By Susan Redden
Globe Staff Writer
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.
Another thing that has changed since the early days of Souls Harbor is the growth of other organizations that service the homeless and disadvantaged, including Watered Gardens, Lafayette House and the transitional family housing offered by the Salvation Army.
"We used to stack them in like cordwood. We filled 50 beds and then we put pallets on the floor," she said. "Now, we may be at capacity but we're seldom out of space. Joplin is blessed that there's so much help available, and the fact that we're all networking makes us stronger."
That networking also extends to feeding shelter residents and others. Souls Harbor serves breakfast and supper, but residents eat their noontime meal at the Joplin Salvation Army.
"We don't serve lunch except for residents who need a sack lunch to take to work," she said.
In addition to monthly seminars, Jones is organizing a day each week where Souls Harbor can make available to people clothing and other donations given to the organization. The first will be held Wednesday, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Church services are held each night at the mission and are required for residents who are not working jobs. She said the ministry has a faithful group of local pastors who deliver the message, and she also takes a turn, on occasion.
Beginnings, what's next
Ordained with a degree in religious education, Georgia was in the ministry at the time she met her husband. She was an associate pastor at a church in Knoxville, Tenn. and had served as a missionary and an evangelist on Native American reservations, Haiti, Puerto Rico, and Mexico.
The two met while Jones was running a mission in Knoxville. A pastor friend from Knoxville moved to Joplin, and when they came to visit him one winter, they stayed.
"We were driving down the street and saw a man walking barefoot on the street another in a coat that had holes you could put your fist through," she said. "Art said he wondered if there was a place for those people to get help. I had a little inheritance from my mom, we planted it here and God met each need as we walked along."
Jones' ministry is not confined to Souls Harbor. She also is very active in Christpoint Church. She said he also has learned to do Soul's Harbor paperwork and watch "NCIS" at the same time, and tries to spend as much time as possible with her daughter, Shona Ñ who has accompanied her mother on mission work Ñ and her five grandchildren, who all live in Diamond.
Another current project is under way to raise money to remodel the shelter's kitchen and dining room, to include electrical work that will permit the installation of a commercial dishwasher.
"We thought it would take $30,000 and we had about 80 percent raised," she said. "Now it looks like it will take about $42,000 with the electrical work and meeting city building codes they've added since the tornado."
Support for the ministry comes from private individuals, churches and businesses. They've received some foundation grants, but they don't seek government funding because they don't want to have to give up any of the faith-based elements of the ministry.
"If the gospel doesn't go out in what we do here, we're nowhere," she said.
Records maintained by Souls Harbor show the ministry rendered nearly 52,000 acts of assistance in 2012 including shelter, food, clothing or other aid. Those who want to support the ministry can take donations to the office at 817 S. Main St. or mail them to Post Office box 1782, Joplin, Mo. 64802.