In 2008 Trinity United Methodist Church of Oak Ridge merged with First United Methodist Church of Oak Ridge, leaving the Trinity facility unoccupied but under the care of First United Methodist. The Free Medical Clinic of Oak Ridge moved into a section of the education building in 2009. A little later Healthy Start began leasing office space; Grace Covenant Church and LUAPA Apostolica began leasing the sanctuary, fellowship hall and office space. Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) started using space from January through April of each year to assist people in preparing their income tax returns. In October of 2011 all but 7 rooms in the Trinity complex were in use. And that’s when TORCH stepped in.
The Chair of our board, Sheila Michel, went to the pastors at First United Methodist with a proposal. Her idea was to create a community center in the space that meets the needs of the community. Her plan included spending six months interviewing people in the community to find out what each saw as the most significant need and what could be done to meet that need. She spoke with city officials, church leaders, social service agencies and the general public. She asked the two basic questions: what is the most significant need and what can be done to meet that need. Everyone she encountered was receptive and helpful.
In the interview process, we learned that the greatest need was a center where a person could come to learn what social services he/she qualified to receive and how to go through the application process. We learned that the need for permanent supportive housing in Anderson County was much greater than we realized and that consequently we had an increasing homelessness problem – some literally homeless, but many “precariously housed” or people bouncing from couch to couch, but having no real place of his/her own.
We came to realize that there was a very large gap for people who have come upon hard times and are experiencing homelessness. If a person is homeless but is not a veteran, has no mental illness or substance abuse issues, has no disability and/or is not fleeing domestic violence then there is no shelter for them in Anderson County. Also, resources are very limited, and many times non-existant. Through our learning a plan evolved.
We aim to assist individuals and families who are homeless. We want to connect them with resources available and help them overcome barriers in accessing these resources. Once emergency needs are met, we can assist them in creating a clear path to self-sufficiency. We want to partner with all agencies in Anderson County and work together to assist our clients in the most efficient, productive manner.
We are TORCH – Trinity Out-Reach Center of Hope – Lighting a Path to a Brighter Tomorrow. As each client reaches self-sufficiency we ask that client to assist others reaching for the same goal – to pass the TORCH.