Watered Gardens, Mercy, auxiliary announce respite care program for homeless

James Whitford, executive director of Watered Gardens Gospel Rescue Mission, announced Wednesday that a respite care unit will soon be built for the homeless population. Watered Gardens is working with Mercy Hospital Joplin Auxiliary to provide the homeless with recuperative care to assist with the recovery steps after they're discharged from the hospital. GLOBE | KIMBERLY BARKER

Homeless individuals in Joplin will no longer have to worry about having a safe place to heal after they’re discharged from the hospital because of a new respite care program slated to begin later this year.

Mercy Hospital Joplin and its auxiliary have partnered with Watered Gardens Gospel Rescue Mission to kick-start a respite care unit that will provide recuperative care to homeless people who are healing from an illness or injury.

Watered Gardens Outreach Center on Kentucky Avenue will be renovated this fall into a respite care unit, which will give homeless people a chance to fully recover after their release from the hospital. The 950-square-foot space will include six recovery beds, curtained rooms for privacy and a common area.

James Whitford, executive director and co-founder of Watered Gardens, announced the plans for the respite care program on Wednesday in a room filled with excited Mercy Hospital Joplin Auxiliary volunteers and hospital staff. The goal is to increase physical wellness among displaced people as a way to combat the longevity of homelessness, Whitford said.

“Meeting this need bridges a gap that currently exists in our community today that I believe, as we meet it, will actually address the issues of chronic homelessness,” he said.

The auxiliary donated $45,000 to Watered Gardens during the announcement to help with the project and show its support. Approximately 280 members make up the volunteer organization, which holds fundraisers such as shoe or linen sales to raise money for charities and programs.

Rex Hunt, auxiliary president, and his wife, Tammie, who’s been a member of the auxiliary for 31 years, said the size of the donation reflects the dedication of the group's members, who strive to go above and beyond for their community.

“I feel so blessed to be able to be a part of this organization that I can’t even begin to explain it,” Rex Hunt said. “When they (Watered Gardens) came in and presented this idea to us, we were all on board. It was approved that same meeting because this is something we wanted.”

Kerri Dagen, manager of in-patient care at Mercy, said the partnering agencies have been planning the project for over a year after they noticed the high need for respite care in the region.

“On a weekly basis, we have patients who don’t have appropriate shelter,” Dagen said. “They may not have electricity, running water, and they’re recovering from a chronic illness. They need a place to recover to get back on their feet, and this will provide that shelter for them.”

Jeremy Drinkwitz, chief operating officer for Mercy in Joplin, said people will have the opportunity not only to receive health care through the program but also to have additional needs met.

“It gives them a chance to get some food, spiritual needs and housing,” Drinkwitz said. “There’s a lot of opportunities that James and his team offer that will help benefit the person as a whole.”

Renovations on the respite care unit will begin this fall, and Whitford said he hopes to have it open before the end of the year.

News reporter

Kimberly Barker is a news reporter for The Globe who covers Northeast Oklahoma, Southeast Kansas, as well as Carl Junction and Webb City.

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