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Chicken and corn feed will help others get a second chance

A fundraiser will take place in Alexandria this Thursday and Friday to give those who have committed a crime a chance to turn their life around.

A combination of barbecued chicken and corn on the cob will be served at Pete's County Market from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. both days, September 4-5.

Food will be served in a large tent adjacent to the parking area. Proceeds will be donated to Stepstone Work Center (SWC).

SWC is one of the newer non-profit organizations in the Alexandria area, receiving IRS non-profit status one year ago. Stepstone Work Center describes itself as a Christ-centered organization with the mission of serving individuals who have been convicted of a crime or who have been addicted to a chemical substance by providing training, education, counsel and assistance in helping them obtain housing and gainful employment.

SWC is intended to be an organization that will operate with the active participation of the community. To date, there have been approximately 80 volunteers.

Since organizers say it's premature to establish a physical headquarters, workgroups have met in church assembly buildings and business conference rooms. These workgroups have had the responsibility to study and define the workings of the organization so that when the clients enter the relationship the expectations are well understood for the clients and the staff of SWC.

Workgroups include ministry, public relations, occupational, advisory/fundraising, finance, human resources, training/education and building/housing.

There is currently one employee, Marc Moen, the executive director.

SWC is governed by a nine-person volunteer board of directors. Brian Beeman, city administrator of Melrose, is the president of the board. Other members include Jay Jensen, John Taplin, Tom Kohout, Darlien Zibell, Mike Monson, Jane McCrery, Eileen Anderson, all from Alexandria, and Lloyd Willard from rural Miltona.

Moen explains the need as follows: "There are a lot of people leaving prison, or leaving a drug rehab program that show up in towns like Alexandria hoping to start a new life. They hope to find employment, desiring to leave their lives of the past behind. Many yearn to establish friendships and fit into the community and live quiet and productive lives. Unfortunately though, without help too many can't quite make that step and end up back where they started. We wish to help!"

Moen continued, "There are many people in the Alexandria area reaching out and helping these people already. Some are organized efforts like the Regeneration Center. Others are individuals or loose-knit groups who offer assistance like temporary housing, employment and transportation. We know that people leaving drug dependencies or prison need a lot of help to get free of their past. They also need an accountability network made of people who really care that they make it."

Stepstone anticipates assisting five to seven individuals in the first year of operation. Depending on the client's need, individuals are likely to receive temporary living accommodations, job training, mentorship and Biblical teaching.

They will also receive a lot of encouragement, Moen said. Stepstone program is viewed by the participants as a ministry, and opportunity to serve others, he explained.

Stepstone has structured the organization to be unique and independent of other groups in the area who are involved in prison and post-prison ministries. However, it intends to be collaborative.

John Taplin, a director of SWC and a minister at New Life Christian Church in Alexandria, describes the collaboration as follows: "All options are open for consideration. We don't want to imitate or compete with the other ministries. We want to cooperate so that there aren't unnecessary redundancies in services. There is no competition here. There is plenty of need and plenty of work to go around."

When Moen is asked what he would want everyone to remember about Stepstone, he replied:

"When I was 6 years old, someone was stealing my brown paper lunch bag from the cloak room nearly every day. The teacher, who figured it out, told my folks about this little boy who lived in poverty. My folks decided to pack two lunches for me to bring to school and share the burden of this wee lad.

"Through the years my parents have assisted and shared their love with many other kids from broken homes and broken situations. While in my early 20s, we took in a young man who needed a home and job after serving time in a South Dakota penitentiary. Growing up on a dairy farm in western Minnesota, there was always work to share with those in need. He came to the farm and spent nearly six months in transition from 'jail bird' to jewel. He now is a hard-working citizen with a wife and family and I would bet he probably has taken it on himself to help others in their time of need.

"Still today, my mother, 'Mary Jane,' gets phone calls from her grown 'children' from around the U.S., thanking her for being available in their time of need...Generations to come are affected by a helping hand at the right time. My parents have been my greatest inspiration in this world. God bless my mom."

Moen concluded, "Scripture tells us that whenever we work to help those with needs, we are doing it for our Savior and Lord. I hope the folks at SWC are examples of a people coming together with humility and selflessly helping others. I hope our impact can affect more than one generation."

For more information, go to the Web site