SPRING HILL — As it prepares to celebrate its 14th anniversary, Mizpah Ministries, an outreach of Cornerstone Baptist Church, is launching a new program. The Restoration Center of Florida will provide a second chance for women who previously have been incarcerated.
"Over the years, my heart has been broken time and time again as I watch women being released from prison or jail with no visible means of support, no job skills or education," said prison chaplain Paul Haulk, president of the Restoration Center of Florida Inc., a nonprofit ministry. "It has been the dream of my wife (Sheri) and I to reach out to this forgotten segment of society by providing a safe harbor."
The 20-year-old dream recently came true for the Haulks when the ministry received enough donations to pay for a 21-acre parcel of land on Olympic Village Lane, northwest of Brooksville, that would work perfectly for the women's program. Previously used as a summer camp for teens, the property includes two chapel buildings, a dining hall, three shower facilities, several cabins and a residential building. It is zoned for 30 beds.
Haulk hopes to secure the necessary funds and volunteers to have the buildings renovated and the program up and running and ministering to women by October.
Beyond keeping them safe, the Haulks, who will live on campus, and about 10 to 12 volunteers, will teach the women skills that will enable them to function well in society.
Educational, vocational, spiritual and behavioral classes will be offered, with topics such as substance abuse, anger management, parenting skills, job placement, GED or college classes, and biblical principles. The teachers will include a retired firefighter, a registered nurse, former pastors and pastors' wives and a representative from Humana Mental Health. The students are required to attend church and chapel services.
"There will also be computer classes," Haulk said, "anything they need to be successful out in the world. We also have about half an acre where we'll farm and grow our own vegetables, have fish ponds, hydroponics and livestock."
Having ministered as a chaplain in numerous prisons and jails in Florida and other states, Haulk — once incarcerated himself — will rely on other chaplains and wardens to recommend candidates who would work well in the program.
After a potential student has read the handbook, has indicated a willingness to cooperate with the rules of the program and has filled out an application, she will be interviewed by Haulk and the ministry's five-member board of directors to determine her acceptability. She then will commit to a nine-month program that will take her from being a freshman to a graduating senior.
"There's a point system," Haulk s. "They start their freshman phase, which goes for about two months. They can lose points for infractions, so if they have to make up points it may take 2½ months. Then comes the sophomore phase, which ideally takes two months and gives them more privileges, more responsibility and so on until they progress up to senior."
Privileges such as having a vehicle on campus come when the women become juniors and seniors.
"A lot of them will be employed by that time," Haulk said.
Once students complete the program, they have the option of going to college or working.
"They'd move into the residential area on campus, where they will be on their own, but they can have counseling and guidance if they need it," Haulk said. "We're able to give them a safe environment, and it will be rent-free. But when they get their paycheck, it goes into a savings account for them, and they get an allowance for their needs."
When the residents are ready to leave the program entirely, those saved funds will be given to them.
Before the program can begin taking students, an additional $150,000 is needed to finish renovations, along with about $8,000 a month in ongoing support.
"We would love to have mission teams from a church, organization or business come out and help us with construction," Haulk said. "Businesses might want to donate lumber or building supplies, and eventually we'll have to clothe and feed 30 women."
With the law requiring that the entire property be fenced, Haulk said having a fencing company donate some fencing would be a blessing.
"Remember," Haulk reminds viewers in an online video about the project, "God's primary way of reaching people is through people."