A look back at the history of Urban Mission Ministries

STEUBENVILLE — The following provides a look back at the history of Urban Mission Ministries.

¯ The Mill Men’s Hostel, 1959-1973

The Urban Mission originally was known as the Mill Men’s Hostel, created in 1959 as an outreach of the United Methodist Church to workers of Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel Corp.

During shift changes at the Steubenville Plant, the ministry offered worship services at the in-house chapel, pastoral counseling to workers and their families, recreational opportunities and refreshments — “The coffee was always hot” was the saying — all under the leadership of its only director, the Rev. Robert Henthorn, who recently died.

¯ Urban Mission Ministries Inc., 1973-1999

As the mills began to close and the needs of the community began to change, the Northeast Ohio Conference of the United Methodist Church appointed the Rev. Fred Gaston in 1973 to the position of urban minister. His mandate was to seek out opportunities for a Christian presence and ministry in inner-city Steubenville.

On Gaston’s retirement, the Rev. Robert Hutton was appointed director in 1981. Serving until his death in 1987, the ministry focus expanded to include aid to families and the homeless and a Vietnam veterans outreach.

The Urban Mission operated from Calvary United Methodist Church until the 1984 move into the basement of a building on Adams Street. When this site proved to be too small, a three-story building at 317 North St. became the new home in December 1986 in answer to many prayers.

The Rev. Roger Skelley-Watts was appointed executive director in April 1988. Under his leadership, the ministry to the homeless was enlarged through a new project called the Hutton House, offering temporary shelter to homeless families until permanent housing could be secured. This new facility was named in honor of Hutton.

In 1989, the former Fifth Street United Methodist Church at 301 N. Fifth Street was donated as the new site of the Urban Mission. In 1992, the Rev. Ricky Riggs became the executive director. Under his leadership, a four-story, 30,000-square-foot warehouse at 311 N. Sixth St. was purchased in 1994.

¯ The Simpson Black Community Developers/The Women’s Center

In April 1977, the Simpson Black Community Developer’s Program was created with the appointment of Sharon Kirtdoll to the position of community developer by the Rev. Tom Hammerton, superintendent of the Steubenville District United Methodist Church. The Rev. George Lee served as supervising pastor, and Simpson United Methodist Church was the base of operations.

In 1984, the Simpson Black Community Developer’s Program opened The Women’s Center, a multi-purpose program to address the needs of women of all ages. The center’s motto was, “We can’t change the world, but we can make a difference.”

In 1993, these ministries were merged with Urban Mission Ministries and the Women’s Center/Simpson Community Developer’s Program was renamed the Neighborhood Community Development Center to reflect the inclusiveness of the ministry. Founder Sharon Kirtdoll continued to serve as director of a wide variety of outreach and community development ministries within the African-American community of the Steubenville area.

¯ The Urban Mission Today

In 1996, the Rev. William Kuntze became the executive director. Under his leadership, a new constitution and bylaws were adopted providing substantial reorganization to the mission’s corporate structure. In addition, staff offices were computerized, and the mission hosted its first web site.

In 1999, the Rev. Robert Wilcher stepped into the executive director’s position until the Rev. Bruce Hitchcock was appointed in 2002.

Under Hitchcock’s guidance, the Urban Mission expanded its services to include a senior food program and a tutoring program for children. Hitchcock also played a key role in the establishment of the Jefferson County Fourth Street Health Center, a health care facility for the poor and underserved.

In July of 2011, the Rev. Ashley Steele stepped into the role of executive director. In 2014, she oversaw the renovation of God’s Pantry to become a Client Choice Pantry. In 2015, the Urban Mission purchased the War Memorial Building with plans to open a community resource center and a second shelter for homeless women and children. In 2018, the Urban Mission acquired the City Rescue Mission Shelter and Store.