Ecumenical council wants addiction center

Sarah Ann Jump/The Herald
Members of the Community Ecumenical Council, from left, Rev. Adam Ruschan of Redeemer Lutheran Church, Rev. Tim Kraemer of Christ Lutheran Church and Dr. John Duncan of First Baptist Church and Jasper Mayor Dean Vonderheide meet in the Pfaffenweiler Room of City Hall in Jasper on Wednesday.


JASPER — Pastors and priests from Jasper churches have been uniting for about a year to discuss the problems facing the city, while also planning a way to address one of its biggest crises.

They’re now preparing to take steps in an endeavor aimed at fighting the area’s addiction issue head-on.

They want to bring a treatment or recovery center to Jasper.

“And so we’re bringing in different models to look at and see if we can get behind one and get something started here,” said Jasper Mayor Dean Vonderheide, leader of the Community Ecumenical Council.

He said that for those fighting addiction, “sitting in jail doesn’t do them any good without a treatment program.”

Though an exact model and location have not yet been picked, the group is investigating a faith-based approach.

“We’re looking at what can we do to be a catalyst in ... getting those services here in Jasper [and] Dubois County,” Vonderheide said.

The assembly is already increasing dialogue among local religious leaders.

“Through this council, I really believe that it’s unifying a lot of the pastors together,” said Joel Rivera, pastor at Victory Assembly of God and member of the city’s ecumenical council. “There’s times that pastors can be territorial. But I think this right here, we’re all on the same playing field. We’re on the same ball team. And we’re working together.”

Vonderheide assembled the council after taking over as mayor in 2019. He did so to get a pulse on the community from members who understand it on a deeper level than most.

The group is comprised of leaders from various local denominations. Men and women are part of it, and churches with Latino congregations are represented. Seventeen churches — including one in Huntingburg and one in Haysville — make up the group.

Religious leaders started by collaborating and determining the issues they see in the area. Some are easily spotted, while others are harder to see. They include drug and alcohol abuse, problems in the home, financial troubles, early age trauma, homelessness and more.

“We feel like there’s a lot of issues around incarceration with substance abuse and addiction,” Vonderheide said. “And as a group, we’ve kind of been doing research and inviting guests in to speak about those type of things.”

Council members have visited Lighthouse Recovery Center in Washington, which is a self-funded model that operates in Daviess County.

“My goal is, I don’t think it should be a government-run thing,” Vonderheide said of the future Dubois County center. “I would hope that as we move on, that members of the ecumenical council and members of the community in other areas come together as a board to oversee it. And then hire the appropriate people to run it.”

Vonderheide explained that efforts similar to the local ecumenical council have been launched in the past, but they “just never really took off the way I thought it should.”

Now, he’s leading the group to action.

“I don’t want to just let something like this forever be on my to-do list,” Vonderheide said. “We want to get it to where it can launch and be sustainable. That’s the goal.”

The group will now take its research and begin developing a roadmap for the next steps to making the center a reality. Vonderheide said he “would hope that there could be something launched within this calendar year,” but that depends on everything falling in place.

“Our motivation is to improve the situation for all in our community,” Vonderheide said. “Not the elite. But for all.”

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