CLARKSBURG, W.Va. — Changes in leadership lie ahead for the Clarksburg Mission, withe long-time Director of Ministry Lou Ortenzio taking the role of executive director effective Jan. 1.
Earlier this month, Chris Mullet announced he would be stepping away from the position at the end of the year.
Mullett will now be working with the West Virginia Chapter of the American Epilepsy Foundation, which Ortenzio said is an area of great need in West Virginia.
“Certainly folks have seizure disorder, epilepsy and they need advocates, they need support, and we need to be educated as a public about it, and we need to combat stigma there,” he said. “He has a lot of giftings to address this, so it will give him an opportunity to again help our community and help our whole state.”
After roughly a decade with the Mission, Ortenzio is looking forward to continuing to be a part of its work in a new role — work that sometimes goes unnoticed by the local community.
“Many don’t see the work that we do, the miracles that happen there, the folks that are given a safe place to be housed, who are equipped to get a job, get their own place, get into housing, move on in their life, folks who struggle with addiction issues, who’ve been the victims of domestic violence and abuse turn their lives around, become productive members of society,” he said.
Those who are in need of the services provided by the Mission oftentimes may not have an income or even an ID and thus aren’t able to apply for many of the benefits, such as social security, that they qualify for.
“Folks qualify for food stamps, SNAP benefits, all those things that we help equip those folks to get those services and benefits that they really need, and of course housing and feeding folks in need,” he said.
But sometimes doing good deeds has tough feedback.
The Clarksburg Mission has faced backlash for years because of its boarders that are often spotted outside of the building along the sidewalk.
“There was a time when Clarksburg was a very busy place where they were shoulder to shoulder on the sidewalk, then we kind of became like aspects of a ghost town, it seemed. There was no one on streets,” Ortenzio said. “So when you have a bunch of people congregated on the sidewalk, they kind of stand out. When there’s struggling folks, certainly poverty has increased, the struggles of folks in Clarksburg have increased, and so the folks that are downtown often are folks with a whole bunch of issues.”
But Ortenzio said the Mission understands the concern and wants to work with the city and its residents to find an option that satisfies everyone.
“We’d absolutely love to look at any kind of realistic option to serve the folks that we serve and benefit the community the way that we need to,” he said. “We struggle with five older buildings that are not handicapped accessible. I’ve been able to visit other homeless shelters in other communities that have modern facilities that are handicapped accessible, have elevators and are state of the art, while we struggle to keep our buildings going. But they’re what we have.”
The issue with addressing that need is that the Mission needs to be located in town in order to best provide for those who needs it.
“Our folks need to be close to services. Transportation is a problem in West Virginia because we depend upon buses, and buses run limited hours in limited locations. It would be hard to have a Mission or homeless shelter to feed and house people if we were way outside the center of town,” Ortenzio said.
Additionally, Ortenzio added, the folks who have the greatest need are often in the lowest cost housing that is in downtown Clarksburg and its environment.
“So somehow we need to be close to services, but it would sure be great if we had a facility that could help our folks better than we’re helping them now,” he said.
While Ortenzio has certainly been active with the Clarksburg Mission over the last decade, he also wears many other hats in the local communities.
He serves at the Harrison County Community Corrections/Day Report Center, was a vital part in starting the local Prevention, Intervention, Treatment and Recovery group and is a state representative for Celebrate Recovery.
However, he’s optimistic that he’ll still be able to play a role in all of those areas with the new responsibilities at the Mission.
“If I take on the role of the executive director I may have to give up my position at Community Corrections/Day Report, but I would continue to be a volunteer resource to them and their clients,” he said. “I would, of course, still serve as a community member on the treatment team of Drug Courts — both county and federal.”
He’ll also continue to be a senior ministry leader with Celebrate Recovery, which PITAR now falls under and will also continue.
“My territory is smaller, as we have more Celebrate Recovery state reps, so I can continue to serve there,” he said. “My federal prison service is only a few hours once a month, so as a federal felon going into a federal prison giving hope in Jesus, it’d be hard to stop.”
In fact, Celebrate Recovery has grown exponentially in Harrison County alone.
“We’re really excited because we’re the only area in West Virginia that has five Celebrate Recovery meetings on five nights, which is fabulous really. We need as many 12-step meetings as we can,” Ortenzio said.
Meetings are held in Salem on Mondays, in Clarksburg on Tuesdays, in Bridgeport on Wednesdays, in Shinnston on Thursdays, and in Lost Creek on Fridays.
“There’s no other area in the state of West Virginia that has that many Celebrate Recovery meetings,” Ortenzio said. “That’s five separate churches that are stepping up to try to address the substance use disorder, the addiction needs in our community and any kind of struggle that folks can have. It’s a great opportunity to mobilize power.”
As organizations like Celebrate Recovery continue to grow, Ortenzio said it gives him hope that the work they do is helping.
“We’re making progress,” he said. “There’s more hope now today than there was before, and we certainly need that. I think we’re making progress and seeing hope come alive.”