I, William R. Stout, moved to Springfield,Oh in 1984. By age 21, I was a top producer in the area and in the top 10% of the company I worked for. At 30 (1995) I had acquired over 150 apartments. In 1996 everything changed. After a traumatic accident involving my nephew, I reached out to God and became a Christian. Something happened on the inside: I had found peace and joy, and wanted to share this knowledge with others.
Early in 1998 I was invited to participate as a volunteer chaplain at the Juvenile Detention Center, and at H.O.P.E. (a Christian ministry to teens on probation). I never intended to become a youth leader. I was actually very satisfied with my business and proud of my accomplishments. I felt like I had reached a point in life where I could afford to volunteer a substantial block of my time (and resources), but there was no intention to found a ministry at the start.
As time went on, I felt compelled to do more. Sometimes I would stay after the meetings and talk with kids. They seemed desperate for someone who cared about them. They were not the hardcore villains I had thought. They were children, most from rough homes, most with no positive role models. The programs I was volunteering with, are great programs helping a lot of kids, but these kids needed more. They needed more than a one hour a week meeting where I expound wisdom to the group and then retreat to my quiet suburban home, while they try to make my advice work in the ghetto. They needed relationships. Real, hands on, intensive mentoring. They needed someone who would get involved with them. They needed food. They needed shoes. They needed a safe place to be. They needed love and respect from someone who was not trying to abuse, molest, or use them.
A small group of young men I was mentoring wanted to start a weekly bible study at my house on Saturday evenings. I agreed, and often invited kids who had shown an interest in positive change. After the meeting we would feed them. They would usually stay overnight and go to Church on Sunday. After a year or two, almost without noticing, I was spending more time in this capacity than running my business. As my commitment to the needs of the youth increased, I formed a nonprofit corporation to serve as a vehicle for these charitable activities. As I continued to build relationships with the kids sometimes they would call me when there were troubles at home and school, at places where they used to go over the edge, sometimes they would reach for help. I always went.
In 2000 two of the boys I had spent much time mentoring were having a lot of trouble at home. They had been coming to youth group every Saturday as well as church on Wednesday and Sunday, for several months, never missing. They were doing better in school and not getting into any more criminal trouble (both were on probation). Their mother asked if they could stay with me, so I took them in. A few months later I took in two other teenage boys. These are the kids that don’t fit into any program, there is no funding for them. They are the ones who slip through the cracks of the system.
I had a vision for a place where kids could come regularly, to hang out, have fun, be fed, and most of all build relationships with committed people who are interested in their success. I had always been content funding the bulk of the ministry myself, but now the vision was exceeding my personal ability. In order to meet these needs, I had to communicate the vision to other people who care, and ask for help.