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International Seamen Center helps crew members feel at home

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It may not look like much, but the World War II barracks at the State Port of Wilmington has become a home away from home for thousands of seamen each year aboard the ships that dock in the Port City. They can come and use telephones, or the internet, or read a book, play a game, say a prayer or just get some personal attention.

A Wilmington church started the International Seamen’s Center in the early 1970s to help take care of the crew members as their ships load and unload. International Seamen’s Center volunteer Walter Kunz said, “Many people want to be a missionary, but they don’t want to leave home, and we have a chance of being a missionary to the world right here in Wilmington.”

Nowadays, members of many area churches volunteer here, sharing their hospitality and faith in any language. Chaplain Ritchie Wammack said, “If it was not for the volunteers, we would not have this place. The volunteers are so great.”

Some volunteers have been around since the beginning nearly 40 years ago. “I just love it. I love meeting people from all over the world,” said volunteer Marjorie Kunz.

The folks who run the center said they provide a vital service for these foreign visitors, once even helping a crewman get a wheelchair for a family member back at home, another time helping a man from China practice speaking English; a skill he hid from officers back on the ship.

But new security measures have made things more difficult, requiring volunteers escort the seamen whenever they’re away from the ship. The volunteers must also have a special ID to get into the port. Getting it costs more than a $130.

Past chaplain Bill Shourds said, “It restricts us from getting more volunteers, because as I say to them it’s $132.50, they say, ‘ooh! I don’t want to pay that.”

So far, though, the center has received donations to reimburse volunteers for the cost. A grant has also bought a second van to drive seamen around town to shop. One of many blessings these volunteers say keep them helping as much as they can.

The Seamen’s Center is always looking for volunteers and donations. For more information call 910-762-3792.

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videoWilmington’s state port means big business for our area. To get all that cargo here takes crews from around the world; men who spend long stretches away from their family. But for four decades, one group has tried to make the crew members feel at home in port

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