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Ken and Brenda Smith donate blood. Photos by Luke Lucas
(Susan Hunt) On a recent Monday afternoon, Ken and Brenda Smith of Montgomery First UMC each held out an arm to give a little of themselves. They, along with about 40 other people, were at the church to donate blood at a LifeSouth mobile blood drive bus.
During this time of a pandemic, Montgomery FUMC and several churches have chosen to hold blood drives as a way to be in ministry to their communities. This is an option any church can undertake. It is safe and makes a difference, especially in these days when the blood supply is critically low.
Brenda said, “I felt that during this pandemic would be a good time to give. I imagine that many people are not giving blood and I felt it was something I could do to help in some small way.” Several donors echoed Brenda’s response. Kate Wheaton, coordinator of the Montgomery FUMC drive, said, “People were so thrilled to be able to feel involved and that they could make a real difference.”
Auburn UMC has also regularly held blood drives. Joe Davis, Mission and Outreach Coordinator at AUMC, noted, “During the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve all experienced how important the ‘little things’ are in our lives - the phone calls, letters, and just seeing the faces of those we love. Giving blood to support our local hospitals is another one of those ‘little things’ that we take for granted that can become a vital source of hope during the pandemic. Hosting a blood drive is a great way for churches to care for their communities and get behind their healthcare workers who have sacrificed so much for us.”
Rev. Lucas Tribble, associate minister at Montgomery First UMC, said, “There’s always a need for blood, but especially right now in the circumstances in the pandemic. Also, now we don’t have as many opportunities to serve so this is a way to make a difference when our normal day-to-day ministries are affected.”
LifeSouth takes all safety precautions for participants. Ken shared, “I felt they did a pretty good job of protecting donors. The act of giving blood necessitates close contact, but the staff made sure to wear masks and provide other safety measures that made me feel secure.” Sharon Litchfield, another donor at Montgomery FUMC’s drive, said, “They were careful, and I was perfectly comfortable.”
LifeSouth is a community blood center. All blood donated through LifeSouth stays in the community where it is donated, and they provide a free test for COVID antibodies on all donated blood. Contact Melinda Hinds, firstname.lastname@example.org (334-260-0803) to schedule a drive at your church.
(Joni Hendee) Connie Knight has been a participant of the Senior Activities for Independent Living (SAIL) Program at the Dumas Wesley Community Center (DWCC) for three years. “I needed something to do during the day after recovering from a stroke,” said Knight. DWCC offers a variety of free activities to seniors like Knight, including: life skills classes, field trips, arts and crafts, and hot lunches. The DWCC serves an average of 65 low-income seniors daily.
“I love this program because I also get to help others,” said Knight. Knight, along with nine other seniors, are participating in a “Foster Grandparent” program at Forest Hill Elementary School in Mobile, Alabama. Under the guidance of Principal Sharon Smith and Guidance Counselor Tammy Halliday, ten students were selected to participate in this special mentorship program. “The Foster Grandparent Program fills a void for our students by providing a nurturing, loving grandparent relationship that the children are lacking,” said Smith. “The children are so excited on grandparent day and look forward to it. We are thankful for the caring senior adults who are willing to be a part of this wonderful program!"
Seniors meet with their mentee once a month at the school. They eat lunch together and provide love, encouragement and companionship. “I am a grandmother of 12 -- I feel I now have 13 grandchildren! My mentee is special to me, he’s one in a million,” said Knight. “I know I’m here to make a difference in his life, but to tell you the truth, he’s changed mine! He makes me laugh. I feel I have purpose outside of Dumas Wesley!”
The SAIL program operates five days a week and supports low-income seniors 60 and older. In 2019, the program provided 13,566 congregate and home bound meals for 106 seniors.
Since 1903, the Dumas Wesley Community Center has been a project related to the Board of Global Ministries of the United Methodist Church.
Last year, Dumas Wesley featured Ryan's family as the first single father accepted into Sybil H. Smith Family Village, Dumas Wesley Community Center's Transitional Housing program. He lost his job due to a work injury and fell into depression after losing control of his finances and housing, and ultimately, his family ended up homeless. In February of 2017, Ryan and his daughter were accepted into the Village. "A chance of a lifetime, my second chance," said Ryan.
It has now been a year, and Ryan and his daughter are flourishing at the Village. He is humble when he talks about his success. "I get a lot of praise for how far I've come, especially as a single dad. It broke me down when I couldn't take care of my daughter. I would do anything for her. I'm going to continue to do what I'm supposed to do," said Ryan. Families are able to reside at the Village for up to two years. Residents attend mandatory life skills classes that contribute to their success such as: counseling, job readiness skills and individualized case management. Since moving in, Ryan has obtained his GED, is currently employed, and continues to work on personal and professional goals. "When I first moved in, I didn't know it would be so structured. I love that! They have really helped me. It's been great for my daughter too. She used to act out and it was really hard. She is doing a lot better now. Living in a stable environment and being around other children has really helped her. We were both reeling from the effects of homelessness. Being able to take advantage of all the services they offer, especially counseling to address my depression, has made me a better person and a better dad."
Ryan's family has one more year left before moving into a home of their own. He is excited to be on his own again. "I still have a lot of work to do. I am working on my finances, I'm applying for affordable housing, and I'd like to find a more fulfilling line of work. I have always enjoyed drawing and painting. After work, I enjoy sharing my passion for art with my daughter. It's something we do as a family. Maybe I will become an art teacher one day. I can't thank you all enough for helping my family," said Ryan.
Oftentimes, when a family transitions back into permanent housing they become fearful of falling back into homelessness. Ryan is confident that he will continue to be successful. "I feel that I am at a point in my life where I am not scared. I've already experienced the worst. I don't need a lot, as long as I have a roof over my head and my daughter's happy, well that's all I need." When his little girl was asked what she thought about her daddy, she said, "I love my daddy. He's a good cook. My favorite thing he cooks is fish, carrots and salad." Ryan chimed in, "She's very easy to please!"
Ryan is one of 14 families residing at the Village. To date, 1,011 individuals and 279 families have been served at Sybil H. Smith Family Village. Next summer, the Village will be celebrating its 20th anniversary. If you are a former resident or know someone who has successfully graduated from the program, please call 251.473.5526. We'd love to reconnect!
Charcoal painting by Ryan
Homelessness Does Not Discriminate
(DWCC) Dumas Wesley's transitional housing program, Sybil H. Smith Family Village (SSFV), provides up to 24 months of housing and supportive services for families experiencing homelessness. In February, SSFV welcomed its FIRST single fathers, Ryan and Dustin, along with their small children. Both families were referred from Family Haven, the Salvation Army of Coastal Alabama's emergency housing program.
Ryan and his little girl have been homeless for 3 years. He lost his job due to a work injury and things began to go downhill fast. He fell into depression after he lost control of his finances and housing.
Dustin and his family bounced from state to state, staying with family after losing his job. A veteran with a long work history in the construction business, Dustin states, "I'll own up to my mistakes. I don't want anyone to feel sorry for me. After I was let go from my job, I made a lot of bad choices. It started a snowball effect which led me and my family into homelessness."
Both dads agree they never believed their life experiences would include depression and despair; sleeping in their cars, campgrounds, and motels; being abandoned by their wives; and raising children on their own, all while battling the challenges of homelessness. "Three weeks ago my family was presented with the opportunity of a lifetime. We were accepted into SSFV. If it weren't for this program, who knows where we'd be," said Ryan. "I remember the first day I stepped into my apartment. I almost had a panic attack. We were in a safe place with the opportunity to regain my independence and be the father my daughter deserves," said Ryan.
Ryan and Dustin will be working with a case manager on individualized case management plans including life skill classes like: parenting groups, budgeting, consumer credit counseling, crisis counseling, and job training. Both are excited to get back into the workforce. Ryan has 15+ years experience as a cook and is working to obtain his GED. Dustin has 3+ years experience as a structural fitter. "I will take advantage of all the classes SSFV offers me. I want to be able to support my family and make sure I don't make the same mistakes," said Dustin.
Homelessness does not discriminate. Whether you're a single mom, single dad, or a complete family living in poverty, homelessness is often the result of a complicated mix of factors that force families to choose between shelter and other basic needs. Last year, SSFV had an 88% success rate; 30 families exited the program and moved into permanent housing. SSFV is able to house up to 17 families at a time. Currently SSFV has 15 families and 32 children housed in the program.
Click here to learn more about Sybil H. Smith Family Village
As a founding partner of Nothing but Nets and then Imagine No Malaria, The United Methodist Church has been fighting to end malaria since 2006. Thanks to the UMC, millions of bed nets were sent to families in need in sub-Saharan Africa. Together we have made amazing progress against the disease. Millions of children are alive thanks to the mosquito nets, health education and care –
But now what?
Mark LaBranche, President of Lewisburg College and member of the Alabama West Florida Conference, introduced Jim and Lesley Cooper of FUMC Montgomery and Alecia Glaize of Fairhope UMC to an empowerment program called ZOE. This summer they traveled with Mark and Mona LaBranche to Rwanda to check it out.
Rwanda is a small, poor mountainous country in East Central Africa of 11 million people. Unlike the United States, there are few social services available. Consequently there is no safety net for orphans in Rwanda. There are thousands of orphans living on the streets, in the villages, and the countryside. Children aged 12, 14, 16 are taking care of their brothers and sisters as best they can. These small families have no shelter, food or direction.
ZOE offers an opportunity for orphans and vulnerable children to have a chance at life through a three-year empowerment program. Using a model developed in Africa by Africans, ZOE gathers these orphan families who have been identified by the government into mutually-supportive working groups. They do not receive charity. They do not receive gifts. They are loaned funds to develop businesses that will support their families. Those loans are paid back into a group fund that is used to help others.
ZOE teaches those orphans in the working groups about hygiene, safe food practices and how to become financially, socially and economically independent. By the 2nd year, the families in the working groups have begun businesses and are earning enough money so that they can feed and clothe themselves. By the 3rd year many of those families are hiring others to work for them.
For three years, ZOE stands behind them with life skills training and resources. At the conclusion of that 3-year program, the ZOE kids support themselves. They will never need charity again. Group members work together to pull one another out of extreme poverty and into a sustainable future. After three years, they have moved from beggars to bosses, from being a problem to being a solution ... all while living in their own community and knowing God’s love. ZOE’s empowerment program served over 28,600 children in 2015 in seven countries: Rwanda, Kenya, Malawi, Zimbabwe, Liberia and Guatemala.
While visiting Malawi, well-known author and preacher, Adam Hamilton said of the program: “Children ten, eleven, twelve years old are raising 3, 4, or 5 siblings.” In ZOE working groups, “these children come together to encourage each other, care for each other, bless each other and administer to each other. I was blown away by what I saw.”
If you are interested in learning more about ZOE, contact Jim and Lesley Cooper at 334-284-2667 email@example.com or Alecia Glaize at 251-236-1108 firstname.lastname@example.org.