A few years ago someone volunteering for the first time at an organization where I also volunteer declared “Haywood Christian Ministry is the best kept secret in Haywood County!”

In other words, folks live here, shop here, drive through town on a regular basis, but never come through the doors or tour the workings of this place called HCM.

“Why should they?” you might ask. “What’s the big deal?”

Well, every day all of us go about our day giving little, if any, thought to a crisis that may drastically affect the lives of families in our community. People who cared about people and who spontaneously helped those in need founded HCM 49 years ago.

Since then, this “grass roots” nonprofit has grown to be a beacon of hope for those in crisis in this county. Literally thousands of lives have had a positive impact because others took the time to care.

Today, due to God’s guiding hand and the generosity of this community, HCM has weathered hard times and has continued to flourish. Our campus, under the blue and white sign reading “Jay and Buckie Somers Crisis Center” at 150 Branner Avenue, continually meets the needs of struggling folks with serious issues.

Front and center is our newly expanded Thrift Shop which provides 100 percent of our operational expenses. That means every dollar contributed to us goes directly to help those in need.

So, if you withhold your donations to nonprofits that fritter it away on excess overhead, you need look no further to find the exact opposite.

Our Director, Steve Nowakowski, would love to have you visit. He knows HCM inside and out, loves it with all his heart and can’t wait to show you what it’s all about.

But for now, let me talk you through how it goes. Folks seeking help step into our office to complete paperwork and discuss with a friendly interviewer the best plan to handle their immediate needs.

Usually it’s food or clothing, or just a blanket, dishes, towels or a toaster — the bare essentials most of us take for granted. Then, they walk down the hill to our lower level and collect these donated belongings — gifts from someone who simply cared enough to share useful items. Meanwhile, others may need a volunteer to advocate for them with landlords or utility companies in order to remain in their home or keep vital services. Still others are in dire need of medications just to get through the days ahead.

Often just a kind word or short prayer gives someone strength to cope.

Yes, unseen from the busy streets outside, in this exceptional place, resources are provided to meet challenges and avert each unique, and very personal, crisis.

As a volunteer I see the faces of an elderly couple, arm in arm as they navigate steps and doorways. I hear the panicked plea of a single mom at her wits end, and I sense the shock and desperation in the voice of a middle-aged father, who finds himself jobless for the first time in his life.

Within these walls relief, hope and dignity are the precious commodities we offer to replace rejection and discouragement. Gradually, eyes light up, tears are wiped away and voices become more steady.

HCM might still be the best kept secret in Haywood County, but I for one would love to shout it from our rooftop. Who knows, maybe more folks will swing by this special place just to look inside. It’s amazing what a glimpse of people helping people can do for your soul.

By the way, did I mention our annual fundraiser is coming up soon? Yep, our 26th Annual Golf Tournament will be held at both Laurel Ridge Country Club and Waynesville Inn & Resort on Wednesday, July 10. (You might even win a car courtesy of AutoStar Automotive Group.)

Then, our gala (awards dinner, door prizes, live and silent auction) is on the following night, Thursday July 11.

Proceeds from this event go primarily to our heating program to ensure no elderly, infants/preschoolers or seriously ill folks have to suffer in unheated homes next winter. Sponsorships range from “underwriters” at $5,000 down to $250, however, any amount is both welcomed and appreciated.

Gala tickets are $30 each and golf is $125 per player, including one gala ticket. Golf entry forms are available at the HCM office, local area golf clubs or on our HCM website haywoodministry.org. If you prefer, just call us for more info at 456-4838.

Come get acquainted with the folks in the know about “the best kept secret in Haywood County,” won’t you? I’m willing to bet you’ll be glad you did.

Ellen Russell is the chairman of Haywood Christian Ministry.

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