About 50 people gathered together at the Drexelbrook Catering and Special Event Center Thursday to celebrate 30 years of demonstrating compassion and dignity for those in need, selfless service and the desire to make a difference.

Cityteam Chester welcomed founding members, volunteers, partners, board members and staff to celebrate the milestone occasion by sharing memories, stories and visions for the future.

Cityteam is a nondenominational Christian nonprofit organization compassionately serving the poor, the homeless and the lost in five locations: San Jose, San Francisco, Oakland, Portland and Chester. At least 500,000 people are served nationwide each year.

Cityteam Chester, 634 Sproul St., serves those in desperate need throughout the Greater Delaware Valley. The nonprofit is privately funded through private donors, fundraisers, churches, foundations and businesses. Dedicated, caring staff and volunteers reach out to those who are in need of a hot meal, safe shelter and decent clothing. Cityteam Chester also offers recovery programs for individuals seeking to transform their lives from the destruction of drugs and alcohol.

Located in the heart of Chester, Cityteam also connects with low-income families who are in need of emergency food boxes to help stretch their income at the end of the month. Mothers with infants and young at-risk children stop by every Wednesday afternoon to receive diapers, formula and other baby items.

I felt humbled and honored to attend the luncheon and hear the stories told by the individuals involved — past and present — in Cityteam’s ongoing success. It was an inspiring afternoon. Rick Briggs, of Panama City, Fla., flew up for the celebration. He was a founder of the Chester ministry and its very first paid employee. Briggs, who stayed at Cityteam for 20 years, now serves at Panama City Rescue Mission.

In 1987, Briggs, born and raised in Chester, was helping out at Union Gospel Mission on Morton Avenue. He noticed there was no help available in the city for those with drug addiction. He felt obliged to do something to help. At least 2,000 cars were coming into the city each day to buy drugs. Chester had the worst school district, the highest addiction levels and the highest poverty level, he said. He started out helping those in need twice a week at a church in Brookhaven and then moved in 1988 into the Sproul Street building, where Cityteam Chester is still housed.

“When we wanted to purchase the building, we prayed at the site,” remembered former Cityteam Chester director Richard Williams, who joined forces with Briggs about nine months into his quest to get help for those with addictions.

“If you give us this corner, we will praise Your Name here every single day,” Williams and Briggs prayed.

In one month, they had the building.

“This is our story, not mine,” Williams stated, as he looked around those gathered in the room. “It is truly amazing to look back and see how God orchestrated every step that we took.”

Glen Peterson, president and CEO of Cityteam nationwide, flew in from California to be there for the celebration.

The always-popular Jack Klotz was also a special guest in attendance. The former pro football athlete received a thunderous applause when it was his turn to speak. Klotz was an outstanding pro football lineman who whose career in the AFL included being a member of the LA Rams, New York Titans and Jets, San Diego Chargers and Houston Oilers. Looking back at all of his accomplishments, Klotz, a Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame inductee, said it was his time at Cityteam that was the best and most rewarding experience in his life.

“I was blessed to be at Cityteam, “ Klotz told those gathered. “I was blessed to be given the opportunity to do what Jesus wanted me to do.”

Kwinn Tucker, the current director of Cityteam Chester, and Nancy Craskey, of Broomall, director of development at City Team Chester, were also at the celebration, along with Sherry Stovall, of Chester, education and career instructor at the Cityteam, and Darla McCready, director of adult clothing donations at Cityteam. Other notables who came included longtime supporters former staffers, volunteers, board members and supporters Bill Strine, Wanda Ford, Judy Rettew, Bob and Carolyn Turner, Dick and Betty Wilgus, Lois Swinson, Beth Knowles, Richard and Renee Erickson, Lee Erickson Giles, Bill Heilig, Bill Moore, Bob Schuler, Joe Woods, Macaira Koch and John Clifford.

There were many others in attendance. Some sat quietly and listened. Others walked up to the microphone to tell their stories.

John Clifford is a success story. Once homeless and addicted, he found Cityteam and turned his life around. He went on to become director of Cityteam’s food program.

Sherry Stovall was born and raised in the city of Chester. In 2003, she came to Cityteam in need and met Cityteam Chester Director Kwinn Tucker. Stovall said that she watched Kwinn and the others lovingly serving the women in her community.

“It occurred to me that I live here and I don’t serve the women in my own community,” she said.

After she was back on her feet and working at Crozer, she had the opportunity to accept a job at Cityteam.

“My supervisors at Crozer thought that I was nuts to leave that job to come here,” Stovall laughed at the memory. “But Cityteam gives me the opportunity to take care of my family, practice my faith and help other people. It’s the best job in the world.”

Stovall said that in the 15 years that she has served there, she has witnessed many seeds planted that later grew.

“Everyone can help in some way,” she said, “even if they can just pray for our ministry.”

Many of the speakers, like Briggs, who started it all, spoke about the early years when there was no place for the addicted to get help in Chester.

“God provided the way through every trial and tribulation to get Cityteam to where it is today,” he said.

Peterson talked about the ways Cityteam Chester is positioned to grow its ministry.

“One thing all Cityteam chapters have in common is we live by Psalm 9::18,” he said. “‘God will never forget the poor or the needy. Hope of the afflicted will never perish.’ This was a startup operation here that took a lot of blood, sweat and tears. This is the Lord’s work.”

Tucker said Cityteam Chester served 5,000 local residents last year, from families to men with addictions “who found freedom in our halls.”

“I have been privileged to walk alongside of most of you,” Tucker told those seated at the luncheon. “When I see everyone doing God’s work each day, there is gratitude in my heart. God is calling us to a bright future with new ways to serve. We are building upon a foundation of faith that started it all. Give yourselves a round of applause for the work that you have done.”

Congratulations to Cityteam Chester on this milestone occasion, and a zillion cheers for the staff, the board, the supporters and the countless individual volunteers who come on their own or from area churches and other organizations just because they have it in their hearts to do “God’s work.” As an outsider, I listened to their stories in awe, wondering if those in that room truly realize the impact their giving hearts and generous spirit have had on the lives of those that they’ve touched. Thirty years has made a huge difference in more people than they’ll probably will ever know.

For more information on Cityteam, to volunteer, to make a donation or to seek help, call 610-872-6865 or visit cityteam.org/philadelphia.

Readers can contact Peg DeGrassa at pdegrassa@21st-centurymedia.com.

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