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PC(USA) congregation and partners work to build a home for all God’s creatures

Members and friends of First Presbyterian Church in Mt. Pleasant, Iowa, share their journey toward opening the county’s only animal shelter

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

A kitten plays in the facility that will soon become All God’s Creatures Animal Shelter in Mt. Pleasant, Iowa. (Photos by Rich Copley/Presbyterian Mission Agency)

MT. PLEASANT, Iowa — Henry County, the home of First Presbyterian Church in Mt. Pleasant, Iowa, lacks an animal shelter — but not for long.

Community partners both inside and outside the church are working on what they call “Mission Pawsible,” the campaign to build All God’s Creatures, which when it opens will accommodate about 12 dogs and 50 cats, have medical exam space and quarantine areas, dedicated rooms for training, house a trap-neuter-release program for stray cats and kittens, and more.

Cyndy Danielson, left and Kathy Nellor are All God’s Creatures board members.

All God’s Creatures board members Cyndy Danielson, Kathy Nellor and Kate Ridinger were happy to discuss the campaign this week, which to date has raised $724,000 of the $1.7 million goal. A building has been purchased and an executive director has been hired, although there’s currently no timetable for the opening of All God’s Creatures, which is a commission of First Presbyterian Church and one of the ways the church lives out its Matthew 25 ministry to build congregational vitality.

“I am a relatively new member of this congregation,” said Nellor, a former bank examiner who three years ago was helping her husband through a brain tumor and “was not being fed” at the church she was attending at the time. “I looked at the people who had reached out to me sincerely with a word or a hug or a plate of cookies, and I realized the vast majority were from this church. That said to me that this church isn’t just reading Matthew 25 — they’re demonstrating it. As fine a pastor as Trey is,” she said, referring to FPC’s pastor, the Rev. Trey Hegar, “it’s the masses of the congregation that can make a huge difference.”

Samson, a dog owned by the Rev. Trey Hegar, interacts with incarcerated individuals at the Mt. Pleasant Correctional Facility.

The idea for All God’s Children began during a Bible study when members took a virtual stroll around the neighborhood and asked, “Who is my neighbor,” according to Danielson, who chairs the board and is a retired judge. “The [Mt. Pleasant Correctional Facility] is several blocks away,” Danielson noted, which caught members’ attention and their imagination.

A $300,000 bequest by a couple “put us into a building, which took us further than we had anticipated,” Danielson said. “Our goal became getting a building and refitting it to our purposes and using it to meet the needs of people and animals.”

Nellor describes the mission as “connecting hands and paws of all God’s creatures in Henry County to make a happier and healthier community.”

Kate Ridinger is an All God’s Creatures board member.

Ridinger said that at age 38, “I am excited about getting my generation into volunteering” and “getting folks my age and their children excited. The fact that it includes animals is a bonus for me.”

“We have to let people know there are people we really want to connect with, and the prison was one of those populations,” Ridinger said of the minimum-security facility, which will be featured in an upcoming Presbyterian News Service story. “All God’s Creatures has done research on other prisons” including “what are the pitfalls, so we go in with the best knowledge possible. There are fewer cat and kitten programs, and so that’s where we look to start.”

One idea is to relaunch a program inside the prison that enables incarcerated individuals to help train and handle dogs to make them more adoptable to the public.

“I loved that it was a younger person [Ridinger] who asked me to join the board,” Nellor said. “It made all the difference. It’s fun to see the interaction with younger members on our board.”

“A lot of people might want to be involved, but they don’t know how,” Danielson said. “They might say, ‘I know nothing about dogs.’ You ask them what they like doing and you find out they have all sorts of very good backgrounds you can build on.”

“Make sure you look into your community to find out what their skills are,” said Danielson, who attends St. Michael’s Episcopal Church, “and find congregations that can build on that as well.”

Nellor speaks of the board as a CARE team, an acronym for Creators, Advancers, Refiners and Executors. An organization needs all four, Nellor said — people who are visionary and have good ideas, those who can take steps to advance those ideas, people who are detail oriented, and those who can carry out the plan. “You can’t have a successful project without those four aspects,” Nellor said.

A building has been purchased and is slated to be renovated as the location of All God’s Creatures Animal Shelter.

Even before it opens, All God’s Creatures board members are looking at its financial sustainability over the next 5-10 years. Planned revenue streams include adoption and rehoming, dog grooming and training, a friends organization, special events, retail and services, grants and fundraising, and planned giving.

One person already contributes “phenomenal notecards,” Nellor said. Three people have indicated they’ll put All God’s Creatures in their wills, and another 12 “are looking at us for memorials.”

“Our younger board members brought their talent with them,” Danielson said, including Ridinger, who designed the website. “We have great materials, but that’s normal for them.”

“That’s really refreshing,” Danielson said, “knowing people are coming up behind us to carry it on.”

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