Where there's hope, there's help

Where there's hope, there's help

July 11th, 2014 in Opinion Free Press

Marcy Hill, center, is met and hugged by Dana Moore, 6, Wednesday as volunteers delivers food and clothing to residents at the Superior Creek Lodge development in East Ridge. Participating churches on Wednesday were Jones United Methodist, Burning Bush Baptist, East Ridge United Methodist, Christ United Methodist and Chickamauga First Baptist Church.

Photo by Tim Barber/Times Free Press.

HOW TO HELP

To donate, volunteer or learn more about Project52, visit www.proj52.com or call the church at 706-375-4673.

It's an idea that quickly outgrew its name, but that's a good thing.

Project52, a faith-based effort to accomplish 52 acts of service a year begun by a local Evangelical Presbyterian minister and now a part of Hope Fellowship Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Chickamauga, Ga., already has more than 200 projects identified and tackled in two and a half years.

The idea, according to its website, is to identify a need and then satisfy the need while partnering with other local churches, organizations and businesses.

"The Bible's call to action is broad," said Dr. Chris Robinson, the church's pastor, "and we try to maintain the flexibility to enter people's lives in the area of their immediate need."

If one examined big city newspapers, magazines and television shows these days, one would believe churches and faith-based ministries only abuse children, hate gays and waste money. The truth is most churches and ministries are doing work, in some variation and certainly under the radar, similar to what Project52 is doing.

The nonprofit organization's volunteers have demolished houses, cut down trees, unclogged gutters, mowed lawns, raked leaves, built walls and applied new coats of paint, among other things.

The tasks, for the most part, are accomplished for elderly homeowners, for residents who have little ability to pay, and for nonprofit organizations.

"Our unique ability," Robinson said, "is to help widows and other homeowners who face challenges they just can't meet on their own. We also ... serve other nonprofits, so they can direct more of their resources toward fulfilling their missions."

Among the nonprofits the volunteer organization has served recently are Widows Harvest, Chattanooga Community Kitchen, Signal Mountain Social Services, St. Andrews Center and Channels of Love.

Robinson, a former associate pastor at Signal Mountain Presbyterian Church, began the ministry there but stepped out on his own to make it a full-time venture.

He had worked with a similar group, People Helping People, while at Highland Park Presbyterian Church in Dallas and thought the concept could work in Chattanooga. Conceived locally in 2011, it ramped up with projects in January 2012.

"I love it -- to glorify God in this way," he said. "Everyday when I get up, I'm excited."

Robinson is not alone in the venture. Volunteers from his previous church, ones he made on his own and now members of Hope Fellowship make up the bulk of the group of 103 people he calls "markers."

The markers, some of whom are contractors or certified electricians, in turn, are able to call on other groups to increase the reservoir of help available.

Every Monday, Robinson emails or posts on Facebook opportunities for the week. Some are as minor as changing a light bulb for an elderly widow; one this week, with the help of volunteers from a church in Covington, Tenn., involved tearing down a house.

"It's amazing," he said. "When a project arises, we always get volunteers."

Robinson's connections, his cold calling on other nonprofits and calls from the public are responsible for filling out the roster of projects. When people who have received help realize the group isn't seeking anything from them, they begin calling back.

"I go in and assess the need, to see if it's capable," he said. "If it's 'yes,' we pull the trigger."

Most of the early projects were in Chattanooga, but Robinson's relationship with Hope Fellowship -- where he was a supply pastor and has been part-time pastor since last August -- has expanded the ministry into North Georgia, where he said 13 percent of Walker County's population are widows and where there are few social service agencies.

Individuals contribute most of the money the nonprofit raises, and several churches have provided funds, he said. Nonprofits often have a little bit of money set aside for supplies, he said. Occasionally, professionals have donated their time, equipment and work crews.

Robinson said the work Project52 and other faith-based nonprofits are doing used to be fulfilled exclusively by churches, where people worshiped and glorified God, became disciples, and then went out and served their fellow man.

Today, he says, too many can't or don't. One man the ministry assists, he says, lives across the street from a church and has three or four other churches within a few blocks but has had no assistance from them.

"My desire is that [faith-based] nonprofits not exist," Robinson says. "The churches should be doing it." With more than a thousand area churches, "if each church did one thing a week, we wouldn't need them."

For now, though, the area is fortunate to have Project52 helping fill the gap.