Daily Progress, Jacksonville, TX

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February 20, 2014

Ministry to move into ex-cotton gin site

Eagles Nest services on hold until relocation

JACKSONVILLE — A popular ministry for local teens is temporarily on hold as organizers renovate a century-old cotton gin building that will serve as its new home.

“It was time to make the jump,” said evangelist Levi Lutz, who heads Eagles Nest ministries. “We've had the building since 2009, long before I got here, and they've done things along the way. It's come to a point, though, where we needed to put our money into it (rather than continue leasing space). It has always been the ministry's goal to be out of there and moved into the cotton gin building.”

Thirteen months ago, Lutz took over the reins from founders Larry and Lori McGlade, who began the ministry to teenagers in 1999.

“We wanted to reach the youth of our city, and try to help get them steered down the right path,” recalled McGlade, and ordained Christian minister. “It's been my experience in life that kids ages 12 to 14 sometimes make life-changing decisions they don't realize will affect the rest of their lives.”

The couple has lost track of the number of youths who became involved with Eagles Nest, but estimate hundreds have made the Christian youth center a part of their lives.

“We got to see a lot of kids get their lives turned around – I can't tell you how many have walked across that stage at graduation, who had no intentions of graduating from high school when we first met them,” McGlade said, adding that many of the youths referred to him and Lori as “mom and dad.”

“They were coming from different situations, and I think they wanted someone who would love them unconditionally – I believe some of those kids walked across that stage because someone told them, 'You won't quit school,'” he said.

“You have an opportunity to touch lives, and a lot of times, you don't realize that you've done just that,” he said. “We got to see so many kids get their lives changed, get turned around. To me, those 13 years were the best investment we made in our life.”

While the center offered a place for games and entertainment, the main activity was a daily Bible study.

“To me, that was the whole point of being open – to bring kids to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. That other stuff was just icing on the cake,” McGlade said. “The Bible study was every night, and was not optional. But the kids didn't seem to mind, they got real involved and some even asked if they could lead (their own) Bible study.”

Lutz said the center will continue to offer “a safe Christian environment where kids can come have a good time and participate in Bible studies,” and will also add events like Christian music and speakers for youths.

Meanwhile, volunteers will help with renovation of the building, located across from the Jacksonville post office, readying the Eagles Nest new home for a mid-April grand opening.

“Winter is a slow time, and kids are not out as much, so we chose to close the ministries this first quarter so we could get into that building,” Lutz explained.

Although he declined to give an estimate on cost of renovating the building, Lutz said work is being done on plumbing, electricity and framing.

“We're just doing everything we need to do” to make it ready, he said,

And the youth that the ministry serves are growing excited over the project.

“There's some anticipation, they're excited to get over there,” Lutz said.

Once re-opened, ministry will continue to operate on Friday and Saturday evenings, although it will most likely focus on a different age range of youth.

“It's been for kids ages 12 to 18, but traditionally we've seen more who are in the 14 through 19 age group,” Lutz said.

The ministry continues to raise funds and welcomes donations to help furnish the new center, which is primarily supported through United Fund, who disburses funds on a quarterly basis.

United Fund president Nancy Washburn said the organization was notified earlier this year of the Eagles Nest's plans to temporarily suspend their ministry, which she said has provided a great service to the youth of Jacksonville.

“It gave kids a place to go, to be accepted and have activities,” she said. “I do think this ministry is needed, because it does keep kids off the street, and hopefully, it's helped them to make good choices.”

Organization members will continue to check in with Lutz on a regular basis “to see how things are going, but we have no reason to believe that funds will be withheld,” Washburn added.

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