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Rebuilding: Pastor salvages materials, offers second chances

December 23, 2018

Deconstruction, reclamation and restoration.

That’s the motto of the Rev. Troy Baxter and his reclamation crew, but the sentiment extends beyond labor, informing and encompassing a larger mission: to improve and enrich the lives of men who have fallen on hard times.

The crew consists of individuals who have served some light jail time or experienced homelessness; men whom Troy has come into contact with through shelters or criminal justice systems. Men with families who want a second chance. And just as the workers break down wood and metal to be repurposed and used in other capacities, Baxter applies the same concepts of restoration to the lives of his employees.

The crew is currently hard at work at the Mason County Fairgrounds, where they’ve been commissioned to break down and haul away two barn buildings — No. 13 and 14 — to make room for upgraded replacements coming in 2019.

Baxter, a pastor at Cornerstone Tabernacle in Cadillac, has a background in construction and a passion for ministry that informs his hiring methods.

“It’s the concept of saving buildings from going to the dump or the landfill and investing in these men,” Baxter said Monday during the crew’s first day on site. “Some are middle-aged and some are young men who haven’t had what a lot of us take for granted; that’s a stable home, mentoring, job skills and things of that nature.”

He sees the work as another form of ministry; a way to teach the core principles of teamwork and camaraderie outside the walls of the church.

The purpose stems from prior experience working with the disadvantaged and the disenfranchised.

“For years, even before these projects, I’ve been involved in homeless ministry. I launched a homeless shelter called Sunrise Mission in Alpena. The heart of homelessness is (that) people grow up physically whether or not they’ve had anyone to sew into them some stability and good habits and ethics,” Baxter said. “And unless that kind of thing takes place, they find themselves on the bottom rung of the ladder all the time. Or (they get) into drugs and alcohol in order to escape from the reality of their everyday life.”

Those feelings of desperation, hopelessness and failure are a few of the problems Baxter aims to extinguish by providing a “wholesome work environment” with a faith-based approach to team-building.

“Potentially any one of those guys could respond to mentoring and end up with their contractor’s license down the road,” he said. “I’m in the process of working with a couple of these guys in that direction (right now).”

The workers say they appreciate the experience and the company.

“It’s teamwork; being around everybody and enjoying who you’re being around,” Mike Stewart, a member of the team at the fairground, said. “I’ve had situations where I haven’t enjoyed the people I’ve worked with, and this is a good group.

“When you’re not happy, you can’t work somewhere,” he added.

Other members of the crew are drawn to the idea of saving and finding new uses for materials, most of which are sold off to be used in other projects across the state.

“What I like about it is that it’s helping communities all over,” David Roys, another team member, said. “Instead of all this stuff going to waste and getting torn down or burned, it’s being taken down and used to better different communities.”

Some of the flooring from the buildings will find its way across the country, Baxter said, as the species of oak and yellow pine retrieved from the fairgrounds are popular for their durability.

“Very, very little of this will end up in a landfill,” he said.

Among Baxter’s employees are people with past minor criminal violations and others who are on probation or have struggled with addiction to drugs and alcohol.

Though many of the employees are on probation for minor offenses, not all the members of the crew have criminal records. Some, like Harold Bonnell, are victims of circumstance or trauma; men who found themselves in untenable life situations and needed a way out and a path forward.

Read the full story in Saturday’s Ludington Daily News print and e-Edition.

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