SAN JOSE (KPIX 5) This week’s Jefferson Award winner is the founding pastor of a 31-year-old San Jose church. But that does not begin to describe the breadth and scope of the volunteer work that he and his congregation have been doing for decades.
Pastor Tony Williams opens the doors of Maranatha Christian Center in San Jose to help clothe and feed those in need. And he opens his arms to former inmates having a hard time transitioning back into the community.
“We wanted to be the kind of church that helps people who were broken and hurting,” he said.
He started the Mission Possible Re-Entry Program that works with the county and other faith-based groups. In the last five years, it’s helped more than 600 men and women get a fresh start, from finding housing and jobs to reuniting with their families.
The pastor himself was once in their shoes:
“I, myself, this would surprise you – I’m a former heroin addict from San Francisco,” he explained.
He kicked his drug habit at age 23.
“Jesus Christ turned my life around and I’ve been giving back since.”
He went through rehab and started over in his own life. Now he helps others do the same — people like Jane Marin. She served time for child endangerment, then found hope and help through Mission Possible. She found housing and a job as a restaurant cashier.
“So for people to be in a position to help guide you down the right path and you’re not doing it alone, it really made a difference for me in my life. It saved my life,” said Marin.
Today, Marin works for Mission Possible, helping others begin again. And she’s inspired by Pastor Tony’s volunteer work:
“Pastor Tony’s amazing,” she smiled.
He is chair of the Faith-Based Re-Entry Collaborative of Santa Clara County. He’s a chaplain for the Santa Clara County jail and San Jose Police Department. He leads church services at San Quentin. He’s gone on missions trips across the globe. He’s taught at CityTeam Ministries’ drug and alcohol rehab program for 20 years. And at the Maranatha Outreach Center – the community space he started next to the church – there’s free computer access for adults and kids and more.
Twice a week for the last 25 years, volunteers have picked up underserved kids for free tutoring, dinner and a ride back home. And in the summer, middle schoolers can learn algebra through a partnership with Cal State Bakersfield.
Virginia Jones, Maranatha Outreach Center’s consulting director, says Pastor Tony leads by example.
“He treats people with dignity and respect and those are two of his favorite words,” said Jones.
So for his extensive volunteer service to the broken and underserved, this week’s Jefferson Award in the Bay Area goes to Pastor Tony Williams.