youth and local children.
“Our ultimate goal,” he says, “is that we are going to spend the next 15 to 20 years with these children and stay with them throughout each year.”