By Sean Wardwell
Killeen Daily Herald
Alvin Dillard, director of Killeen's Christian Assistance Network, has a compassionate heart, but he's also not shy about telling people in crisis unpleasant, but necessary truths.
"I try to do it as mercifully as I can, but people sometimes have to hear the truth in order to focus on what needs to change," he said. "Whether they do that or not, that's personal choice. But if nobody tells them the truth, then they live with the wrong idea that there's always going to be someone out there to (help)."
Yet, helping people is why the Christian Assistance Network exists and why Dillard moved to Killeen in 1999 after finishing his seminary studies in Houston. A self-described military brat and Navy veteran, Dillard acknowledged that a life spent helping people can be taxing.
"You have to have a heart to serve people. If you don't, the best thing you can do is help support someone doing it, because you have to commit night and day and you have to commit everything that you have available to you," he said. "CAN is one of those type of ministries from my perspective. It's something you have to give yourself to because there's no money in it."
Money has been an issue with his ministry.
Dillard's office, on average, sees between 12 and 15 clients a month. But, two churches donating to CAN recently dropped their support, due to the economy. Normally, with the remaining 18 churches in CAN's network giving between $25 and $250 a month, the ministry's budget averages between $1,200 and $1,400 a month.
But that figure has been dropping, with some months going as low as $800. Increased operation costs diminish funds dedicated to helping clients even more.
"Unfortunately at this time, there's just not sufficient dollars," Dillard said. "About 60 percent goes to operations and 40 percent goes to service. It sounds terrible. If we want to reduce this 60/40 split that we currently spend in our budget, we need to receive more money, because the money we receive goes directly to services."
CAN supporters say the services the network provides are essential and help the churches fulfill their Christian missions while not discriminating against other religious backgrounds or forcing religion on them.
"I think the purpose of CAN is to help someone in their circumstances," said the Rev. Andrew Green, pastor of Killeen's Grace Lutheran Church. "Sometimes, our funds are limited. They can do more in one place, rather than all (our churches) individually."
When asked what role faith plays in his work, Dillard, who is also a chaplain with the Killeen Police Department, joked, "Every time I open that mailbox and see if there's a check in it."
"Ninety-nine percent of the people who come into CAN are unchurched," he continued.
"They come from all walks of life and come from different religious backgrounds. We don't discriminate in any way of where they come from. We look at what their need is and what they're willing to do to help themselves."
Alfonzo Leathers is an assistant pastor at Westside Baptist Church in Killeen and a former board member of CAN until 2010. He said he can send people who come in off the street to his church to CAN and know they'll be helped.
"We aren't equipped to help people off the street, but CAN is able to sit them down and point them to all the resources they can qualify for," he said. "I believe CAN serves a vital purpose in the community. What they need is more churches and individuals to give to their mission."
Even with the dip in donations, CAN was able to obtain new office space in the soon-to-open Killeen Arts and Activities Center.
The ministry also operates as the umbrella agency for Heritage House of Central Texas, which hopes to soon open the city's first homeless shelter, until its nonprofit status is approved.
The ministry also offers a job bank, apartment referrals to complexes willing to work with people in crisis and limited utility assistance.
"We don't want to limit what our services are, but we take things one-on-one and look at it carefully," said Dillard. "When it comes to referrals from our agencies, I haven't turned one down yet."
Contact Sean Wardwell at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7552. Follow him on Twitter at KDHcity.
Christian Assistance Network
Contact CAN at (254) 634-0178 for more information, to contribute or to volunteer.