JOPLIN, Mo. —
After helping husband Art Jones found Souls Harbor more than 31 years ago, Georgia Jones has come full circle and returned to lead the mission that serves the homeless and needy in the Joplin area.
She helped Art to establish the ministry that since February 1982 has provided shelter and services, including meals that Georgia at first cooked on her home stove and trucked to the Main Street location.
The shelter and its services grew over the first 10 years, feeding and housing thousands of people and spawning similar ministries in other nearby towns.
She tried to stay on after Art died in 1992 from heart disease and complications from diabetes. She lasted six months, she said, but found it too difficult.
"It was just too hard to sit behind his desk," she said. "I turned the reins over to Jerry Siegel to be executive director, and I left."
Now, she's back, sitting in that same office, behind the same desk, she acknowledged.
"But it was a journey," she said.
After Souls Harbor, she said she "threw herself into other things," studying psychology at Crowder College, and addiction studies at Graceland College. She became a certified addiction counselor, and worked for counseling services and at churches in the Joplin area. Then, she worked for USBank in the mortgage loan department.
Late last year, she was at Souls Harbor talking with Joan Lewis, who was serving as executive director and wanted to retire.
"She asked me if I ever thought about coming back. I started crying and said I thought about it all the time," she said. "I started back Dec. 15."
Some conditions are the same as when she left, Jones said: "People have needs, they're hungry and hurting and searching, and God loves people."
One condition that has changed in the meantime, Jones said, " is people perceive they have greater needs.
"If people are disabled or handicapped, that's one thing, but people who don't need to shouldn't depend on assistance from others for their livelihood," she said. "If we foster that, we're not helping anyone and we're talking away from those who have real needs."
Souls Harbor is a member of Charity Tracker, a system that tracks where people receive assistance to make sure the help can reach as many people as possible.
Jones said she is organizing a series of workshops for those served by Souls Harbor, with the first a seminar led by life coach Gerrie Ellen Johnston on making good decisions.
"I want to do more programs like that," she said.