The new home of A2J — Addicted to Jesus — apparently began life as a mission of Trinity Epis…
Each of them organized to help youths.
On Saturday, though, they were helping each other.
A2J — a youth outreach organized by Michelle and Jon Mathis — recently took possession of a former church building at 540 E. Long Ave. The 100-year-old-plus structure had been occupied by Feed My Sheep Ministries, which gave it to A2J — Addicted to Jesus — in January.
The call went out for volunteers to help paint the interior on Saturday, and among those who answered it were representatives from the AUS10 Drills and Skills and the Jeff Potter Baseball Tour.
Drills and Skills is a free basketball program for youths organized by Gordon and Leslie Austin. When basketball season ends, the focus turns to community service.
Gordon Austin, his son and two grandsons were among those who reported for brush-and-roller duty.
“We saw Jon and Michelle were doing this, and we’re about networking and helping each other,” Gordon Austin said. “They have a good program for youth, and we’re doing youth, so I thought it would be great for us to come and help them, because it’s about helping the community.”
True Spirit Ministries, the Austins’ umbrella organization that oversees Drills and Skills, has used the Long Avenue facility for its own outreach, “so when we saw that they (the Mathises) got it, we thought, ‘We can help Jon and Michelle .’ Plus my wife and Michelle are good friends because they both cater. So we help each other.
“We’re hoping we can touch the community, touch the kids. They really need it, especially in this day and age.”
Ellwood City native Jeff Potter, who now lives in the Baltimore area, made A2J a local stop on his annual Baseball Tour. For 12 years, Potter would arrange an entourage of young baseball players to go on a 30-day tour of playing games and doing community service in various locations. However, he noted, it’s become harder for families to have their kids make that big of a time commitment.
“This year, we’ve kind of flipped it around,” he said. “Instead of bringing kids onto the tour, we get kids from the community. That way, you accomplish the same thing, but you’re getting the people in the community more invested.
“Before, you’d bring kids in, you leave, and wow, everybody’s happy. But there’s nobody in the community who was really a part of it. It’s really nice coming in and seeing people from the community doing the work.”
At least one familiar face was part of Potter’s tour: 15-year-old Gavin Ellison of Butler, who included climbing a scaffolding to paint the church ceiling as part of his fourth year of service.
“I’ve been in love with the tour ever since we got involved (his family also has hosted tour members when they’ve come to the area),” he said. “As soon as I was old enough, I told my mom, ‘Summer’s coming around, I’m ready to go on the tour.”
Ellison plans to do his tour of duty “old school,” traveling from town to town as in its previous format.”
“This year it will be like 40 days we’ll be out for the summer, just traveling around, doing the stuff we’ve always been doing,” he said. “Next year, I’m probably going to be getting a job, so I might not be on the full tour, but I’m definitely going to try to get on for a week or two.”
One youngster who will be staying in New Castle is 12-year-old Noah Niglio, who has been attending A2J gatherings and who turned out to help paint on Saturday.
“It’s something to do; it gets me out of the house,” Noah said. “I’ve painted with my grandpa. I’m going to paint the stairwell.”
He added that he planned to stay for all 12 hours of the project.
The Mathises have been working in youth ministry for over a decade, primarily with kids from fifth through 12th grades.
They weren’t actually looking for a New Castle site, but weren’t about to turn down the offer from Pam and Scott Thiry of Feed My Sheep to take the building.
“We saw the vision for the kids,” Jon Mathis said. “In this community, they need a place where they can have hope and have faith and a place where they can trust someone.
“We’re willing to step in and trust God by faith and try to make a difference. You can’t get them all, but you can make a difference.”
The building already has hosted its first free dinner, with 25 adults and kids turning out to share a meal and time of fellowship.
Plans call for the venerable structure to become a community center as well as a ministry. Michelle Mathis, who has run her catering business out of the church basement, hopes to rent it out for parties and weddings, community trainings, while Jon looks forward to leading health and fitness training in the lower level.
“We really want to bring some light to the community,” Michelle Mathis said. “We are going to have kids come and do dances, give them something to do. We want to start a lawn care business to give kids a job.”
The idea, Jon Mathis added, is for kids to get the skills they need for success, “and the success comes from trusting what God’s going to do inside.”
Moreover, Michelle Mathis stressed, A2J is open to everyone.
“You don’t have to be a Christian to come here,” she said. “We love everybody. We love the people who are stuck in a ditch, we love people in recovery. We love kids who don’t believe, we love LBGTQ. We don’t care.
“We are open and we want everybody to know we’re here, nonjudgmental. We do show the love of God. That’s where it comes from.”
“Just come as you are,” Jon Mathis added. “The Gospel changes the life, not us. Our job is to catch the fish. It’s God’s job to clean ’em up.”