MANATEE -- More than 100 volunteers within the Manatee County Sheriff's Office provide listening ears, religious counsel and support to employees and inmates under the direction of Administrative and Bureau Chaplain Karl Holsberg.
As the only chaplain on the sheriff's office payroll responsible for serving 1,051 Manatee County jail inmates and 1,141 employees, Holsberg enlisted help from those in the community with support of Sheriff Brad Steube.
Holsberg said many volunteers hold Bible studies in English and Spanish, and have one-on-one discussions and provide religious books and movies for the inmates.
There are also five area pastors assigned to certain divisions as volunteer chaplains.
Nick Manassa, pastor at First Assembly of God in Bradenton, serves District I.
"I had a neighbor picked up for a DUI. I wanted to try to help him. I went to the jail and saw him a few times," Manassa said. "There was a lot of red tape."
Manassa said he began to inquire if there would be an easier way to visit the inmates. That's when he began volunteering at the jail, which later led to becoming a district chaplain. The son of a law enforcement officer, Manassa said it is great to support sheriff's office employees.
Bill Pierson, pastor of Joy Fellowship, serves District II.
"I take the church out to people," Pierson said. "It's the same sort of thing. We bring the church to deputies, get with them, care for them."
Because of their schedules, many sheriff's office employees cannot
attend regular church services.
Tony Miller, pastor of First Church of the Nazarene, serves District III.
"For me, I wanted to work with police officers for years," Miller said. "They are down to earth, great souls that want to help the community. It's been a great experience to get outside the walls of the church and not be preachy, but provide a listening ear."
Bruce Ebert, pastor of Ellenton United Methodist Church, serves with Child Protective Services.
Ben Pate, pastor of First Baptist Church of Sun City, serves as corrections chaplain.
The chaplains are visible at their assigned substations or divisions, ride with patrol deputies on dispatch calls, offer crisis intervention counseling, notify inmates of family deaths and officiate weddings and funerals.
The chaplains also serve families of the people in their division.
Going on ride-alongs have also increased the chaplains' awareness of deputies' integrity, Miller said.
"I'm proud of the organization run by a great sheriff," Miller said. I'm proud of law enforcement officers. They're great people that give and sacrifice."
Manassa, who spends a lot of time at his church and with congregation members, recalled a rude awakening the first time he accompanied a deputy on a call.
"Here are two girls who just shoplifted calling this deputy a name I never hear and I think, 'You can't call him that,'" Manassa said. "They will disrespect deputies so blatantly but the deputies are always respectful. Afterward I asked, 'How do you keep your cool?'"
Working so closely with the law enforcement community has been an educational experience for the chaplains.
"I understand a lot more about law enforcement officers and the problems in our community," Pierson said.
The chaplains are respectful of varying religious beliefs, but all said leading someone to Christ, whether a sheriff's office employee or inmate, is one of the most rewarding parts of their work.