On June 27, 1997 Bill Antinore pled guilty in Federal Court in Camden, NJ to theft of government funds. On June 1st of that same year, unbeknownst to Bill, a group of men began meeting monthly at Bunker Hill Presbyterian Church in Turnersville, New Jersey. They called themselves “South Jersey Aftercare”, and they began gathering, with the sole purpose of helping men, from a Christian perspective, after their release from prison.
South Jersey Aftercare (SJA)
When Bill Antinore was released from federal prison in July of 1999, he called Prison Fellowship (started by Chuck Colson in 1976 — it is the largest prison ministry in the world) in the hopes of locating a Christian group in South Jersey that helped men after their release from prison. A few days after that initial phone call, Bill received a call from a local representative of Prison Fellowship, indicating that a group by the name of South Jersey Aftercare (SJA) helped men who had come out of prison. He was told that the group met monthly at Bunker Hill Presbyterian Church in Turnersville, New Jersey.
Bill showed up at the group’s August 1999 meeting and became the object of unconditional love from the moment he walked through the door. This group had many members who were already doing Bible studies within various prisons; they had come to the conclusion that the most important part of prison ministry is being able to come alongside men and women following their release. The men in that group mentored and discipled Bill as he transitioned back into the community. The group began discussing the need and necessity of a weekly Christ-centered support group for men coming out of prison. In December of that same year, the first SJA Reentry/Aftercare group was held at Antioch Baptist Church in Camden, New Jersey. The group was headed up by Bill Mott and supported by Ron Evans (a member at Antioch) and Bill Antinore. The Lord was apparently testing their perseverance and commitment because Bill, Bill and Ron met every Thursday evening for two years before the Lord began to bring other men to that meeting. Word of the meeting spread and soon there were many men at the meeting each week. The meeting continues today and averages about 15 to 20 men each week.
In 2006, after much prayer, SJA began meeting a significant need for many ex-offenders by renting 3 single family homes and using them as Christ-centered transitional homes for men coming out of prison. In 2014 SJA acquired a 4th home and began using it for the same purpose. They comfortably accommodate 10 men in the homes that they presently have. Since April of 2006 eighty-seven (87) men have resided in their transitional homes as they reintegrated into the community. While there they are mentored, discipled, get plugged into a local church, receive help with practical things like ID, driver’s license restoration, employment & education help & more.
My Father’s Hands (MFH)
In 2002, the Lord burdened Bill’s heart to begin reaching out to people on the street in Camden. First, this was by meeting practical needs with items such as food and clothing and then, as the Lord would allow, talking about and sharing the reason for the hope that he has through his relationship with the Lord. Bill and Brenda began talking to other Christians about this burden and soon had a small team of individuals who were similarly burdened. So each month, on the third Sunday, they began showing up on the sidewalk alongside the CVS on Martin Luther King Blvd. They began with sandwiches, coffee/hot chocolate/juice, fruit, snacks, tracks and, of course, the love of Jesus. Over time, more and more interest was generated in serving the homeless – and others on the streets – on Sunday mornings before church. Eventually, the other weeks of the month were covered by different teams.
After taking a look what was available to the homeless and others on the street in terms of food and other necessities, it was determined that there really was nothing available, on a regular basis, for people on the weekends. So, in January 2006, the breakfast outreach ministry started. It started out small. Very small. Our plan was to serve a complete breakfast (pancakes, eggs, sausage, pastries, coffee and hot chocolate) to people on the street on the last Saturday of each month. Our friends at Antioch Baptist Church graciously allowed us to use its Fellowship Hall for the breakfasts. We advertised about the breakfast at various locations in the city, but unfortunately, a few days before the first breakfast, we were told that we would be unable to use the Fellowship Hall that particular Saturday. Knowing that we had already advertised the breakfast, we did not want to completely cancel. We knew that we had to be there for any of the homeless or others on the street that would show up. We made a container of coffee, ran down to McDonald’s and purchased 13 breakfast sandwiches, and stood out in front of the Fellowship Hall. It was freezing. No one actually showed up for the breakfast, so, we began yelling at passersby to see if they wanted a hot cup of coffee and a breakfast sandwich. Most of the people walking by thought we were nuts, but after a few hours or so, we were able to distribute the breakfast sandwiches and most of the coffee.
From that humble beginning, the Lord grew the breakfast tremendously. The following month, we had about 25 people, and then he continued to grow the breakfast month after month. After a year or so we added a Saturday breakfast on the second week of each month. After another year, the Lord opened up an opportunity to the ministry to have the breakfasts at the Fellowship House on Broadway. Shortly after moving the breakfast to the Fellowship House, the Lord continued to expand this area of the ministry. A breakfast on the third week and then on the first week were added. We began using our ministry bus to bring people from downtown to and from the breakfast. Between having a very visible spot on Broadway and shuttling our guests from downtown to and from the breakfast, the number of people served grew dramatically. Now, we were regularly serving between 250 and 300 people each Saturday. Of course, it wasn’t long before a team was added to cover the months that had a fifth Saturday in them. It was crazy… but a good kind of crazy.
In addition to providing a hot, nutritious breakfast each week, we began distributing clothing. Friends of the ministry donated a Prayer Station and that, along with sitting down and sharing the hope of the gospel with our guests, became central to the breakfast ministry. The Fellowship House graciously allowed us to have our breakfasts at their facility until 2014. At that time, we moved to the Aretha Wright men’s homeless shelter on Atlantic Avenue. The Volunteers of America Delaware Valley offered us the use of the shelter’s kitchen and dining area for our weekly community outreach breakfasts. We continue to serve our breakfast there each week – 52 weeks a year. This arm of the ministry became known as “My Father’s Hands.”
She Has a Name (SHAN)
The part of the ministry that is now known as “She Has a Name” had its beginnings in the summer of 2005. On a 95°F day in the middle of the summer, Bill and Brenda were driving through Camden on Broadway. Almost simultaneously, the Lord gave them eyes to see the girls standing on the corners. Between the drug use, dehydration, and scorching humid temperatures, the girls looked as though they were about to die. By God’s grace, Bill and Brenda decided immediately to attempt to meet a physical need. They drove back to their home in West Deptford, New Jersey, filled an igloo cooler with a case of bottled water, and packed it with ice. They then headed back down to Broadway and began driving north from Morgan Boulevard. They weren’t even sure what they were going to do, but as soon as Brenda saw the first girl on the first corner, she asked Bill to stop. She put the window down and asked the girl if she wanted a bottle of cold water. Of course, the girl said yes and the next thing you know Brenda had hopped out, grabbed a cold bottle of water from the cooler, and was talking to and loving on a lady she didn’t know. That first encounter was the beginning of the ministry to the ladies on Broadway who are drug addicted and turn to prostitution in order to support their habits. After spending time with that first girl, they moved up Broadway. These encounters with the girls repeated themselves numerous times. Each time, the girls responded positively to the offer of a cold bottle of water and the unconditional love of a stranger. It didn’t take long for the outreaches to the girls on Broadway to become weekly and then more than weekly. For years, the ladies on the street looked for Brenda’s blue Trailblazer on Fridays, because they knew that they would be met with unconditional love, compassion, some type of food and other practical items. Relationships began and grew over the years, between Brenda and her small team of female volunteers, and the ladies on the street. Eventually, Brenda and her volunteers started to utilize the ministry bus to have a place of refuge, right on Broadway, for the ladies struggling on the street. More recently, the SHAN team works with the local authorities to give the ladies an immediate opportunity to get help in the form of rehabilitation out of state.
1700 South Broadway
It was now evident that a permanent location was necessary to house these three branches of the ministry. A donor had given the ministry money to be used toward acquiring such a building, so, we waited and prayed. A few years later an abandoned building on the corner of Broadway and Carl Miller Boulevard caught the eye of Bill and Brenda. Brenda boldly declared that somehow, someway the Lord was going to put that building into the hands of the ministry. For months Brenda circled the building in prayer as it sat abandoned. On April 18, 2013 the ministry purchased that building at 1700 S. Broadway. The building now houses the offices of the ministry, is a residence for Bill and Brenda and operates as a safe house/drop-in center for the girls on Broadway. So today, in addition to the regular weekly outreaches, the ministry of She Has A Name also has in-reach to the ladies twice a week. There are breakfasts for the ladies every Saturday morning and lunches for the ladies every Wednesday. The girls on the street come in, get loved on, eat, rest, take a shower and get off the street. The ladies from the street know that this is a safe place for them.
Seeds of Hope
As the Lord continued to grow the various parts of the ministry (South Jersey Aftercare, My Father’s Hands and She Has A Name) people were getting confused. In an effort to simplify things, in 2010 an Advisory Board was formed. They prayed about a new ministry name that would not only be an umbrella name over the three parts of the ministry but would also tie them together based upon what each was attempting to do. In 2010, after much prayer and discussion, the trustees determined to name the ministry “Seeds of Hope.” Today, all three ministries operate under the general name of Seeds of Hope while maintaining their specific identities based upon the people that the Lord has called each part to serve. In 2011, the Advisory Board recommended and implemented an oversight group – our Board of Trustees—and that continues today.