Common Ground Ministries will sponsor a SeptemberFest Barbecue Benefit on Saturday, Sept. 8, hoping to raise enough money to ease a serious financial condition that threatens its existence.

Barbecue and other food items will be served from 1-4 p.m. at 604 E. Parks Ave. Tickets are $5 per person prior to the event and $6 at the door.

In addition to the food, the afternoon’s activities will include a cakewalk, door prizes and a bounce house and horseshoes. Radio station KBEC 1390 will do a remote broadcast from the site.

Common Ground was established in 1990 and through the years has provided a Christian-based safe haven for children and youth after school, during spring and fall breaks and while they are out for the summer.

Hundreds have been taught life skills and helped with their homework. Many have gone on to college, some on a $1,000 scholarship awarded each year. Graduates of the program are encouraged to return and help with the ministry.

A good response to the barbecue Sept. 8 will enfuse the ministry with desperately needed funds but will be only a band-aid on a program that has been chronically underfunded.

Common Ground director Felicia Snell, who holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from East Texas State University, and has directed Common Ground since 1993, and Stacie Dixon, who has worked part-time since April, received only part of their salaries in late August because of a lack of funds.

“But I’ve been able to get enough to keep my house payment and utility bills current,” Snell said.

Common Ground has a budget of $53,000 for 2007 that is provided by churches, individuals and the United Way, but individual contributions have slowed, Snell said, saying the ministry is about $7,000 behind on its budget and is about two months behind on paying many bills, including a bank loan of $3,500 to pay a bill from the Internal Revenue Service.

Max Schuster, who has kept books for Common Ground for almost three years, said the situation is critical and while many individuals support it, many more are needed. He said he fears many people and some churches in the area that Common Ground services are unaware of its financial needs.

The ministry is overseen by a 13-member board of directors, which has been meeting almost weekly in an attempt to address the problem.

Dr. James Barnes, a longtime board member, said they feel the ministry is very important and they need to keep pushing for financial support.

Another board member, Helen Wagner, praised the work of Common Ground as “very necessary and very good,” and said she is working to get a three-year $30,000 grant, some of it from the Meadows Foundation, to help Common Ground.

Both Schuster and Melveene Dixon, a former board member, praised the sacrifices Snell has made in keeping the program going.

She is a model of “selflessness,” Schuster said.

Melveene Dixon said she became aware of dire circumstances at the ministry when she learned that Snell and Dixon were looking for part-time jobs to supplement their income so they could stay on at Common Ground.

“People need to know how self-sacrificing Felicia has been in keeping Common Ground going,” she said. “The ministry has always had financial problems and much of the time, when she was keeping the books, Felicia did not get her salary. She lost her house because the ministry couldn’t afford her salary, but she didn’t neglect the ministry, and it is only because of her that it has survived.

“A few churches and individuals lend their support, but many more are needed. Where is our mission heart? Are we neglecting people right here by us while we help someone overseas?” Melveene Dixon said.

To purchase tickets to the barbecue event, contact Stacie Dixon or Felicia Snell at (972) 923-2224, and tickets will be delivered.