Helping neighbors at the Melting Pot

ROBERT HOUK • SEP 23, 2019 AT 6:59 PM

Leaders of Munsey Memorial United Methodist Church’s Melting Pot Ministries say residents of the nearby John Sevier Center are more than just neighbors — they are family.

The downtown church has developed a close bond with the staff and people who live there, one going back 30 years when a deadly fire on a frigid Christmas Eve saw the church and its parishioners pressed into emergency service.

An area near the sanctuary was opened to give victims and firefighters shelter from the bitter cold.

“It started in 1989 with the fire,” said Jean Stead, who oversees the church’s Melting Pot Ministries. “That’s when we realized our mission. The church decided not to move to the suburbs, but remain an anchor in the downtown.”

As a result, Stead said Munsey has sought to “both love and help our neighbors” who live in the John Sevier Center and in the downtown area. One way of doing that has been the Melting Pot, which in partnership with Good Samaritan Ministries and volunteers from 26 churches across the region, offers the Our Daily Bread program that feds breakfast and lunch weekdays at the church.

The Melting Pot offers the Shepherd’s Breakfast on Saturday mornings, and an Open Door worship on Sunday mornings.

“It’s all about building relationships,” Stead said.

Over the years, the Melting Pot has sponsored such events for John Sevier residents as bingo and movie nights, football trivia and even providing manicures.

“We’ve grown together over the years to build better relationships,” the Rev. Patty Muse, an associate pastor at Munsey, said of the friendships created between church members and John Sevier residents.

A New Path

The church is currently helping the residents of the John Sevier Center embark on a new journey that will take them to better housing elsewhere in the city. The Johnson City Development Authority has purchased the historic 95-year-old former hotel with plans to update building and eventually sell the building to an upscale developer.

That means John Sevier’s 150 tenants would be relocated to what JCDA officials say will be housing units with more green space and better amenities than where they are living now.

“We are walking alongside the residents of the John Sevier Center and members of the JCDA,” Muse said.

She said the church has been working to “interpret” the needs and desires of John Sevier residents to JCDA officials. In February, Melting Pot leaders and John Sevier tenants met at the church to discuss the JCDA’s plans and to discuss what they would like to see in new housing.

Residents said they have come to depend on the community resources and church support they can find in the downtown area. They noted many John Sevier residents do not drive, which means they must rely on public transportation services to get around.

Tenants have told Melting Pot leaders those same services would be vital in a new location. Residents would also like to see more green space, better security, individual washer/dryer hookups, a grocery store and picnic areas close to any new housing.

“We feel called to met their spiritual as well as their physical needs,” Muse said. “Our mission is to validate their worth, not to marginalize them, and to help the JCDA meet their needs as human beings.”

Lending A Hand 

The Melting Pot serves more than just John Sevier residents. The ministry’s feeding programs are open to all who are in need. Nonetheless, John Sevier residents have come to count on the Melting Pot, as well as services offered by Good Samaritan Ministries and The River, a women’s ministry operated by First Presbyterian Church at 125 W. Main St.

“We get a lot of women from John Sevier who come here to do their laundry because it is cheaper and we have cleaning supplies,” said Stacy Larsen, who is executive director of The River. “Hopefully, when they move they will be on the bus route and still able to come here.”

Aaron Murphy, the executive director and chief executive officer of Good Samaritan Ministries, said plans to relocate John Sevier residents to new homes is a “big win for the community.” He said deteriorating conditions in the former hotel makes living there increasingly unacceptable.

“I advocate for our neighbors in need to have better living conditions,” Murphy said. “We have what it takes to do that in this community.”

Bobby Owens has lived in the John Sevier Center since January 2017. He has nothing but “good things” to say about the staff of the John Sevier and the people who lend him help from the Melting Pot. Owens said he likes living at the John Sevier, but knows it’s a “very old building.”

He also said he wouldn’t mind living in newer housing. Wherever he goes, Owens said he hopes to continue to see the kind of support he is given at the Melting Pot.

“They help everybody,” Owens said recently while eating sausages and gravy at the Melting Pot served by volunteers from Gray United Methodist Church. “Just look around here. You can see it.”

Tenants say John Sevier Center is like a ‘town’

ROBERT HOUK • FEB 18, 2019 AT 6:46 PM

Tenants of the John Sevier Center said Monday their low-income housing facility is like a community, and residents consider themselves part of a big family.

Jean JS

One woman described the historic downtown building as “our little town” during a meeting of John Sevier residents, officials with the Johnson City Development Authority and staffers from Munsey Memorial United Methodist Church in the church’s Christian Life Center.

“We’ve go a lot of good people there trying to help out each other,” she said.

Several of the 12 John Sevier Center residents in who spoke Monday said they were apprehensive about what would happen to them with the JCDA’s plans to buy the 10-story facility, update the 94-year-old building, relocate its150 tenants to new housing and eventually sell the structure for a more upscale development.

“It’s like breaking up a family,” one woman said during the question-and-answer session. “It might be a dysfunctional family, but it’s a family.”

Another tenant said he likes “everything” about the John Sevier Center, and does not care for the anxiety he and other residents now feel knowing their time in the former hotel may be coming to an end. He also told JCDA officials he felt it was unfair that the center was itself was being blamed for the number of homeless and drug problems in the downtown area.

“Surely the city knows homeless people will be here regardless,” he said.

Another resident, who said she was once homeless herself, said the John Sevier Center has been a “godsend.”  She and other residents at the meeting praised the center’s management, as well as the help they receive from staffers of Munsey’s Melting Pot Ministry and the church’s associate pastor, Patty Muse, who also attended Monday’s meeting.

Residents said they have come to depend on the community resources and church support they can find in the downtown area. They noted many John Sevier residents do not drive, which means they must rely on public transportation services to get around.

Tenants also said those same services would be vital in a new location. Residents said they would like to see more green space, better security, washer/dryer hookups, a grocery store and picnic areas close to any new housing.

Dianna Cantler, JCDA’s liaison from the Northeast Tennessee Regional Economic Partnership, said the John Sevier Center project will take several years to get to its final stage, and assured residents Monday the JCDA wanted to include them in every step. Cantler said the feedback that she and others collected at the meeting would be used by developers to design new housing for residents.

“We  want to keep the lines of communication open,” Cantler said.

The Washington County Commission is expected to vote on a $4.5 million tax increment plan Monday to allow the JCDA to purchase the John Sevier Center and make needed repairs to the building.