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Gold Country Chaplaincy stands in the gap

It could face changes with funding issue
By: Jon Schultz, Journal Staff Writer
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The Gold Country Chaplaincy’s motto says it exists to “stand in the gap.”

The faith-based ministry offers spiritual, emotional and mental support to people who otherwise might not have easy access to it.

Gold Country Chaplaincy is there for veterans, firefighters, photographers, journalists and the general community, said Terry Morgan, senior chaplain and executive director of the chaplaincy.

However, the chaplaincy is also dealing with another gap. Funding is “way down,” Morgan said, which may force the organization to make some changes.

Its annual operating budget is less than $100,000, he said, and roughly 70 to 75 percent of it comes from local foundations and grants. Up to this point, the chaplaincy hasn’t had to make sacrifices, but they could be looming.

“Right now it’s really tough,” Morgan said. “If it continues, we certainly will have to make some adjustments. There’s a good chance that I’ll have to cut back my hours to part time in order to be able to continue with the chaplaincy.”

Morgan is the only full-time, paid member of the nonprofit organization, and there are 22 other chaplains who volunteer their time.

Their backgrounds vary, but most of them join the chaplaincy because they’ve gone through traumatic events in the past and want to help others get through similar situations, he said.

“Most of them have some kind of ministry background,” Morgan said. “Others are just lay people that have a real heart to help people.”

Some services, such as counseling where confidentiality is involved, require the chaplain to be ordained, he said. To join the chaplaincy, volunteers undergo three months of training, meeting for four hours once a week, and then there’s a monthly training to keep the skills sharp, Morgan said.

Its biggest expense is the annual Placer County Veteran Stand Down that runs three days at the Roseville fairgrounds, targeting homeless veterans but offering support to any who need it.

This year, 250 veterans attended the September event, featuring free meals, clothing, hygiene kits as well as access to mental health services and a dental lab, Morgan said.

When Morgan started the organization in 2009, there had been a “pretty big gap” in services for veterans, the primary focus of the chaplaincy, he said.

The stories from servicemen and women who have had their lives changed by the Stand Down are some of the most rewarding parts of a job that can be difficult because of all the grief and crises involved, Morgan said.

He had lunch with one veteran at the event who told him that he wasn’t there for himself but to offer help to others. The man had come to a previous Stand Down plagued by suicidal thoughts, only to meet with a chaplain who turned his life around, Morgan said.

“Something (the chaplain) said really connected for him and he was able to get himself together,” he said. “He was able to take care of his situation. He had been homeless and is no longer homeless.”

But the chaplaincy isn’t limited to helping veterans. It looks to serve those who might get overlooked, such as the construction workers at the Foresthill Bridge who were present when a suicidal person jumped from it.

Morgan found that another gap existed in the journalism field.

“We noticed that not only law enforcement, fire and other emergency personnel, but reporters go to the same scenes,” he said. “And usually it’s been my experience that most are told to get on to the next story … another show to produce, or whatever.”

Melissa Remick, a former reporter for KTXL Fox 40 News, approached Morgan about the idea for a chaplaincy dedicated to the press corps, Morgan said, and when he looked into it, he found only one such organization – and it was in Australia.

That spawned the idea for Press4Hope, a division of the Gold Country Chaplaincy.

When former Journal reporter Penne Usher went to the Foresthill Bridge about five years ago on assignment after someone jumped, she was scarred by what she saw.

“He was 14, and I arrived with the photographer and the body was covered,” said Usher, now a freelance writer and marketing manager. “The sheriff’s department rolls in and they uncovered him, and I see his face – not my first victim, not my last but it struck a chord, and I couldn’t shake the damage and left the office rattled beyond belief.”

She said Morgan “talked me off the proverbial ledge.”

“If I hadn’t talked to Chaplain Morgan, I think it would have been detrimental to my work, because I don’t think I could have been as effective as a reporter,” Usher said. “To see the lifeless body of a teenager is not something anyone should see, but to be able to process that information and move past it has helped me a great deal in my career.”

For more information on the Gold Country Chaplaincy and its services, visit goldcountrychaplaincy.org.

 

Jon Schultz can be reached at jons@goldcountrymedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @Jon_AJNews