Retired juvenile judge Steven Jones encourages members of Freedom Fellowship Church to let the political process play out before doing renovations. Photo by Nick Shepherd.
BLOOMINGDALE - Members of Freedom Fellowship Church were encouraged to let the political process play itself out before doing any kind of renovation at the former Cedar Grove Elementary School, which they aim to convert into housing for at-risk teens and homeless children.
Local politicians, including Sullivan County Mayor Steve Godsey, members of the church and other community members gathered at the former elementary school on Wednesday. The gathering was originally planned to celebrate the ending of the bidding process, but it took a different tone after Monday’s Sullivan County Commission meeting.
“It is important that you follow the process,” said retired judge Steven Jones. “Take it one step at a time and make sure you dot all the I’s and cross all the T’s. It is best not to take possession until the process is done. The most important thing is to do it right.”
On Monday, the County Commission introduced a resolution to sell the Cedar Grove school to Freedom Fellowship and left it on first reading after no one called for a waiver to bypass commission rules and sell the property.
Another church, Cedar Grove Missionary Baptist Church, had also bid on the property. The church bid $1 to start a community center and asked for the $50,000 minimum bid to be waived because of the starting cost and said a community center would be an investment in the community.
Mark Sloan, CEO and co-founder of Save the world — One child at a time, said what the commission did was not unexpected.
“There are three steps,” he said. “The first step was the first time we met, the second step was Monday and the third step will be the 16th.”
Sloan went on to explain the reason the county was cautious about putting it to a vote was because of some previous dealings with buildings that had gone south. He said the commission is being cautious for the taxpayers and he understands that.
Sloan also addressed some concerns that were voiced at Monday’s meeting.
He said the plans for the former elementary school do not include letting violent offenders into the building.
“We want to let the community know that we are not going to take a bunch of thugs in here,” Sloan said. “I’ve been around this a long time, and I know pretty much who to take and who not to take.”
Sloan said the Department of Children’s Services determines placement. Jones said assessment of the children will be key and a comprehensive assessment will be put into place before the center opens. Sloan said there is also a level system to determine offender status ranging from level one to level three, with level three being the worst offender. Sloan said they would not take any level three offenders.
Plans right now are to take kids in from the community who may have run away from home or are homeless and help them.
The group has no ill will toward Cedar Grove Missionary Baptist Church for raising questions at the commission meeting. They said they were willing to let the church use any of their facilities, including the gym.
If the facility, which will be called Children’s House of Hope, is purchased, the plan is to start small. Sloan said the organization would accept 10 kids at first and go from there with around 100 kids from the community eventually at the facility.
Sloan would like to have 10 counselors and two psychiatrists on site to help the kids who would come to the site. He also wants to hire teachers to take the burden off the county.
The goal for this center is to offer hope and try to save wayward children.
“If we can just save one of them ... then we’ve made a world of difference,” Sloan said. “Because that unburdens the county, it unburdens the state, it takes them off welfare and puts them to work. It breaks that cycle.”