Take a little drive south on Bruhin Road in Inskip, and you’re likely to drive right by it without giving it much notice. But on the right, just past Adair Drive, is a simple sign by the road that says Epperson Ministries: Hope, Healing and Devotion.
Out in front on the four-acre property that feels like a community park are row upon row of vegetable gardens, each section bearing the name of at least 20 different families. Though farming wasn’t part of the initial mission for the ministry, founder, director and pastor Russ Owens said it was an easy “yes” when asked for use of the land for families facing food insecurity.
“Well, if it’ll help feed a family, of course. We’re fortunate enough and blessed enough to be able to do so,” Owens said. “It’s wonderful to know we’re impacting a family and giving them a place where they can grow their own food.
Owens said the project came to be in conjunction with Bridge Refugee Services and Beardsley Community Farm. And with the withering heat and lack of rain lately, he’d certainly appreciate any donations toward the water bill for the fledgling farm space. This newest addition is just another branch of what he hopes to be an ever-expanding ministry.
The primary calling at Epperson is guiding men who’ve struggled with various forms of addiction back into a healthy, sober and functioning lifestyles. From addiction recovery to job training, Owens said “we’re doing life with people.”
A native of Marion, South Carolina, Owens came to Knoxville in 2007. He cut his teeth in recovery work with True Purpose Ministries in Maryville before migrating the idea to Knoxville and founding the non-profit in 2017.
While the organization is certainly faith-based (its site is a former church), Owens said, “we’re all denominations. What we focus on here is developing a family atmosphere.”
One of the organization’s major partners for job training is the Tennessee College of Applied Technology (TCAT). Epperson’s residents participate in TCAT’s Weekend College, spending eight hours each Saturday for 26 weeks earning certifications in pipefitting, industrial electricity, HVAC and welding.
“This helps them learn a trade so they can earn a good living,” Owens said.
Though his ministry is in Inskip, Owens and his family (wife, Jessica, and three children) live in South Knoxville. He dreams of one day expanding the program in that direction, noting it would be nice to have a larger recovery facility a bit further out with more seclusion.
He also has more plans in the works right where he is, with a project he calls EPIC (Epperson Positive Impact Center).
“Our mission statement is hope, healing and devotion, and that’s devotion to God and to community,” he said. “I want this to just be a big community hub.”
But why does he do it?
“I have a passion for the broken-hearted. It just tugs on my heart,” Owens said. “We’re here for those who’ve got nowhere else to go.”