When A Way Out first began 10 years ago it was nothing more than a small group of people with a heart to reach out and help those most vulnerable in our community.
Just some people - with a cause - and a heart to serve.
Much like the words of Mother Teresa, the dream then was that by being faithful, just doing what we could, we would be making a difference, one life at a time.
Was it possible that our life-giving message of Love, Hope and Freedom could really begin to see Stockton transformed?
Could it really be true that we could reach young people? Could we see girls working on the streets set free from addictions and abuse? Could we become a known voice in the areas around Stockton, helping create hubs for families and communities to gather to seek help when needed? Could we mentor and coach a once-broken generation of young people raising them instead into world-changers? Could we mobilise a volunteer army to serve their town? Could we knock on the doors of families written off by others and place value on them, believing in them and journeying with them to build brighter futures? Could we feed the hungry, clothe the poor, minister to the jailed and set people free? Could women get their children back, could the broken be restored?
Well, today, 10 years on, we are happy to report that the answer - to all of the above - is YES!
From those small beginnings, a youth room in a church on an estate, and a women's drop-in centre in the red-light district, A Way Out is now a thriving and still-growing organisation.
One person who knows more than most how much A Way Out has grown and changed, is Service Manager Anna Mountford. Now in her eight year with us, Anna has just announced that she is going to be embarking on her own season of growing and changing... becoming a mummy!
So currently we are recruiting for just that person. A new role, the Operations Director, will not only encompass much of what Anna did in overseeing the projects running at the moment, but will help bring structure and management to the wider team of key people.
Click the link below for more information or visit our website for this and other job vacancy information.
Anna added: "It's been such a privilege being part of A Way Out's journey. You know, I only thought I would be here for a few months but it caught my heart and it's been amazing - beyond what most of us thought possible - to see how far we have come."
When Anna began a big thrust of the work was being in the community reaching young people, as well as projects addressing the complex needs of vulnerable women sex workers.
She said: "Back then we were running youth clubs all over the place, in schools and really having hands on impact with this thought that if we could see lives changed communities would begin to change. So I'm thrilled that this year we are really focusing on that heart once more and seeing amazing results already."
Even in the last week the first of our Community Wellbeing Hubs, called Food Plus, has launched to not only hand out food parcels but begin to be that place of community engagement where we can meet with families.
The RISE project, working alongside families, is also reporting fantastic results with one family who didn't even have a place for their kids to sleep, now with beds and carpets for their children.
The Youth mentoring scheme, COACH, now has 20 coaches signed up and trained working alongside young people and the youth team working in the Clarences are encouraged by the response to their work in that marginalised community.
"One of the best things about being here for so long," added Anna, "is that for some of the people we work with, it really is a long process to see change come. I can see that now and know we have made a difference."
The women's team shared a story this week of a girl who they have been working with for many years, now healthy and stable, who after lengthy court proceedings, has been given the right to have her child returned to her care.
But what are Anna's hopes for the future, after she leaves A Way Out in August?
She said: "This for me is going to be the most significant season ever for A Way Out. We have new and exciting projects and I hope we can really build on that. I'm hoping we continue to recruit amazing volunteers and I hope this new Operations Director will take us to a new level where we can do more and reach even more people.
"In the time I've been here the issues haven't changed for Stockton. I think we know more and we understand more but that only means we need to rise and be even more professional - as well as continuing to love those people most others wouldn't bother with.
"I'm not ever going to totally leave though... you know that, don't you? This place has my heart. I grew up here. It's just a time of change."