LAKEWOOD RANCH — Greg Marti never thought he’d go to prison, but it was there he found himself for six years after an absent business partner proved dishonest.
“I was the owner of the business, and I had to take responsibility,” said Marti, who had no knowledge of the illegal activities his business had conducted. “It was a devastating time for us, but we made it through it.”
He and his wife, Donna, lost practically everything — their reputation, their dignity, their home and much more.
But the couple clung to its faith, using each opportunity to push forward and minister to others. Now, they’ll be lending their support to families of inmates at the Manatee County Jail through a new ministry organized jail Chaplain Karl Holsberg.
“This is an opportunity to touch lives in a very positive way,” Greg Marti said.
Participating members will be volunteering for four-hour blocks on Sunday mornings in the jail’s new video visitation center. Volunteers will greet visiting families as they arrive, assist them to a video conference post and offer prayer, counseling, encouragement and other resources to families.
“The visitors have done nothing wrong, but they feel fear, shame and a lot of tension,” Holsberg said. “It’s difficult for them. We try to help them in the process.”
Holsberg, who started the ministry about three months ago, said it is every bit as important as ministering to the inmates.
On one of the first days the center opened, Holsberg and his wife watched as a woman came to the visitation center with her 13-year-old son to visit the man they loved. The inmate appeared on screen for the visitation, but the time was very difficult, Holsberg said. When they finished speaking, the screen went black.
“It’s like the end of the world,” Holsberg said. “They stood up and leaned on one another, tears just rolling.”
He and his wife intercepted them before they exited, encouraging them and praying for them.
“They left the center, and their world was OK again,” he said. “That’s what our volunteers do.”
Holsberg said Cornerstone is filling an important role, particularly by serving on Sunday mornings when most churches are in service.
Dave Dickmann, director of lay and family ministries at Cornerstone, said the church picked that time slot because there was a need and the church offers a Saturday night service.
“We felt (this ministry) is a very good way to be a help to people who are in need,” Dickmann said.
“We really try to be a church that’s involved in the community. It seemed like a really good fit for us.”
Cornerstone members participating in the program completed a volunteer training session in October and now must go through a volunteer orientation at the jail itself. Dickmann said he expects Cornerstone’s first pair of volunteers to start this month.
As the leader of the new jail ministry at Cornerstone, Marti said also hopes eventually to have Cornerstone members minister to jail inmates and volunteer in the prison system.
Contact Pam Eubanks at [email protected].
The visitor’s center at the jail is open from 9:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., daily. Volunteers are still needed to fill four-hour shifts. For information, contact Chaplain Karl Holsberg, 747-3011, Ext. 2987.