By Maidstone Mulenga*
WASHINGTON (UMNS) — Alabama Rural Ministry, a volunteer ministry of the Alabama-West Florida Annual (regional) Conference of The United Methodist Church, was honored April 25 with 13 other groups as one of America's top volunteer organizations.
During the annual Make A Difference Day Awards luncheon at Carnegie Library in Washington, the members of Alabama Rural Ministry (ARM) were hailed for "putting their faith into action" for orchestrating the work of 72 volunteers in dozen of projects in Tuskegee, 28 miles away from its headquarters.
Make A Difference Day, created by USA Weekend, is a national day of helping others, and it is observed on the fourth Saturday of every October. The honorees each received a $10,000 donation from Newman's Own to continue their good work.
For its projects, the Opelika-based ministry rallied volunteers to make home repairs for the disabled, sanding walls for a historic church, cleaning a park, entertaining nursing home residents and helping launch a food bank. ARM was also saluted for getting 40 fraternity brothers from Auburn University's FIJI House to continue the home repairs for the disabled.
After accepting the honor, ARM founder and director Lisa Pierce said she was humbled and excited, noting that the group plans to share some of the funds with the Wesley Foundations at colleges and institutions in the conference.
“We hope to get more volunteers to help serve in the spirit of our Lord and Savior,” she said. Volunteering “was a great way to partner with communities in which we live and serve,” she added.
Pierce was accompanied by the Rev. Sheila Bates, Tuskegee University Wesley Foundation director, and Jennifer M. Chambliss, the ministry’s board chair.
Bates noted that the work of ARM was a celebration of the connectionalism of The United Methodist Church, adding that “John Wesley set up the connectionalism as a pattern to get people together to impact God’s Kingdom.”
Chambliss said most of the ministry’s volunteers were young adults and students, a clear indication that “our youth value the importance of doing work for other people and having an impact on their lives.”
Earlier, actor and best-selling author Tony Danza saluted the volunteers, telling them they were an example of how to truly work for a better America.
“The honorees give me hope … they give me hope to keep believing that in spite of our many differences, we are all in this together,” said Danza, who was the keynote speaker.
Danza noted that his experience as a teacher in a Philadelphia public school had opened his eyes to the challenges that the country was facing in providing for a better future for all of its citizens.
He said the motto of America — which he said was missing from the lives the youth and some of the adults — is crucial for the work of the volunteers. “It is E pluribus unum, it’s Latin for ‘Out of many, one’ … we don’t talk about it any more.”
But Danza said that was the message he was getting from those who were being honored for their volunteer work and for being selfless in their efforts.
“We all do better when we all do better,” he said. “If we have the ability to help other Americans who are not as fortunate as us, we should give of ourselves.”
Building awareness of poverty
Pierce and Bates echoed Danza’s words, emphasizing the need for more of God’s people to give of themselves in service to those who may feel less blessed.
Pierce said the Make A Difference Day efforts are growing each year and have become a focal point of Poverty Awareness Week. This is the week when Pierce makes her home in a streetside shanty to dramatize the living conditions of impoverished rural residents. October’s campaign raised $31,000 to apply toward the 130 homes on the organization’s waiting list.
The work of Alabama Rural Ministry (GCFA Advance #721001) was featured in USA Weekend, a Sunday insert for about 800 newspapers around the country.
The other honorees for Make A Difference Day were:
• The Sundial Men’s Club, Sun City, Ariz.
• National Assistance League, Burbank, Calif.
• Wen Marcec, Geneva, Ill.
• Lions Club – District 22-W, Thurmont, Md.
• FIRST Robotics Competition, Teams 340 and 1511, Rochester, N.Y.
• C&S Wholesale Grocers, Keene, N.H.
• Nick Lowinger, Cranston, R.I.
• Shaquawana Wester, Cookeville, Tenn.
• Operation Lorax, Ellensburg, Wash.
City Award honorees were:
• Fremont, Calif.
• Albuquerque, N.M.
• Kettering, Ohio
The All-Star Award winner was Melbourne Central Catholic High, St. Joseph Catholic School, West Shore Junior/Senior High, Lake Washington Fellowship, Melbourne and Palm Bay, Fla.
* Mulenga is in charge of global and electronic affairs at the Baltimore-Washington Conference. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 410-309-3425.
News media contact: Joey Butler, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or email@example.com
(From left) Tuskegee University Wesley Foundation
director the Rev. Sheila Bates and Alabama Rural
Ministry founder and director Lisa Pierce pose with
actor Tony Danza at the Make a Difference Day Awards
luncheon held at Carnegie Library in Washington, D.C.,
on April 25. A UMNS photo by Maidstone Mulenga.