Ministry Behind the Scenes: Jump Start

Jump Start, a Grace Church We Choose Partner dedicated to stopping the cycle of recidivism, has started a program of discipleship classes in 16 state prisons. Over the past 10 years, 2,500 incarcerated men and women have completed the program and have returned to our communities. 95% of released participants have been successful, remaining out of incarceration and continuing to break the cycle. Some of those released have transitioned with support from Jump Start, where they are provided with a safe place to live, job placement, transportation, accountability, and are plugged in with a local church.

On Tuesday and Friday mornings from 6:30-8:00am, volunteers from Grace Church Spartanburg lead the “33 Series” with those in the transitional program. The 33 series is an updated version of our Men’s Roundtable curriculum, A Quest for Authentic Manhood.

Below, Jay Bliven, a member of the Spartanburg campus, shares his experience volunteering with Jump Start.

Why did you decide to begin volunteering with Jump Start?

Back in February or March 2016, I was invited, along with several other men, to attend the Friday night JumpStart gathering at Second Presbyterian Church. I didn’t know what to expect but I had heard this was a very effective ministry. At the close of this meeting, we all gathered in a circle, held hands, sang “Amazing Grace,” and prayed to conclude the session. Before that evening, I had never really known anyone who had served time in a penitentiary; however, seeing 50 or so ex-offenders circled up holding hands, singing, and praying was amazing. I was convicted!

How did you feel before you got started?

I may have been a little apprehensive at first, but I wanted to know more so I began attending the Friday night sessions. I never felt uncomfortable and I did this for about one year. I got to know several of the participants, heard many testimonies and found myself wanting to be there to support these men and women.

How have the participants responded to you serving them?

It was easy to recognize that the participants appreciated my being there with them on Fridays. As with all of us, some of the participants are more outgoing and some more reserved, but all will warmly greet you with a handshake and many with “bro” hugs. All greetings seem genuine and many are willing and anxious to talk about their lives, their families, or their jobs.

What do you do when volunteering with Jump Start?

As mentioned before, I was simply attending the Friday sessions for the first year but I then decided to be a mentor volunteer as well. As a mentor, we provide support and guidance on an individual basis. Sometimes this is just being with your mentee talking, supporting, or praying, while other times it may be helping with budgets, providing transportation for an appointment, sharing a meal, or maybe shopping. I have mentored two individuals who did not have driver’s licenses so we did driver training together. By the way, both passed the driver’s test and got their license!

Can you share a story about someone you’ve helped?

Before I became his mentor, I met Derek* one night after a Friday session. For some reason, I was immediately drawn to him. I missed the next two Friday nights because I was on vacation, but when I returned I learned that Derek had suffered a massive heart attack and was in the cardiac intensive care unit at Spartanburg Medical. Even though I had only talked with Derek once, I felt compelled to visit him in the hospital. So, on this Friday before the Jump Start meeting, I went to visit him. That night, he was so out of it he never knew I was there, but his brother and sister (both from Pennsylvania) were in the room. They were so thankful and surprised that someone would make this effort to visit, thanking me over and over and even calling me an “angel.” We talked about Derek and about their family. I visited Derek several more times while he was recovering in the hospital and after that, I volunteered to be his mentor. I provided him with transportation, helped him with finances, looked into options for his future housing, shared meals together, and spent a lot of time at the downtown library. In the end, Derek was blessed because when his Jump Start time came to an end, his family stepped up big and provided him a house back near his previous home. We still maintain contact and talk at least once per week. This past October, my wife and I even had lunch with Derek’s sister in Pennsylvania!

Would you encourage others to get involved? If so, why?

Absolutely! You will see firsthand how lives have been redeemed and restored through faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.


*Name changed to “Derek” for privacy.