Greenhouse Ministries Turns 25

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greenhouse ministries turns 25

On January 26, 2024, Greenhouse Ministries celebrated 25 years of service to the Rutherford County community. The organization has been a ray of light for many who have found themselves in need. In need of food. In need of clothing. In need of education. Actually, just about anyone in need of anything can come to their center on Academy Street, talk to one of their counselors, and receive a hand up. 

Most of the people who come to Greenhouse have nowhere else to go, as they have no family, no church, and no one to listen to them. Having no one to listen being a growing issue in this digital age. 

“One of the main things we do is listen,” said Cliff Sharp, who started the 501(c)3 non-profit with his wife, Jane. 

To punctuate just how important listening is to their clients, Sharp tells the story of an extremely grumpy guy who wandered into his office one day. 

“I saw on his paperwork that he was a veteran,” recounts Sharp, “and I asked him about his service. He told me he’d been in the Navy, stationed primarily in the Mediterranean. I asked him about his favorite places over there. He proceeded to spend 30 minutes telling me all about where he’d been over there and what he’d done. I just listened. He left with a smile on his face.” 

Not all of their clients just need a friendly ear, many need everything from help studying for their GED to legal help to skills training to medical help. What makes Greenhouse special is that they have never chosen to focus on one need, other than listening. Instead, they start with “What can I do to help?” 

How Greenhouse Ministries Got Started 

Just before Cliff’s 60th birthday, he and Jane began helping in the Franklin Heights projects on January Street. They tutored residents preparing to take their GED. They also helped adults learn to read. Their initial goal was simply to build trust and to help those who didn’t have the knowledge or the resources to help themselves. 

When the City of Murfreesboro received a “Weed and Seed” Grant to open a police precinct in Franklin Heights, things began to change for the better. The services that the Sharps were providing became more structured, and many churches began providing help to those living there. Soon the Murfreesboro City School System and Murfreesboro Parks and Recreation got involved, and the city offered the Sharps an office on the property. The vision for Greenhouse Ministries began to congeal. But, it is one event that had the most impact on the Sharps and their plans for how to grow their services. 

“We got involved with National Night Out,” explained Sharp. “We brought in a group out of California called “Wow Jam.” It was a husband and wife team. She was Peaches of the singing group “Peaches and Herb,” and he was a former gang member. They sang, he talked about gang life, and then he shared Jesus.” 

That was when the Sharps realized that the traditional church method of reaching out would not work. They had to come to understand that community where they were, and minister to them from where they were before they could build them up to help them move up and forward. They listened, they helped the people in Franklin Heights find solutions, and like the couple from “Wow Jam,” they offered residents a new way of seeing themselves. As residents discovered a sense of pride and community, things changed for the better on January Street, and Greenhouse Ministries started to grow. 

From January Street to Lytle Street to Spring Street 

Expanding beyond Franklin Heights, Greenhouse Ministries moved to a green faced building with a green awning on Lytle Street. It was this building that caused them to christen themselves “Greenhouse Ministries.” More and more churches, individuals and organizations began to get involved.

Leadership Rutherford (LR) and Youth Leadership Rutherford (YLR) classes began to do projects and teach classes to fill needs. One year a group of YLR students set up a babysitting service to care for the children of the women who were going through GED classes because they had no one to care for their kids and would not be able to attend the classes without the service. As a college student, one former YLR graduate took on creating and teaching “Dress for Success” classes for women getting ready for job interviews. 

The late Frank Caperton helped them get computers working so they could provide their clients with computer classes. 

One of Jane’s dreams was to have a thrift store, which there was no room for at the Lytle Street location. Mr. Batey came to the Sharps when he decided to retire and close down his business, asking the Sharps if they would be interested in his building on Spring Street that housed Batey’s Office Supplies and Photo Shop for many, many years. They moved to the new location and The Garden Patch Thrift Shoppe was born.   

More and more members of the community embraced Greenhouse, and their services grew, but their space did not. They took on a capital campaign for a new building for their offices and a home for a long-time dream of Cliff’s, to develop a residential men’s program for those coming out of prison, or some other program, needing to transition back into society. They call it Living University.

“We built 17 apartments in the upstairs of our new building [for those going through Living University],” explained Sharp. “And we are currently full. It is like a mini liberal arts class. Our participants learn about time management, money management, goal setting, being a good employee, citizenship, and culture.” 

Those going through the Living University are exposed to opportunities they have never been exposed to before. They go to city council meetings and art museums; they learn how to fix things like a running toilet and a leaky faucet; and Sharp has them read a certain number of books from a list he gives them. The books include everything from classics, like “Old Man and the Sea,” to business and leadership books, like those written by John C. Maxwell. 

Programs that were crunched for space now have their own classrooms in the new building. Their peer counselors now have private offices with doors to speak with clients. There is an examination room for their nursing clinic and space for those needing to talk to a lawyer through their law program. 

“John Blankenship started our law program that provides our clients with legal counsel,” added Sharp. “Thanks to volunteers from the Bar Association, we have two legal clinics per month.”

The new building has space for parenting classes, computer classes, sewing classes, cooking classes, and much more. They even have a weight room. 

For many years, Cliff and Jane acted as co-Executive Directors of the non-profit, and then they passed that on to Bill Ramsley. Ramsley took the position for two years to help them with board development. He was followed by Phillip Street, who was instrumental in helping them get the new building funded and built. The Sharp’s daughter, Christy Sanford, is currently the Executive Director. 

“Now, when someone comes to me with a problem, I tell them to go ask Christy,” Sharp says with a chuckle. 

Greenhouse Ministries is About Community 

“I can’t say enough about the community,” added Sharp. “It is the community volunteers and our funders who have allowed us to thrive. It takes 500 volunteer hours per week to keep us up and running. We have full time volunteers who work 30-hour weeks, and we have volunteers who come in for specific events, like our Thanksgiving Mobile Food Pantry, that uses 300 volunteers in one day.” 

Sharp says that Greenhouse Ministries is a success because Murfreesboro residents have a spirit of cooperation versus competition. He has had people come to him from other communities and other states who want to duplicate the organization’s success. 

“It won’t work everywhere,” he said. “I tell them that you have to get to know the community and the people. Get to know the schools, the police, the housing, the government, the businesses. If there is not a spirit of cooperation, like we have here in Murfreesboro, it is not going to work.”

Sharp believes Greenhouse Ministries has been successful because of the giving spirit of the community and because they have stuck to their two foundational tenets, offering hope and asking how they can help.