We’ve all experienced those magical moments when it feels like things just fall into place. Somehow, they work out for the best, like it was meant to be.
Some call it divine intervention, some call it the universe at work, and others say it’s luck or just coincidence. However, John Anhalt of Fort Atkinson calls those moments “God touches,” and he’s made it his life’s work to make sure people who need them the most receive those touches in the form of a “hand up.”
Currently, Anhalt and his God Touch Ministry are hoping to lend more helping hands to the community by providing transitional housing to those in need. To that end, the nonprofit organization has an accepted offer on the Hilltop Motel building at 200 E. Truman St. in Jefferson, with the goal of offering some 35 rooms to people in need of a temporary place to live. There also are an additional duplex and a house on the property, providing enough room for up to three families in need.
In order to achieve its goal, God’s Touch Ministry needs to raise $150,000 for a downpayment by Sept. 1 to close on the property. The hope is to raise community awareness and inspire some grassroots momentum to support the cause.
Anhalt explained that the facility will not be a homeless shelter.
“I don’t like to use that word,” he said. “It strips people of their pride and dignity. We’re just trying to help people get back on their feet by providing the basics, like a place to stay, food, help finding a job,” and perhaps some low-key spiritual guidance in the process.
A local businessman who’s owned and managed several Dairy Queens and, later, the Burger Corner in Jefferson, Anhalt started God Touch Ministry about 10 years ago after he had the opportunity to help a woman who had been released from jail, but had challenges finding work and getting her life back on track.
Helping her gave him what he likes to call “that Christmas present feeling,” a wave of great joy and gratitude. He wanted more of that feeling, so he began to spend more and more time helping people get back on their feet after being released from jail, or when in between places to live, battling addictions or mental health problems. All provided that same sense of pure happiness.
“We have so many God-touch moments in a day that we don’t even realize,” he said. “Just going to my car and having a half a tank of gas and 20 bucks in my pocket is a blessing. I have so many things to be grateful for. These people are constantly teaching me to just be thankful for anything you’ve got.”
After a modest start a decade ago, Anhalt soon had a following and a jail ministry, and was helping many individuals get back on their feet. His only requirements for those to receive assistance are a willingness to work and a commitment to getting help if addiction is an issue.
“We’ve got people who are willing to counsel our tenants,” said Trish Jonas, president of the God Touch Ministry Board of Directors. “We have people who can help them get through whatever they need to.”
She continued: “We want to build people up so they have self esteem and can put a foot forward and say, ‘I can do this.’ But they need the help up. Counseling, guidance and giving them a place to stay are huge.”
A lifelong Catholic, Anhalt said he wasn’t always as deeply spiritual as he is today, and he never set out to start a ministry.
“You find God as you go, and our ministry just sort of happened, little by little,” he explained. “And then one thing really hit home for me. I knew a guy who was released from prison, but he couldn’t find a place to live. He had found a job and would go to work every day and then go back to jail to sleep because no one would rent to him. That’s part of why I got a house for tenants in need, and it mushroomed from there.”
He added, “I have to believe in God touches because I couldn’t have ever planned this. I’ve seen God working through so many people and as a result, my faith continues to grow. Meanwhile, I realized I was good at this and my own sons were ready, were good kids and grown up; I realized how fortunate I was with my own family. Then it just went from there and one thing led to another. Where there was a need, I tried to fill it.
“Sometimes all it takes is giving someone a roof over their head. Then they need a job, and sometimes a new circle of friends,” Anhalt said. “The biggest thing of all is we try to give them some hope.”
Jonas noted that God Touch Ministry has several properties that house many people in need from as many walks of life, including, but certainly not limited to, individuals recently released from jail or prison. In fact, services are available to anyone in need.
“Safe Haven is a house in Jefferson that’s for abused or molested women, for example,” she explained. “And there are three places in and around Fort Atkinson, too.”
Anhalt said they want to let people know what the organization is doing, which is offering a hand up, not a hand out.
“Pride and dignity don’t come from me giving someone in need a $300 check,” he said. “It comes from me helping them find a job and a place of their own to live. A hand out is just kicking the can down the road and it’s more about making yourself feel good. Giving someone dinner and a week in a hotel does nothing if you don’t help that person to help themselves. That’s where I think God Touch is different.”
God Touch Ministry assists tenants with finding work, and also helps with teaching budgeting basics.
“It might seem simple, but there are so many people whose issues all start with money,” he said.
Speaking of money, Anhalt expressed frustration over nonprofit organizations that put the majority of funds raised toward the salaries of executive directors.
“We don’t take any salaries at all; we never have,” he explained. “I’ve financed everything on my own with what money I had and with help from St Vincent de Paul.”
He said he expects the same type of commitment from those he assists.
“Our concept has always been the hand up,” he explained. “If you don’t want to work, so be it, but then we can’t help you.”
Anhalt allowed that many tenants will be battling addictions and/or mental illness, which can make it challenging to find employment.
Fortunately, God Touch works with companies such as Opportunities Inc. in Fort Atkinson, as well as other area-based corporations, such as Spacesaver and Generac, which have programs that put people with disabilities to work.
However, Anhalt is quick to point out that God Touch Ministry is not a treatment facility.
“We’re just a place to get your life back together,” he said. “The only treatment I try to do is with Christ and I try to lead by example. Everyone knows I have great faith. Christ told us to love one another and help each other out, so that’s what I try to do.”
God Touch Ministry will be serving refreshments at the ice cream social to be held in conjunction with the Fort Atkinson Community Band Concert on Monday, June 17, at Barrie Park in Fort Atkinson.
The ice cream social begins at 6:30 and continues throughout the concert.
Tax-deductible donations made toward God Touch Ministry’s investment in the Jefferson property will be accepted at the event and also may be made directly to the Sanctuary Ridge Fund at PremierBank in Fort Atkinson.
For more information of God Touch Ministry or the transitional housing effort, call John Anhalt at (920) 728-4555.