A downtown Oklahoma City homeless shelter known for its community outreach will soon celebrate an important milestone.
The Jesus House, 1335 W Sheridan, will mark its 40th anniversary with a dinner fundraiser set for Feb. 28 at Castle Falls restaurant and private events center.
Executive Director Richard “Rick” Denny said he and the shelter's board of directors decided it was vital that the organization celebrate four decades of ministry and tell supporters and others about new programs and ministries there.
The Jesus House opened in 1973 as a nondenominational Christian shelter by Ruth Wynne and Betty Adams. The two, now deceased, became known around the metro community simply as “Sister Ruth” and “Sister Betty.”
Denny, who took the organization's helm in October 2011, said the organization was started to spread the love of Jesus through outreach to the city's poor and homeless each day of the year.
He said the anniversary dinner's theme, “The Reality of Love,” was created with this in mind.
Denny said the shelter draws a flood of volunteers during the holidays, and staff members and volunteers always appreciate the help. However, he said the people who need the shelter's assistance are there all the time. The reality of their lives is that they need aid in the form of food, clothing and shelter, Denny said.
He said the Jesus House provides 85 emergency shelter beds each night and serves more than 10,000 free meals each month. Denny said the shelter also distributes free clothing and provides groceries for more than 300 households each week.
“We're here 24/7, 365 days a year — we're feeding hungry people, sheltering people. It's always there for us,” he said.
Denny said the Jesus House has put together several reality TV-style vignettes that show the stories of real people whose lives have intersected with the homeless shelter. He said the video vignettes showing the day-to-day operations of the shelter, along with acoustic music performances, will be presented throughout the evening.
“We'll spend the night talking about the Jesus House and the different ways the organization expresses love in the community,” he said.
“That's what we expect to be the star of the show — what we do.”
Reason to celebrate
Denny said he is proud of the way the shelter, led by its loyal supporters, volunteers and a new board, rebounded after a crisis in 2010 led to a drop in donations.
In August 2010, the Jesus House became immersed in scandal when an anonymous letter was sent to the attorney general's office and news organizations alleging financial misconduct. The state attorney general's office investigated the organization, and the shelter's board at that time asked the person who served as director to retire.
Denny, an attorney, left his private practice to serve as Jesus House director in 2011. He said his first priority was to restore donors' confidence in the shelter's ability to efficiently and ethically provide services to the homeless.
This week, Denny and board Chairman Larry Davenport said the general public has been very supportive of the shelter as it tries to help others.
“There were people who stuck with the organization, and now we're seeing new supporters,” Denny said. He said he is particularly pleased that church youth groups and college groups are finding ways to help with Jesus House programs.
Denny said he also has been pleased that corporations such as Oklahoma Gas & Electric are coming to the forefront to aid the shelter. He said one of the first calls he had to make as the shelter's new director was to discuss the shelter's past-due electric bill with the electric company. Denny said company's representatives have been gracious, and OG&E is a corporate sponsor for the Feb. 28 dinner.
Davenport, CEO and president of The MIT Group, said the shelter has overcome “tremendous hurdles” to come from operating “deep in the red to be operating in the black.”
“It's a true celebration for the Jesus House. It's a real blessing,” he said.
Denny said the new era of Jesus House ministry involves reaching out to low-income residents in the community instead of waiting for them to show up at the shelter's doors.
He said the shelter started an Adopt-A-Block program in which Jesus House staff members and volunteers go door-to-door in the neighborhoods near the shelter. Denny said Jesus House representatives pray for individuals and families in those neighborhoods and find out what their needs are so they can be connected to various resources.
He said another program involves taking breakfast to the homeless on Saturday mornings.
Denny said both programs let people in less than ideal circumstances know that people care for them and that God loves them.
“The important thing is we're not waiting on them to come to us. We're going to them to help them take ownership of their future,” Denny said.