One Eighty might not be a household word, but it's getting there.
The relatively new but fast-growing, fundamentalist Christian organization has purchased the former St. Joseph's Catholic Church property at Davenport's 6th and Marquette streets, establishing it as the hub for its ministry.
Called One Eighty — referring to a 180-degree turnaround in people's lives — the group's programs range from food pantries at schools to jobs and housing for adults trying to turn their lives around after incarceration, homelessness or addiction. It also provides jail ministry, a year-round Saturday activities/meal program at Davenport's Monroe Elementary School and a youth baseball league.
The organization was founded just 6½ years ago by Rusty Boruff, then 23, an example of the type of person he now tries to help. The Aledo, Illinois, native had used cocaine and been in jail but found God through a "really old man named Merle" who visited him in his cell.
"It's not what he said to me, it's what he did," Boruff said, referring to the time the man spent visiting him. "I learned God could forgive and that somebody still believed in me."
Boruff started with a $500 trailer in Milan to provide housing for men coming out of jail who couldn't find a place. After moves to Moline and Rock Island, the organization landed in Davenport and now at St. Joe's. For now, its offices remain at 1514 Washington St.
Along the way, One Eighty built credibility.
About 40 area churches now provide enough financial backing that, along with other money, the organization operates with an annual budget of $480,000 or more. It employs 14 people and was able to buy the former St. Joe's property — the entire block south of the alley between Marquette and Myrtle streets — for $370,000.
The churches also provide a core group of 250 to 300 volunteers per month.
One Eighty might not be a household word, but it's getting there.
"I tell you what," said Tim Bowman, pastor of Calvary Church of the Quad-Cities, Moline, which helped incubate One Eighty. "I attended a fundraising banquet (this spring) in downtown Bettendorf, and there were over 800 people there," he said, referring to the Quad-Cities Waterfront Convention Center.
"I attend a lot of fundraisers and banquets for a lot of organizations, and I have been a pastor in this community for 21 years, and this was the biggest-attended fundraiser I've ever been to."
"There were people there from all churches, all walks of life. Business people, attorneys, principals of schools, mayors. It was a real coming together for a common cause."
One Eighty and Boruff, the group's executive director, are "the real deal," said Justin Barnes, pastor of Heritage Church's Bettendorf location as well as its outreach pastor.
"I'm not shocked you haven't heard of them," Barnes said. "But you're going to hear more about them in the years ahead. They are having a significant impact, engaging in areas that others aren't. The pace at One Eighty is growing and has grown."
Housing, jobs are core mission
Boruff, a slender, sandy-haired man with a warm smile and penchant for baseball caps, explains that his goal is to provide help that people can't get anywhere else. That is, to fill gaps.
When people get out of prison, they have a record and little to no money. They need a safe and affordable place to live and a job, but the former makes the latter hard to get. And if they return to the environment from where they came, they often fall back into old habits.
"It's hard to get clean when you're in a mud puddle," Boruff said.
So, to provide safe and affordable housing and to help people close the gap on their job resumes, One Eighty developed a multi-phase, usually year-long program to help people get their lives back on track and break the destructive cycle they are in.
Participants live in a house, participate in Bible study and prayer and meet with a mentor from one of the supporting churches. They do chores and get a job working for One Eighty Enterprises, a program of the overall organization that actually employs people in several areas.
These include candle-making, installation of house siding and windows, cleaning and painting.
"We hire them, train them and teach them about entrepreneurship and employment," Boruff explained. Participants earn a paycheck to help them pay at least partial rent.
"Our goal is to build a relationship with people," he said. "We want them to know they are valuable."
At the same time, "We're not into one-way giving," Boruff said. "We don't want to enable people."
As of last week, 40 people were living in three One Eighty buildings — 910 Marquette St. and the former convent and rectory on the St. Joe's grounds.
The properties are zoned either residential-6M or commercial-2. In both cases, boarding houses are a permitted use, so the organization did not need rezoning or a special-use permit, Ryan Rusnak, Davenport city planner, said.
So far, the work/housing program — developed by One Eighty and not modeled after any other organization — has had 65 graduates, about 60-67 percent of those who started. But after graduation, the number of people who so far have stayed clean and employed is about 91 percent, Boruff said. Participants have ranged in age from 19 to in their 70s.
One Eighty is careful in whom it accepts; people need to be ready. The organization receives 70 to 75 applications per week and has a waiting list.
"We say 'no' a lot," Boruff said. "We pick people we feel honestly want to change their lives."
In addition to the boarding houses, One Eighty owns eight condominiums that it rents for $350 per month to people who cannot find a safe place to live because of past evictions or trouble in their lives, Boruff said.
While the work/housing program is a core mission, Boruff and his 11-member board and 25-member council also want to reach people before they get to the point of needing that kind of help.
Preventative programs — schools, sports
A key program in this preventative vein is the West End Initiative.
In 2011, Ken Spranger, then of Bettendorf, said he heard the Lord speak to him, telling him he wanted Spranger to go to Davenport's west end to work with families and children.
When Spranger shared this experience with his wife, Diana, she said, "'That's God talking to you. Pay attention,'" he said.
So the two set up a hot dog stand every Monday afternoon at the corner of 4th and Cedar streets, giving away anywhere from 275 to 400 hot dogs to whoever stopped by. Soon, they had 20-25 volunteers helping them.
"To be honest with you, I don't know where they came from," Spranger said.
As fall turned to winter, the couple realized they couldn't keep standing on the corner, so they met with Davenport school officials to see if they could partner on the use of a building.
The then-principal of Monroe Elementary School told Spranger that, "'if you guys could find a way to feed these kids on the weekend, that would be great,'" Spranger said.
Totally unaware that some children do not have access to food over the weekend, the Sprangers moved to fill that need. Eventually, their one-couple ministry evolved into a year-round Saturday program at Monroe that includes not only a hot meal, but music, exercise and programs for children and their parents.
Boruff heard of the Sprangers' work and invited them to come under the One Eighty umbrella, which they did.
Four years later, the 9 a.m. to noon program on Saturday is a well-oiled rollout of basketball, instruction in martial arts and cross-fit training, crafts, music, including praise and worship, and a speaker who offers encouragement.
At 11 a.m., everyone gathers in a circle in the gym for announcements, testimony, a blessing for their meal and the meal itself.
"We don't beat people up with religion. We're not into that," Spranger said. "But the seeds are planted. We are the hands and feet of Christ. That's all we are."
Davenport Community Schools welcomes One Eighty as a community partner, spokeswoman Dawn Saul said.
"They're doing some really valuable things to foster a sense of community and belonging, to offer support to children and families who may have some need," she said.
In addition to the Saturday program, One Eighty stocks food pantries at Monroe, Hayes, Jefferson elementary schools and Mid-City High by picking up supplies from River Bend Foodbank. Volunteers also try to meet other needs. If a teacher knows of a student who needs a bed, for example, they will find one.
Then there's the baseball program, subject of a June 26 story in the Quad-City Times. Boruff started it last year with about 15 kids, because he loves the sport and wanted children who can't afford Little League and other organizations to have the opportunity to play.
This year, nearly 90 children played in the program that became a partnership between One Eighty and Major League Baseball's Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities initiative known as RBI.
Where will One Eighty go in the years ahead? Wherever there is a need.
"Our over-arching goal is to help with gaps in services in our community," Boruff said. "I never thought we'd be involved in business, but we realized employment is a big issue. We never thought we'd be working with kids, but there are a lot of kids in poverty.
"We want people to know we're out here and that we can help."