Thursday, May 26, 2005

City Hall fills for Teen Challenge hearing

By SUE WATSON
Staff Writer

A public hearing last week for rezoning of the old Holly Springs nursing home property drew a room full of interested parties and passionate comment.

The facility was donated to Teen Challenge Mississippi by the owners of Trinity Mission who opened a top-of-the-line senior care facility just down the highway.

Virgil Scherff, pastor of Victoria Assembly of God, made a brief presentation about Teen Challenge, saying the faith-based organization wants to expand and the old facility will allow it to move the operations in Pascagoula to Holly Springs and add more clients.

Funded by donations from individuals and churches of varied denominations, Scherff said the 12-month, live-in program for females 18 and over, provides alcohol and drug rehabilitation for women.

Over 500 signatures in a petition for the facility were presented to the board of aldermen. Scherff said 60 or more signatures from people in agreement were collected from Ward 4 and the remainder from around the city.

For every 25 people who signed the petition one person refused to sign, he said. Also, community pastors from several churches signed the petition including the pastors at Latter Rain, First Baptist Church and Christ Temple, he said.

He said some individuals had a misconception that students would be allowed to walk the streets or be a danger to the community.

“They are not allowed to leave the premises without supervision,” he said.

Steve Bursey, executive director of Teen Challenge in Pascagoula, said the organization runs “a tight ship.” Students are drug tested upon returning from a visit to relatives. He said he believes the facility would help the city.

Prospective students undergo an intensive interview process and those who need services of a medical facility are not brought in unless they have been through detox.

He said no incidents have taken place in 25 years of operation of Teen Challenge in Pascagoula.

Ward 4 Alderman Nancy Hutchens asked Bursey if people with a medical background help staff the facility and if the facility is a lock down one or not. Mayor Andre’ DeBerry asked where the clients would come from.

“We are first and foremost Teen Challenge Mississippi,” Bursey said in answer to DeBerry’s question. “But we can take out-of-state students when they cannot find a bed in their own area.”

Three female staff live in the facility and a staffer is present at all times, he said. There are ordained ministers on the staff and all time and activities are tightly scheduled and adhered to, he said.

Bursey said the organization does not accept clients who are taking medications for mental disorders and are not weaned off those medicines by a physician first.

He said the organization would like to have medically trained people on staff but cannot afford to pay for it.

Prospective clients must take a physical and be screened for tuberculosis, hepatitis, AIDS and STDs, and pregnancy before they are admitted. Those with STDs are treated before they are admitted as well as any ones who require detox.

Alderman Tim Liddy asked if Teen Challenge accepts non-Christians.

“Sure we do,” said Bursey. “We want to Christianize them. Christ is our message. He is all 12 steps wrapped up in one, so to speak.

“We’re here to convert and disciple and make no bones about it.”

Mayor DeBerry opened the meeting up for public comment.

Bobby Fant was the first to speak.

“The program they’ve got sounds like a wonderful program,” he said. “We need it right here in our community. But we’re putting in the fastest developing residential area in the city.”

Fant said he believes residents do not want the facility at that location near a city park and in a residential neighborhood.

“Where there are women, there is going to be men,” he said.

“Wrong, that’s definitely wrong,” someone said without taking time to identify themselves.

Fant continued.

“And the percent of drug addicts that are rehabilitated is not very high,” he said, explaining that his information came from television reports.

“And there’s no taxes. They are not going to support Holly Springs,” Fant said.

Edythe Taylor, who followed Fant, appealed for the facility.

“We have homes right by the prison. And if you count, how many activities do we have at the park? But think about it, if we don’t do something about letting somebody help us. If it does not work out, they can sign something (a legal document) so they can leave.”

Taylor recalled a recovery group that appealed to the board of aldermen to use a scout hut owned by the city for meetings.

“I wonder where those people are now?” she said.

“They have, in fact, a present place where they meet,” DeBerry said.

Mrs. Bursey spoke of the facility in Pascagoula to address a statement made by Fant that no one would want to move near the facility.

“The facility in Pascagoula has a stellar lawn and grounds and building,” she said. “Our property is a witness to a community they can be proud of.”

Addressing another remark from Fant, she said, “Where there are women there are men, is not so. We do not allow students to have any visitation except nine (people) who they are slated to visit with, talk to on the phone or write letters to.”

She said the organization monitors and discourages male visitation of any kind. She said telephones are kept in a secure area behind locked doors and used only by the staff.

On a personal note, Mrs. Bursey complimented the city for its beauty and rich history.

“We would only want to add to that,” she said.

Steve Bursey added that the organization pays a utility bill and shops locally for all its food and personal care products needed by the clients.

He said two reports, one by the Department of Human Services, show statistics that 86 percent of students who complete the Teen Challenge program are still clean five years out.

“I do not propose to say we’re winning them all,” he said. “We would be good neighbors and a blessing to this community.

“These folks, the Lord put it in their heart to donate that facility to us. We believe it is a God send, whether you do or not.”

Alan Briscoe, with the national office of Teen Challenge, said other studies show good results as far as seven years out.

“It is one less person walking and potentially causing trouble,” he said.

Margaret Delashmit, with Rust College, spoke of the transfer of drug and alcohol toxicity to children.

“I am pretty sure we are teaching some of the children who were carried by their mothers doing drugs,” she said. “We have to make a decision. They are part of the human condition and these children are ours whether they are born black or white or Asian. We are a people.”

Delashmit said she became acquainted with Teen Challenge when she was a teen and the organization should be about 47 years old.

“It would not have lasted this long if it were a fly by night organization,” she said. “I do understand hesitation. But I do believe because I have seen it in other cities. I, Margaret Delashmit, I stand for Teen Challenge.”

W.A. McMillan agreed.

“I can’t see how we could let this pass us by and not support it 100 percent,” he said. “It is something that would help even if we get only 50 percent (recovery rate).”

Bill Fant spoke of the effect he believes the facility could have on property values.

“I live within sight of this facility being discussed and I go on record as firmly against it,” he said. He said he has property to develop in the area.

Another property owner sided with Fant although he agreed with Delashmit a drug and alcohol program is needed if it treated local clients.

“But I am firmly against its use as a shelter for drug and alcoholic women. It is not a good thing for my property values,” he said.

He also agreed the city park is not used very much, but said a rehab facility near it would not increase use of the park.

James Patterson argued that rehab programs help people who want help, not those who do not want help.

Johnny Heaston heated up about complaints about property values.

“Can we put a monetary value on these kids?” he asked, “And we’re sitting here talking about land values. These people - how can they go wrong - they’ve got God on their side.”

Melanie Lott said the facility is already in better condition than when it was turned over to Teen Challenge, all due to donations of effort as well as money.

She said the facility was “an eyesore and trashed, absolutely a wreck.”

Stephanie Osteen, new to Ward 4, said her family moved to the area with full knowledge that Teen Challenge was coming.

“I have no frets, no fear of my child. I’m more afraid of gang members than women,” she said. “In fact, I intend to have myself and my children helping.”

The board of aldermen voted to close the public hearing with Mayor DeBerry thanking those who supported and those who are in opposition to the proposed use of the old nursing home facility for their comments. The board will vote on the matter at a later date.

In other business, the board of aldermen:

  • heard a report from Information Technology director Ken Robinson. Recent activities in his department include discussions with consultants with the Tennessee Valley Authority about broadband over powerlines technology and service.

    Robinson is submitting several proposals to the U.S. Department of Labor and developing data security policies for the center at the request of the board and mayor.

    He said the center will no longer offer free programs and training but is expanding its certifications testing programs with colleges and universities.

  • discussed minutes of a recent planning commission which included a permit request from Oasis Consulting on behalf of Cingular Wireless. The provider wants to build a new tower on Clay Products Road.

    The board voted 3-2 to deny SkyMedia a variance to construct a KFC sign on the north side of U.S. 78 at the Holly Springs Exit to Craft Street. The board passed a moratorium on new billboards in the city limits in the 1990s, according to the mayor. The planning commission also denied SkyMedia a permit.

    Aldermen Nancy Hutchens and Tim Liddy opposed the variance for a sign saying that once the gap is open it would be difficult to deny other requests that surely would follow considering the development potential along U.S. 78 near that interchange.

    The board approved 5-0 a subdivision plat for Phase III of West Ridge Village subdivision. Twenty-two lots are included in this expansion.

  • heard a concern from Colhoun that police officers sometimes drive too fast when responding to a call. Police Chief Patricia Selman said she would discuss the matter with officers, but the topic brought up light-hearted talk and laughter when Colhoun and the Mayor told Selman to tell officers to drive fast when the call comes from their phone.
  • approved reappointment of Wonso Hayes to the Planning Commission and the appointment of Paul Lampley to the board of trustees of the Holly Springs School District.

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