Whitford started working with men like Logan Fields almost 20 years ago. He and his wife Marsha rented a room in a Red Cross building to offer necessities to Joplin’s homeless. They called their day center “Watered Gardens” after Isaiah 58:11, a verse blessing those who help the poor. A church helped pay rent, and Whitford worked as a physical therapist three days a week to pay the utilities and support his family.
“We had a lot of compassion and a lot of heart, but not a lot of thought behind what we were doing,” he said. The same people kept coming, and the Whitfords recognized their donations at rummage sales and thrift stores. They realized people took items only to sell them and get the same thing from another ministry. To address this, they started a local Charity Tracker network, using a program that logs who got what services where so local nonprofits can work together.
Another shift followed. Whitford read Toxic Charity by Robert Lupton and realized Watered Gardens should challenge people to escape poverty, not enable them to stay there. The shelter added a “Worth Shop,” where people can do simple tasks for a set time to earn what they need. Working 15 minutes buys four thrift shop items. An hour earns someone groceries for a week. Twelve hours a week will earn someone a bed in the shelter (they offer 30 beds for men and 10 for women).
Three years ago, Watered Gardens created the Forge Center for Virtue and Work, the program Logan Fields joined. Six men go through the program at a time, and they prove they’re ready to change by living at Watered Gardens’ shelter and working in the Worth Shop for three months before phase one. Fields started working in the kitchen 20 hours a week, but he could not get along with the volunteers, so he moved to maintenance. Fresh from a violent life, he became angry easily and almost didn’t last: “Everything went smoothly for about a month until I got back in my own head,” he said. “I thought, ‘Oh, I can handle this. I’ve been clean for two months now. I can rock and roll.’” He argued with Jamie Myers until she cried. But when he turned to leave, she asked to pray with him. “Immediately, as soon as she got done praying … I understood things differently,” he said. Fields finished his first three months in the shelter.
After three months, the staff let him move into the Forge dorms (a donated church building down the road from the shelter). Phase one was education. Fields began taking classes eight hours a day, covering topics from Bible study to health to legal living. The next phase focused on work readiness, and the staff connected him with MSW Restaurant Furnishings, a local employer willing to hire him. After that, the transition phase brought freedoms and responsibilities: Fields moved out of the dorms into a house with two classmates a mile and a half from the Forge dorms, but he must pay rent while managing a limited allowance.