Jubilee Ministries doesn’t want to do good. Jubilee wants to do as much good as humanly possible.
Deep down in its heart of hearts — right at the top of the soul — Jubilee Ministries knows that it is being called by God. The local ministry also understands that faith is nothing without works.
Not only are its stores the manifestation of God’s calling, they allow Jubilee to make the biggest impact possible.
On Monday, Jan. 18, Jubilee Ministries opened its seventh thrift store, in Wernersville. Jubilee views the opening as a way to expand its ministry into Berks County, and as an opportunity to create even more positive change.
“We have a desire to reach more people, to be in more prisons,” said Ryan Newswanger, who’s been Jubilee’s CEO for the past five years. “This has been a funding model that works for Jubilee. We’ve had men come to us from Berks County. We have a really good relationship with Hope Ministry in Reading. We see [the Wernersville store] as a way to continue our mission.
“We’ve learned a lot over the years,” added Newswanger. “Our desire is to help people. We do have plans to continue to grow. If God wants us to be bigger, so be it. If God wants us to be smaller, so be it. We want to be faithful to His desires.”
The Wernersville location is very similar to Jubilee Ministries’ six other stores — except for maybe its online store — but the nature of thrift shops makes every one unique.
Situated at 6371 Penn Avenue, or Route 422, east of Lebanon, in the former Eisenhauer Nissan building, Jubilee’s Wernersville store features 12,000-square feet of retail space offering reasonably priced clothing, housewares, electronics, books, exercise equipment, and bargains galore. While Jubilee Ministries’ Wernersville store employs eight people, it is still seeking to round out its staff.
Partly because of the COVID-19 crisis, the opening of the Wernersville location was about a year in the making. Newswanger declined to reveal the purchase price of the building.
“It’s going to be selling the same type of products available at our other stores,” said Newswanger, a resident of Myerstown. “It’ll be the same quality items, with the same quality staff. Each store has a lot of similarities, but each store is different. Because we’re a thrift store, all the items are different.
“Generally speaking, the vast majority of what we’re selling has been donated,” Newswanger. “I’d say 99 percent of the items we sell have been donated. It’s a huge contribution to us financially. The community has been very generous to us. But we can’t take things that are broken or stained. Everything needs to be sold, so they need to have the same level of quality. By law, some items aren’t permitted to be re-sold.”
In many ways, the Wernersville store represents a simple repetition of Jubilee’s established and successful financial formula of taking quality donated items and turning them into funds for its ministry. In that vein, donors are directly and indirectly aiding men and women in prison — some of whom are at the lowest points of their lives — through Jubilee Minstries.
“There is a cost of doing business,” said Newswanger. “People’s hearts are usually in the right place. They want to bless us. The vast majority of people are donating with a good heart and giving us quality items.
“Every item is checked, and we’ll determine if we can re-sell that item,” continued Newswanger. “We’ll determine what the value of that item is, get it priced and store it until that item is needed in the store. Most of the items we can’t sell will be recycled. We try to be good stewards of everything given to us.”
Jubilee Ministries also owns and operates thrift shops in Lebanon, Annville, Palmyra, Myerstown, Manheim and online. Those experiences have helped Jubilee to tweak and fine-tune its thrift store model, creating a system that has allowed the Wernersville store to hit the ground running.
“We have a system that we’ve developed over the years,” Newswanger said. “There are a lot of things that come through the doors. But we’ve done it before. We know what we want the stores to look like, and we have existing merchandise. We were able to train the manager at the Wernersvile store through work in another store.
“Jubilee Ministries was started out of the vision of a youth group,” added Newswanger. “They became on fire for the Lord and they wanted to serve the Lord. The youth group wanted to go to the Lebanon County prison and help prisoners. It’s a whole long story of God working through youth. The group of teenagers got permission to go into prison and do Bible studies and play games.”
Jubilee Ministries opened its first thrift store on 7th Street in Lebanon in 1978, before moving to a second location on Cumberland Street in 1993. Jubilee’s current Lebanon store has been located at 235 South 12th Street for 20 years.
Most of Jubilee’s subsequent branches were opened between 2000 and 2010.
“Without a doubt, we’ve seen tremendous blessings. We’ve seen God do some cool things,” said Newswanger. “We are focused on men coming out of prison who have a desire to change their lives. They’ll come live with us and work with us. They learn how to manage money and to father. They’re typically with us for nine to 12 months. Their rebuilding their lives, from a Christian perspective.
“At the start, our guys will work for us, then we encourage them to get jobs outside of Jubilee,” Newswanger added. “You’re training them and mentoring them, but at some point they need to step outside the nest. It’s something more towards a career and life sustaining. Many of our staff members are on board with what we do. What’s happening here is special.”
If Jubilee’s mission of ‘Rebuild. Restore. Renew. …Lives’ is financially founded in its stores, then it’s manifested by chaplains’ hands-on work of counseling and mentoring men currently incarcerated. Right now, Jubilee Ministries is funding the work of both male and female chaplains in eight area prisons.
Upon their release, the former inmates are offered the benefits of Jubilee Ministries’ aftercare programs.
“So much of our work is helping behind walls and bars and barbed wire,” said Newswanger. “Everybody sees our stores, but a lot of people don’t know about our work in prisons, because they don’t see it. Jubilee Ministries is all about life changes. There is a reason behind our existence. Our donors and customers are being given an opportunity to participate in life changes through Jubilee.
“We’re leaving the future in God’s hands,” concluded Newswanger. “We do feel God is helping us to do more. We are pursuing more work. We’ve had [other] prisons contact us. We’ve been doing prison ministries for well over 40 years now.”
Because purging old things in the backs of closets can be an uplifting experience.
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