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Andrea LaCross is ready to lead The Ark as its new director starting this fall. She not only wants students from TVCC to take advantage of what they have to offer, but encourages residents in the community to come by for a visit.

A couple of months back, the Rev. A.K. Andrea LaCross had a tough decision to make.

After working for a year as the administrative assistant for The Ark – a campus ministry located near Trinity Valley Community College's Athens campus – the board met and offered her the position of executive director.

“They needed an answer by that night,” LaCross said. “I told them I appreciated the honor but I needed time to pray about this one. Knowing this decision affected the campus ministry, my son Micah and God’s plans, I sought guidance the next day in the chapel at the Ark.

“I lifted my head up and started looking at the stained glass window. It was afternoon, and the colors were brilliant. I noticed that all the colors were so distinct, and yet joined together for a single purpose. I began to understand that God created us all in the same manner, distinctly different, but formed for a single purpose.”

At that moment, she said she had peace about taking the directorship, and agreed to take the position.

It has been almost two months since that afternoon in the chapel, months that LaCross describes as “challenging.” But despite the challenges, LaCross says she has not lost sight of her main goal for the organization, unity in ministry.

“We are a ministry to TVCC, but not just the students,” LaCross said. “We also want to serve the faculty, staff and the community. I want The Ark to be a ministry to all of Athens.”

LaCross has lived in the Athens area since 1991. The idea of a united ministry comes from even the earliest records of the organization.

The Ark was first formed in October 1970 through a coalition of six area churches. Representatives from those churches made up the organization's board, while board members led various aspects of the ministry.

The ministry’s board is still made up of members from several area churches in Athens, Murchison, and the Cedar Creek Lake area, as well as TVCC.

“Our board comes from a very wide area. There are a lot of faiths of churches involved,” said Eddie Pirtle, board president and representative from First United Methodist Church in Murchison.

Originally, the ministry was in an old barracks building, but it was moved into a new building just west of the TVCC campus in 1984, where it is still housed today.

At first, the Ark was funded by a variety of donations which included foundations, local churches and a sizable seed money contribution from the Janice Miller Fund of Athens. But from the beginning, the Texas conference of the United Methodist Church (UMC) played a large role.

From as early as the 1980s, the director was put into

place by the Methodist ministries and most of the ministry's funding came from the UMC.

Last year the winds of change touched the sails of The Ark when the UMC announced that reapportionments in its funding meant it would no longer finance The Ark but would continue to support by other avenues if possible for the ministry at TVCC.

“It was a chaotic time,” said LaCross. “The former director, the Rev. Patrick Papp was reassigned to the Jacksonville area. The board had to figure out what to do about the structure of the organization and losing most of its funding put the future of The Ark into question for awhile.”

But with some tough legal decisions behind the board and a new director in place, LaCross said The Ark is moving forward.

But it’s going to take some help, she noted. The ministry is now responsible for its own fund-raising, which means the funds to keep The Ark up and running will now have to come from new sources.

LaCross and the board has already begun seeking support from area organizations.

“We're looking for and getting support from a variety of churches, civic organizations, business and even individuals,” she said. “We have had good response so far.

“We have a positive feeling about our direction,” said Pirtle, who has served on the board for six years.

For LaCross, overseeing The Ark is new territory. Her previous jobs have been in other areas, such as the newspaper business, the U.S. Air Force and National Guard, interim Youth minister and as a director of operations for a national company. A graduate of TVCC and soon to hold a Bachelor’s of Science in Human Resource and Development at UT Tyler, she also worked at TVCC for two years as a student assistant and then as an administrative assistant.

“Her skills are ideal for the director of the Ark,” said Pirtle. “She’s got a closer tie to the students at the college than anyone we've had there before. She has training geared to help her be the manager and director of that office.

“It has taken her a few weeks to get used to her position, but she is finally settling into her role.”

“I see how the opportunities here are amazing for the college and the community,” said LaCross.

Currently, The Ark works with the Baptist Collegiate Ministries - another ministry located near the campus - to offer free lunches to students. The Ark also offers internet access, ping-pong, a pool table, volleyball, TV and study rooms along with counseling, pastoral and other spiritual resources for students.

LaCross said the current goal for The Ark is to expand the services offered. Right now, The Ark is planning a new web page and a combined Baccalaureate service for TVCC students graduating in December 2007.

“We will be providing other new programs beginning in the fall as other sources of support come on board,” LaCross said. “The heart of the ministry is seeking the Lord, sharing the gospel of Jesus and uniting ministries to meet the needs of the students, staff, faculty and community.

"We want this to be everyone’s Ark. We want the community as a whole to be invested in this ministry and we pray for the blessings of support to do so.”

Support pledges and financial blessings may be sent to: The Ark, P.O. Box 1802 Athens, TX 75751.

LaCross is a member of Lighthouse of Praise in Kemp.

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