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Recovering homeless men reach out

In this season of Thanksgiving, many people reach out to one another. This is the story about one group that may surprise you.

It's the men of Hoskins Park Ministries, located in west Charlotte off Rosseles Ferry Road. After years of receiving many blessings from others, the men of Hoskins Park have started their own outreach program for their community.

This year, they collected donations, then prepared and delivered 30 Thanksgiving baskets to their neighbors.

Each basket contained enough food to feed a family of four to six.

On Nov. 6, the day of delivery, Good Shepherd Church supplied the turkeys and bread. The support for the men's project was so great that they intend to do it for Christmas.

According to Bill Dinkel, 57, a Raeburn resident and Hoskins Park volunteer, this was an opportunity for the men to give back.

Dinkel's life group at Forest Hill Church adopted the Hoskins Park Ministries as a service project.

"What's really important is the interaction between a volunteer and the person in need," said Dinkel.

Many of the men now at Hoskins Park were living on the streets, men with no place to go and no one who cared. Some turned to alcohol or drugs, and some were down and out because of loss of job, home, family or health.

One college-educated Hoskins Park resident went through a broken marriage. His parents had passed away. He lost his home and family. He had no one to turn to and was found at the uptown men's shelter, where a volunteer picked him up.

Hoskins Park is a Christian ministry whose primary purpose is to share the love of Christ with the poor and homeless by providing housing facilities, clothing, food and other support to those in need.

The men go through a life transformation program. Johnny Allen, program director of the 13-home campus, says the men at Hoskins Park are shown love and grace.

Life coaches work with the residents and explore their problems. The men are interviewed and asked what they want out of life. The men are required to find some kind of work. They get up early in the morning and search for jobs.

"You will find something, maybe not what you want, but something," said Allen. A few months ago 91 percent of the men had jobs.

Three to five men live in each of the 13 homes on the Hoskins Park campus. They do not pay rent but do pay monthly program fees, once they begin to earn money .

The residents prepare their own meals and do their own housekeeping. They look forward to Thursday nights when Panera Bread Company in Ballantyne stocks their refrigerators with leftover food that wasn't served that day.

Every Monday, volunteers pick up meals from King's Kitchen in uptown Charlotte - enough to feed the 51 residents and staff at Hoskins Park.

Volunteers from Good Shepherd, Christ the King, Steele Creek Church of Charlotte and the Village Church along with Forest Hill Church supply additional food and household furnishings.

Eddie, a former resident, said, "I found a lot at Hoskins Park Ministry. It brought me light, it brought me goodness, it brought me to where I could love myself again, and it brought me to trust many people around me."

When Michael came to Hoskins Park he said, " My life was in wrong, drugs, alcohol...all the things that come with an immoral life. God has done great things for me. He spared me. He gave me His grace and mercy. He looked beyond my faults and saw my need."

Tom Wheeler, 51, executive director of ministry says Hoskins Park differs from an ordinary shelter or rehabilitation facility because "we live with and amongst those we serve. We wake up in their presence and we teach them life skills."

Wheeler, once a sales representative for Apple Inc., started his own company, then left his business, resigned his position as assistant director of discipleship at Forest Hill, sold his home and changed his lifestyle to help the homeless. Wheeler bought a house in Hoskins Park next door to Allen, and they have worked together on the ministry since 2002.

On Sept. 11, 2005, Wheeler became an ordained pastor with the Evangelical Church Alliance. Currently he is working on a book called "Bottom Fishing." It's the story of his life, faith and work with Hoskins Park Ministries.