Contributed by guest author Morgan Roelfs, Central College student, on her journey of understanding who The Well really is.

The Well is just a thrift store.

That was my initial thought.  A purely transactional organization.  A customer comes in, buys some clothing, and leaves.  Maybe they will come in again… maybe not.

My idea of The Well being “purely transactional” was completely wrong.  The word relational is much more fitting.  There is so much more depth to The Well as a whole than what initially meets the eye.  I had no idea the work being done apart from the thrift store.  The thrift store is only the beginning.

I had the opportunity to interview several individuals that work at The Well to further understand what happens behind the doors of the organization.  In each of these interviews, I asked for them to describe what The Well is, in their own words.

Here are some of their descriptions that helped me build my understanding:

“The Well is a place that is multi-faceted; here we want to meet the needs of people in Jesus’ name.” “The Well is an entrepreneurial organization that helps those in generational poverty; hope is provided for all people here.” “When life gets hard, people don’t know where to go or who to turn to.  The Well is a place that can provide some guidance to finding the help needed (both internally and externally). “The Well is a hub; A community ministry that helps marginalized individuals.  We welcome people from all different walks of life.”

So, if this place is a hub for all walks of life, they must have a lot to offer, right?  But how can that be?  How can a thrift store do all of that?  That is what I dove into next.  I learned that there was transformation work happening outside of the thrift store.  Each of the individuals that I interviewed work in different segment of the organization.  I gained an understanding of each of the segments that make this organization run.

First up, the Resource Center.   When people initially walk into The Resource Center, the first goal is to make a connection with them – a connection that will turn into a relationship.  Those working at the center listen to the individual’s story and circumstances.  Through time of developing this relationship, the individual and the staff explore options together. The Well believes that change is a journey, which leads to continued meetings in the weeks and months to come.

The next segment of The Well is Programming.  This segment is two-fold – Working with clients and working with the community.  The Well values relationships with the community and other organizations and advocates for relationships to be built with them as well.  There are programs that focus on emotional health, spiritual health, life skills, addiction/recovery, healing, and overall health and wellness.  As needs in the community arise, The Well works to bring in programs that offer assistance to these needs.

The Well Works program is the third segment of The Well.  This is a work environment where individuals experience transformation through paid work, classes, and mentorship.  During this five-phase process, individuals learn many skills, such as responsibility, teamwork, technical skills, discipline, and productivity.

Lastly, the Thrift Store.  The store is a department-style store that offers gently used items at a fair market-price.  The proceeds of the thrift store pay for the structure of The Well’s buildings, payroll, heat, and anything else that makes the place run.  The thrift store is an important segment of The Well, as it is used to financially support the rest of the organization.  What I initially thought was the “transactional” portion of the organization, turned out to be a ministry within itself.  More on this goodness later…

While the thrift store is an important segment of The Well, it is merely an accessory to support the rest of the organization.  The thrift store is the fuel to ignite the fire of transformation.

The main force behind The Well is relationships – with the community, with the clients, and most importantly, with the Lord.  I truly believe that the people who work here believe this with their whole heart.  Below this, I have included some quotes from my interviews that encompass this:

“I believe my job is a shepherd – I have a group of people that I get to shepherd.  Everyone is at a different stage in life and my job is to help them grow through Jesus.  I get to walk along side of them and love them and point them to Jesus.  People old and young, strong and frail.  I get to fervently lead them and guide them to Jesus.”

“Our biggest commodity is time.  A lot of people misconstrue our organization for a machine.  We get to know people – they are not a number here.  We are willing to give individuals time to create a relationship with them.”

“People often struggle with the idea of an organization like this and have an expectation that they will receive money.  The Well  is a long-term solution.  It takes a relationship. ‘Come back – let’s keep talking.’”

Relationships change lives.  Community makes a difference.  Faith leads to transformation.  The individuals that work here have incredible faith journeys and truly lead their staff and clients to the Lord.  For interactions with customers, workers ensure their conversations reflect the love of Jesus.  For communication with clients, workers dedicate their time to helping them find freedom through Christ.

“Faith is EVERYWHERE.  You cannot get away from it.  We believe (at The Well) that the ultimate answer is our faith.  We can give people tangible skills and coping skills, but in the end, they need hope and peace in their hearts from Jesus.  As a human, we believe that we are the ones fixing the problem – but in all reality, the Lord is already working on the problem.  How can I help? We are aiding the Lord in the work he is already doing.  We are not ‘fixing’ people.” – staff member

And that includes the thrift store.  The transactional nature I imagined is actually so incredibly heart-felt and relational.  Inside the doors of the thrift store, the Lord is moving through the workers AND the volunteers.  Many people come in broken, and leave feeling encouraged and loved.

The Well is an amazing place, all-in-all.  Those walls are filled with many fruitful relationships.  And the best thing about this organization is that they want to connect with YOU, no matter who you are!  You are so incredibly important to them.

One of The Well’s favorite relationships to create is with volunteers.  Each segment of the organization requires many helping hands to function properly.  The good news is that there is something for everyone!

Here is what you could help with:

In the Thrift Store:

  • Working at the donation door, sorting items, hanging clothes, pricing items, working at the register, putting items out on the floor, driving truck, and so much more

In Programming:

  • Teaching classes, giving someone a ride, teaching someone to drive, leading small groups, and serving meals

At the Resource Center:

  • Hospitality workers (most relational form of volunteering at The Well)
  • Volunteer Care Coordinators (partnering with staff in meeting with clients in coaching appointments)

For the Well Works program:

  • Material handling and staging, logistics, and other supporting tasks
  • Being a mentor that works alongside clients

The Well isn’t just a thrift store.  It is a multi-faceted place to experience the love of Jesus and a great community, working towards transforming the lives of people who are living in poverty.