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Christian group hopes to create shelter for refugee boys at Masonic Home

By Ralph Echtinaw

The Alma Planning Commission set a July 12 public hearing last night so the public can comment on a rezoning request that would pave the way for the Masonic Home to provide space to house 36 Central American boys who entered the US without parents.

Bethany Christian Services would run the operation and house the boys in the former Warwick Learning Center.

The boys would range in age from 12 to 17.

“We’ve been doing this work for a while,” said Bethany Director Christa Stevens at the meeting. “This isn’t new to us. But it’s new to this area.”

The boys, Stevens said, “are fleeing for reasons of trafficking, persecution, violence.”

The shelter would house them temporarily until they are placed with families. Bethany Christian Services operates similar shelters elsewhere, and experience tells them that the average boy they take in is there for 40 days before moving on.

The boys would never be unsupervised and be helped by teachers, therapists, clinicians and case workers.

As many as 50 jobs could be brought to the area if the shelter is approved.

Robi Rodriguez of St. Louis broke in to say that shelters such as the one being proposed only “enable the border crisis.”

She urged Alma planning commissioners to forgo a public hearing and “stop this now.”

Alma Mayor Greg Mapes spoke in favor of a public hearing. “We owe the property owners the courtesy of having a public hearing,” he said.

The vote was unanimous to set July 12 as the date for the public hearing. Assistant City Manager Aeric Ripley said he will try to see that the rezoning request is the only item on the agenda then. 

The public hearing is not expected to be a Zoom meeting, but the venue has yet to be named.

Read more about Bethany Christian Services here:

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