What Do You Know About St. Paul’s Outreach?

What do You Know About St. Paul’s Outreach?

By Joan Doggrell

Before talking to Crystal McCollough, I knew very little about St. Paul’s Outreach program. I knew that Outreach was responsible for disbursing funds to deserving recipients. But I thought the Outreach committee was a single entity headed by a Chair and the usual officers. How wrong I was. That may have been its previous structure, but not anymore.

And why was I talking to Crystal? Because she is Chair for the Community Grants Ministry. More about that shortly. But first, a bit about Crystal. She runs a small business from home, Beautycounter, “a clean beauty brand for men, women, & children.” She is married to Micah McCollough, and they have five children: Ariel, thirteen; Micah Jr, eleven; Eli, nine; Aaron, seven; and Samuel, two.

“And Joey (the Golden Doodle puppy) makes six!” said Crystal. “It’s like having toddler twins when Sammy and Joey are in the house together. One’s running this way, the other’s running that way… It would be easier if they were one species – they would both either sit and color or they’d both play Fetch!”

It’s easy to see she has her hands full. Nevertheless, “I’ve always enjoyed being a servant,” she said. “Father Allan pulled me out of the pew with my newborn Aaron and told me I needed to join the Committee. And I’ve been here ever since.”

Today, Outreach consists of four permanent ministries: Community Grants, The Work of our Hands. Stories of Grace, and Monthly Mission Market. As Christmas approaches, a fifth ministry, Angel Tree, goes to work.

And who is in charge of all these ministries? Why, our own Hazel, of course.

The Community Grants ministry is “tasked with receiving grant applications and voting on whether or not to grant those funds,” said Crystal.

According to St. Paul’s website:

“St. Paul’s makes grants to nonprofit programs that provide basic needs to the most vulnerable of our neighbors. In addition to small grants (typically $2,500 or less), the Community Grants Ministry provides funds to organizations with local or regional affiliation, especially organizations with an Episcopal affiliation, organizations founded by St. Paul’s Episcopal Church or organizations impacted by significant parishioner participation.”

This ministry has been busy this year. Here are the organizations who have received grants to date.

CORRAL, $2,500, to the equine therapy folks. According to their website, “We collaborate with local, referral community partners who identify our at-risk girls and then we pair them with rescued horses.” Check out their website at https://corralriding.org/. They have inspiring stories to tell.

I-58 Mission. “This organization is in Senoia,” said Crystal. “We gave them a grant of $7500. They are like One Roof and Bridging the Gap, only on the other side of the Interstate. That’s a whole community that is part of Coweta County, that we have never touched. They were new the first time we heard about them. We have kept an eye on them, and they’ve grown exponentially. They are doing some wonderful things in their community. We’re really excited to help them out this year.”  https://thei58mission.org/

Kairos, $750, the St. Paul’s prison ministry led by Bill Harrison. The Kairos website says, “By sharing the love and forgiveness of Jesus Christ, Kairos hopes to change hearts, transform lives and impact the world.” http://www.kairosprisonministry.org

“…I was in prison, and you came to visit me.” (Matthew 25:36)

Coweta Samaritan Clinic, $2,500. Our own Lou Graner played a major role in getting this health care facility started and served as its Executive Director for almost eight years. The clinic serves uninsured Coweta County residents with limited incomes. https://www.cowetasamaritanclinic.org/

One Roof. “We have a special relationship with them,” said Crystal. “St. Paul’s started the Food Pantry right here in our building. So we have always had a vested interest in One Roof’s success. We do a quarterly grant to them of $2000.”  https://oneroofoutreach.org/

“One Roof recently opened a new facility they call The Lodge. When asked to help with that project, we said we would see how we could get other congregations involved to help sustain this. Luckily, they got a large amount of support from some of the downtown churches, so now they are open. We helped support them with a grant of $6,000.”

“The Lodge will house two families at a time for thirty days –  women and children coming from homeless  situations. The Lodge is a sub-program under the One Roof umbrella, headed by Frankie Hardin. One Roof covers the food pantry, the thrift store, and now The Lodge.”

“So that is how we dispersed our money for this year,” added Crystal. “We still have a good bit yet. We are waiting to see what Angel Tree comes out at. And we may have more grant applications.”

The Work of our Hands ministry, chaired by Joshua Wieda, identifies ways parishioners can go beyond writing a check. The ministry encourages hands-on participation.

According to Crystal, St. Paul’s participated in Bridging the Gap earlier this year, and Backpack Buddies is happening in October. A couple days of the week, Bridging the Gap provides a hot meal and food distribution. St. Paul’s volunteers provided a hot breakfast on March 9 of this year, during Lent.

“We had over thirty show up to help serve breakfast, with casseroles in hand, some gluten free – we were very conscious of that. There was also a set of volunteers in the warehouse who were dispersing the food. But we were there to give that touch, Hazel was on hand to give a sermon, and the Children’s Choir was there. I was really pleased to see that turnout,” said Crystal.

Their next project will be Backpack Buddies. “This is an organization that sends underprivileged children home with easy-to-heat and eat food,” said Crystal. “We have a large population of children who are on free or reduced-cost lunch. Backpack Buddies discreetly packs bags with canned ravioli, Ramen noodles, peanut butter crackers, anything children and their families can easily heat so they can have a nice meal over the weekend. The only place these children get a hot meal is at school.”

The school identifies the children who need food, typically from the list of those getting free or reduced-cost lunches or whom teachers recognize because they’re hungry.

I had to ask: “Don’t their families get welfare and Food Stamps? Why are so many children hungry?”

Crystal did not attempt to explain. Wisely, she simply helps to supply an obvious need. “It’s just the way things are,” she said. “A lot of hungry children are in Coweta County, and the only way they eat is when they are at school. So Backpack Buddies exists to meet that need. This ministry also provides food over school breaks. For example, for Thanksgiving break, they get a larger bag of food. Parents are encouraged to come to the school to pick up these bags.”

St. Paul’s volunteers will be packing bags on Tuesday evening, October 15. On Thursday and Friday, volunteers will take them to the schools for distribution.

“I toted bags for awhile,” said Crystal. “But then when I had Samuel, I couldn’t carry the bags and him too!”

“Arranging for people to come out for those bags is really big,” said Crystal. “Backpack Buddies gets a lot of donations. People just go to BJs and get big pallets of ravioli, chili, and things of that nature to be able to send the babies home with something.”

“I really love Backpack Buddies,” she adds. “The woman who started it has this big, beautiful heart – she’s the owner of the Senoia Coffee Shop. She just saw a need, and went for it, and by the Grace of God, she has had people constantly donating food and money and a constant stream of volunteers to pack up these bags.”

The Monthly Mission Market ministry (MMM) offers opportunities for all parishioners to “assist local nonprofit programs with in-kind gifts by bringing in needed items and placing them in MMM’s shopping cart.”

“We decided on our Monthly Mission Market activities at our first meeting of the year,” said Crystal.

These are the organizations St. Paul’s MMM currently supports with parishioner-donated supplies:

  • The Coweta County Food Pantry. Several times throughout the year we request parishioner donations. “I think with the surplus of food we have in this country there is no reason for people to be hungry,” said Crystal.
  • Meals on Wheels. Foods such as fruit cups and juices are requested.
  • Animal shelter supplies.

  • Drive for Backpack Buddies. None was conducted this year.
  • The Boys and Girls Club. This year, after-school supplies were donated to Ruth Hill.
  • Ansley House. According to their website, it’s “a school for children of families who have experienced homelessness in Atlanta.” “It’s a safe place for them to go and get some education,” explained Crystal. “It’s part of the Episcopal church – St. Luke’s donates the space. Hazel and Jane Murdock learned about it at Diocesan Convention. The school doesn’t have a lot of space to store collections, so we ended up giving them a $500 donation.”
  • The I-58 mission or One Roof in December “depending on who has the greatest need for cold weather gear,” said Crystal. “We were able to split those donations last year so both would have coats to hand out, for free, to those who needed them.”

  • School Necessities in January, which is “geared more towards teachers because by that time of year they’ve run out of their tissues, hand sanitizer, etc. The plan is to be able to replenish those supplies.”

The Stories of Grace ministry, chaired by Mark Bulford, is tasked with telling “the stories of how St. Paul’s is serving Jesus in our community and will broadcast the stories as appropriate via news media, social media, the blog, and The Lamp.”

According to Crystal, “This ministry is supposed to be a way of sharing what Outreach is up to. But we’re having trouble with that.”

Anyone want to volunteer to make sure such information gets in The Lamp, on St. Paul’s website, and in the Blog?  Just raise your hand.

The Angel Tree ministry, chaired by Carrie Wendelburg, functions seasonally. During Advent, the Angel Tree is placed in the Narthex and covered in tags describing Christmas list items for needy individuals and families. Parishioners are invited to take a tag and return the unwrapped item to the collection basket in the Parish Hall. The Angel Tree team uses the items to create a display of generosity in the Parish Hall until the items are distributed.

“Names of deserving persons those who would have a barren Christmas otherwise come from DFCS,” explained Crystal. “Then it’s a matter of making sure each child and needy adult has a slip, then sorting through and making sure nothing was left off.”

“Last year we did pick up several bicycles,” added Crystal. “We weren’t given as many bikes as were requested, so we picked some up with Outreach funds. We signed up to provide these gifts, so we need to take care to do so.”

“Carrie Wendelburg is getting ready to start the Angel Tree project this year, so she will need volunteers to help with that. It’s a lot of work, and Alise, her daughter, is off to college now, so Carrie will need some extra hands.  Hopefully she will be asking for committee members soon to get Angel Tree up and running.”

Outreach Needs Help!

Crystal’s concluding remarks:

“Volunteering to serve in each of these outreach ministries gives meaning to why we do what we do outside the walls of our church. Now that our committee is split into subcommittees, we don’t have as much participation as we did previously. We are looking for new members. We would like more people for Work of Our Hands and Stories of Grace. Stories of Grace is supposed to be a committee to highlight the goings-on at Outreach as well as let the Church know about other volunteer and service opportunities that they don’t necessarily need to do through the Church.

“Last year we did the agricultural initiative in Haiti. We talked about it a bit, but I feel there was so much more we could have done. I think people would want to know that in Haiti we helped plant a crop of trees so recipients could be sustainable farmers and grow and sell their own crops and make a better life for their families. We have a relationship with these families, but we don’t talk about it.”

The following write-up appeared a newsletter from Bethlehem Ministries, the organization working with Father Bruno in Haiti.

One of the lucky families high in the mountains got help from some Bethlehem Ministry families to plant trees and crops on their steep land.

A year and a half ago some families at St. Paul’s Episcopal in Newnan, Georgia and at First Presbyterian in Athens changed the life trajectory of some Haitian families by giving them the resources to plant their steep land with agro-forests. With that jump start, those families scored. Tree and crop cover are up, erosion is down, and optimism for their kids’ future is growing, all of which has given us the confidence to expand the idea to other communities – four of them in fact. The goals remain the same – help the land produce more, protect it for the future, and build household income using new cropping techniques and equipment to make value-added commodities. Juice from guava fruit, roof rafters from eucalyptus trees, bread from manioc roots, soap from Jatrofa seeds – there are so many plant-based possibilities because Haiti is in the tropics. When farm communities can tap those possibilities, their economy improves. Bethlehem Ministry is helping them do that. Thank you all. JP’s new project, called Land and Livelihood Transformation on Steep Land, is a three-year project focused on 500 participants and beneficiaries with economic benefits reaching many more. It is ambitious, but on the strength of the St. Paul’s /First Presbyterian trial balloons, we know we can pull it off. One of the lessons I learned watching Pere Bruno build St. Barthélémy from a dream and an empty lot is, stick with it even if you don’t have everything in hand.

Rob Fisher

Director, Partner for People and Place

“I feel we have a lot of people who want to do good things but don’t know where to get started. I think it’s the job of the Outreach committee to let people know what’s available,” said Crystal. “I’m not going to be the Chair next year, so I’m looking for some more people to help out.

“People see our budget come up on the Annual Report. But how are we spending the money? I think we ought to be held accountable by sharing that information. And I want to brag on the goodness of St. Paul’s.

“My grand vision is to see forty or fifty parishioners out there with “Work of Our Hands” on the back of their shirts. Just out there doing good things.”

 

 

 

Kathy Brown: Helping to Keep Food Production Safe and Legal

Kathy Brown: Helping to Keep Food Production Safe and Legal

By Joan Doggrell

Kathy met our former governor, Sonny Perdue, at an expo in Savannah

Have you ever wondered how those beautiful fresh vegetables and fruits get from the farms to your grocery store? Well, it’s a multi-stage journey. St. Paul’s Kathy Brown is familiar with the early stages of that journey. She plays a role in bringing documented workers into the United States to harvest crops. She is an H2A consultant who works for farm labor contractors and farmers throughout the United States. An H2A visa allows a farmer or a farm labor contractor (FLC) to bring workers into the US legally for a limited period ranging from two months to a maximum of 10 months.

Her focus is vegetable and fruit farms. She is quick to state that she does not work with livestock farmers. Her job takes her as far north as Michigan, as far west as Texas, and south into Florida.

Kathy helps farmers and farm labor contractors ensure that they are in compliance with the US Department of Labor and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards. She also assists them with Workers Compensation, general liability, insurance, and housing. In addition, her job includes follow-up visits to the farms to make sure the workers are being treated with compassion and that the workers themselves are meeting their obligations to the farmer.

“It’s a two-way street,” said Kathy. “I make sure the workers are doing what they promised to do and that the farmer or the farm labor contractor (FLC) is fulfilling his promise to the worker.”

“I’m there when they get off the bus,” she adds. “Somebody has to sign the paperwork that makes them employees of the farmer.”

Celery farm workers in southwest Florida

The H2A program

The US government started the H2A program during World War II when a lot of the men who worked on the farms or owned the farms signed up for the war. There was a shortage of pickers to harvest the fruit and vegetables, so the government started bringing foreign workers into the US to help with the harvest. This was called the bracero program. That’s where migration began generations ago. Then after the war, the government started the H2A-B visa program for migrant workers. H2A visas are agricultural, H2Bs are non-agricultural, and then there are student visas. All carry different conditions for the employer.

“My maternal grandmother’s family owned a blueberry farm in Michigan. This was her with the fruit harvesters.” Kathy

A contract is signed between the worker and whoever is offering the job, the farmer or the FLC. The contract specifies what is going to be harvested and how much the worker is going to be paid. Every state has a different hourly rate. Florida’s is $11.24 an hour. North Carolina’s is $12.25 an hour. Workers must supply the government with the address of every farm where they are going to pick, what type of produce, and what they are willing to minimal pay the worker, sometimes it is a piece rate that makes it more profitable for the farmer and the worker. They will have to be paid the minimal H2A hourly rate, which changes from state to state.

“I would estimate that around 15% of the agriculture workers are here with H2A visas,” said Kathy. “The rest of the workers are undocumented or unemployable in other business sectors. However, the H2A program is growing, especially in Georgia right now, which is the top state for H2A applications. Ten years ago, the program brought in over 95,000. I think last year it brought in more than 170,000 people.”

Many of these people have been college educated in Mexico and are paying off student loans. Most are young, usually under 25. They are here to work.

To bring somebody here legally in the H2A program costs $1500.00, which is paid by either the contractor or the farmer. “A lot of the contractors don’t like bringing the same persons after three or four years,” said Kathy. “They get so Americanized that their productivity does not keep up. They don’t make money either if the men or the women don’t pick enough. Everyone has to work together.”

Farmers’ obligations to workers

The workers’ housing is regularly inspected by the Federal Housing Authority. Farmers who don’t own homes for the workers rent hotels. The rules are very nitty-gritty. Trash cans must have lids, there must be sufficient rolls of toilet paper for every worker, etc. Farmers are fined if any of these areas is deficient.

Furthermore, the Department of Labor (DOL) can show up at any time of the day for an inspection. So if a worker didn’t put the lid on a trash can, that means a fine for the farmer of $250.00.

“The workers come from a third world country,” said Kathy.  “Many of them don’t like certain living conditions such as the screens on the windows. They will take them off. So when the DOL comes in and inspects the housing, the farmer gets in trouble”

“But I like the program,” Kathy added. “I think it benefits everybody, although It’s very expensive. The farmer has to have a serious labor shortage to want to do this.”

How Kathy became an independent contractor

Kathy first got into the migrant worker business when she lived in central Florida, the citrus capital of the world. She started out working for a company that verified paperwork for domestic workers. As the company grew, she added more skills, including unemployment processing, accounts payable, and finally Workers Compensation.

“My dad had a Workers Comp claim when I was growing up, so I felt I was doing something good this time. I understood what a family should receive,” said Kathy.

Kathy worked with Workers Compensation for fourteen years.

“During that time, I learned about compliance, risk management, and OSHA,” said Kathy.

Then 9/11 hit, and everything changed.

“Before 9/11, my boss worked with H2B workers. He had maids in hotels and people in manufacturing. In the wake of 9/II he had to send all these people home. Several apartments for them were rented in his name, and he couldn’t break the leases. He had to keep paying. It was bad, but we struggled on.”

Then in 2004, four hurricanes went through central Florida. The crop was almost wiped out.

“We struggled. We all cut back on our hours. But the company never recovered. My boss lasted another eight years,” said Kathy. “But In 2012 he closed up shop. I really thought I was done with agriculture; maybe it was my time to do something different.”

But within three or four months, she had clients coming to her asking for help.

That was when Kathy first became an independent consultant. Within six months, she had fifteen clients. But then Harbor America offered her a job doing what she loved: Workers Compensation. That job lasted until disaster struck again; the company was bought by venture capitalists. They structured things differently in the company, and the clients missed the service that they had come accustomed to. So Kathy decided it was her time to move on.

“I had run the agricultural segment of the business for five years,” said Kathy. “I’d doubled it. Our Workers Compensation claims, which were at a 130% loss ratio, went down to 30%. But after the venture capitalists took over, I’d be on the phone from Thursday night until Sunday trying to correct mistakes they had made. The workers live check to check. If they earn $500, $400 goes home to their families. That money has to be there. Also, part of the DOL regulations state that workers are always paid on the same day of the week. If they don’t get paid on time, the farmer is not in compliance, and I have just cost him a fine.”

“I no longer loved my job. So I told my boss I quit.”

But she wasn’t idle for long. She soon had clients again, calling her and requesting her services. There was plenty to do.

“The hardest thing for the FLCs and the farmers to obtain is Workers Compensation,” said Kathy. “Nobody wants to insure these workers because every day they’re in a school bus with forty-five people or a van carrying fifteen, and that’s a huge liability.”

When they harvest, they get up at 6:00 am. They can be driven up to fifty miles a day without being paid an hourly rate for their travel time.

“When we bring a group of workers onto the program, we inspect the buses, making sure the tires are good. They don’t have to have seatbelts because school buses don’t have them. But the tires are a big thing. A lot of times, the buses are driven so much that their tires will be showing metal. And they’re transporting lives every day. So we’ll go in and make sure the school buses are up to standard. The good thing with the H2A program is that before the FLCs bring people over, they have to get their vehicles inspected. That’s what I like about the program. There are so many safety standards that the farmer and the FLC have to meet.”

But undocumented workers are not so fortunate.

“There’s a whole other side to the business which we try to avoid,” said Kathy. “Sometimes people actually pay to get these jobs. They will go borrow money from family – they have this idea of the American Dream, and they want to come here. It’s illegal, and a horrible scam where these people are taken advantage of, but the practice goes on all the time.”

“On a farm in South Georgia that was next to one of the farms I was working with, they had fifty women working out in the heat and living in a two-bedroom trailer. These women were sleeping on the floor. That was in 2018. It still goes on.”

She also sees the consequences of illegal transportation practices.

“You don’t see it so much where we live because there’s no farming here – we’re in a metropolitan area. But in Florida there are orange trees everywhere. In South Georgia you see the school buses where they are harvesting watermelons. They overload the buses because if they can put four or five extra workers in the bus, they don’t have to pay for another driver or fuel.”

“In the mid-2000s, a fifteen-passenger van with twenty-three illegal domestic people flipped on a major interstate. All of them either died or became wheelchair-bound.”

Kathy is in a position to observe first-hand what the rest of us only hear about through the news media.

“We’re going on a third generation of Hispanic people born in the United States,” she said. “They are not picking anymore. They are doing landscaping or construction, where they can make more money and work in a safer environment. A lot of the women are employed in the fast food industry. Although these jobs usually pay only minimum wages, the workers are not out in the heat, and they have benefits such as health insurance.”

“False documentation is easy for undocumented workers to come by. They will get a fake Social Security card and a driver’s license. The scary thing is, you can go into these mom and pop gas stations in rural areas and buy IDs for ten dollars. They’ll get their ID and take a job just harvesting. When they fill out their W2 and W4, they will put in ‘married, 8 children’ to minimize the amount held back by the employer. But they are still taxed for Social Security, and they don’t get to claim it. They never get their contribution back. It’s a side of the taxes most people do not talk about.”

Do migrant workers take jobs away from Americans?

This is Kathy’s answer to that question.

“People ask, why do we bring these people here to work when Americans need jobs? It’s not true that they’re taking Americans’ jobs. These are hard-working people who do jobs that Americans won’t take, such as butchering animals. That is an emotionally draining thing to do. The H2A workers are no different from you and me. But they take these jobs because they need to earn money for their families back home.”

“Oranges are picked in huge sacks. Full, they can weigh up to 90 pounds. Carrying a 90-pound sack around your neck and up a 20-foot ladder is hard labor. I don’t know anyone that wants to do that or to sit in the sun and pick fruit or vegetables.

“Alabama passed a law about ten years ago that enforced the use of E-Verify. Crops were left out in the field. Of course, it was illegals that were picking the product. Because the state made the farmers use E-Verify, I don’t know how many hundreds of acres of crops were lost.

“If you had American workers picking fruit, there would be Workers Compensation claims, unemployment claims. And you’d probably be paying eight dollars for those two tomatoes you paid three dollars for.”

Those Pesky Food Safety Regulations

We hear a lot of complaints about regulations that hamper business. Kathy has first-hand experience to share on that subject as well.

“The food standards of safety in the US are ten times better than those of any other country. I’ve never been to the farms of Mexico and South America, but I’ve seen pictures. Believe me, you don’t want to think about that stuff.

“Through my position on the agricultural side, I got invited to one of Publix’s food safety class. Publix periodically goes into farms in the US, and they swab everything. They look for listeria, e-coli, just as an extra safety concern. That is why the shelf life for their products isn’t as long because they take that extra step. We should be grateful for the US food safety standards, because for the amount of food that is picked and harvested here in the States, there should be a lot more illness. But our government has almost perfected keeping us safe”

So the next time you buy fresh produce, remember Kathy. She works in an imperfect system, but she does her best to protect the people who harvest our food – and indirectly, she is protecting you.

 

Lou Graner: Good Samaritan

By Joan Doggrell

He retired in March of 2019, but for almost eight years, Lou Graner was the Executive Director of Coweta County’s Samaritan Clinic. Moreover, he played an essential role in the planning and financing of this life-saving facility. The Coweta Samaritan Clinic offers free primary medical care to uninsured Coweta County residents with limited incomes.

“Just in the time I was there, we treated about 1,600 people and had crossed the 20,000-patient visit level,” said Lou. “A tremendous amount of good is being done.”

I wanted to know more about this modest man who had played a vital role in launching and operating the Samaritan Clinic.

Joan: Lou, what led you to be one of the movers and shakers who started the Samaritan Clinic?

Lou: My involvement comes right back here to St. Paul’s. One day ten or so years ago, I was meeting with Bill Harrison. We were just chatting about poverty and different things. Sharon Gruber was the volunteer at the desk. She was good friends with Kay Crosby and the others who were thinking about starting the clinic. She heard us talking and just ducked her head in and asked, “Do you have any interest in coming to a meeting and looking at what we are thinking about?” I said, “Sure.” So it really started right here in St. Paul’s, or I might not have known about it.

Joan: Something inside you must have felt drawn to this meeting. Can you express what that was?

Lou: When this opportunity presented itself, I was between jobs. I had been in the non-profit world for about fifteen years. The one thing I had never done was anything in this community, and this was something I really wanted to do. I’ve always been interested in dealing with poverty and the people who truly don’t have any breaks.

I had done fund-raising for the Scottish Rite Children’s Medical Center, which is part of Children’s Health Care now. I had also worked at the Atlanta Union Mission, which is an emergency shelter and addiction recovery center for men and women. That was the area of non-profit work that really spoke to me, which I found most fulfilling.

So obviously what was being contemplated here was very interesting. I just rode the coattails of an awful lot of people. People of this community are extraordinarily generous with their time and with their resources: Dr. Kay Crosby, for example, who volunteers her services, had been an internist for twenty years at PAPP Clinic, and so she was very well known and respected. I think to this day that she continues to drive that support. She is still there.

Joan: Tell me more about your role.

Lou: I had some small role in it, but it’s really the generosity of the community and the way things have come together. I’ve never been in a place where the hand of God was so evident. Just for the facility itself – some of the places we were looking at would have been much more expensive and would have proven to be too small almost immediately. When the Health Department moved from the building where the clinic is to Hospital Road, the County took over the building, did a little rehabilitation work on the HVAC system, and leased 9000 square feet to us for a dollar a year.

Joan: Are there other examples of the hand of God at work?

Lou: There were many. For instance, one day Peggie (our nurse/administrator) commented, “You know, we could really use another blood pressure machine.” It wasn’t two days later when somebody from Welch-Allyn knocked on the front door. This guy is holding a stand with a blood pressure machine. He says, “We have an extra one. It’s from one of our clients. Could you use it here?” That’s not an exception. It was more the rule.

We like to say the Samaritan Clinic is Coweta County citizens caring for their neighbors. All the doctors volunteer their time. None of them are getting paid; only some of the medical staff, such as nurses and physician’s assistants.

I feel really good about what’s been accomplished. It was such a rewarding experience to be part of it.

Joan: What made it so rewarding?

Lou: Instead of fund-raising and writing checks as a donor, it’s kind of like – well, how do I get my hands dirty on the front line? So that was my evolution – to move into the direct provision of service and to use my accounting and financial background to benefit that organization. Anybody who has done service comes to realize you get so much more out of it than you put in. That was true for me.

Every employee, at least during the time I was there, started as a volunteer. We always thought that was really cool. We would say, what are the most important qualities, and who has passion for the mission? Everybody at the clinic had chosen to be there as a volunteer, so ultimately when the position was needed, these were the people best qualified for it.

Joan: What exactly was your position?

Lou: Executive Director. I was in charge of all the fund raising, community relations, accounting, and budgeting. There were nine employees when I left: three full time and six part time.

Joan: Your pride and satisfaction in your contribution come through loud and clear. Not everybody with a CPA, folks involved in the world of money-making, would feel this way. What is in your background that leads you to this passion for helping the  less fortunate?

Lou: My family was not heavy church. But my parents modeled service. My Dad did a lot of stuff free for people. He was a sports announcer in Cleveland, so when he made speeches for Boy Scouts, for instance, he never charged. My parents sponsored a child through the Christian Children’s Fund. Because of their example, I started sponsoring kids when I got out of college. I was writing checks, and that was a good step for someone that age to be giving back.

I was working for profit at that point for a company that did real estate and construction. Wonderful folks.  But one day I looked in the mirror and asked myself, do I want to keep helping rich people get richer? That’s not enough. I decided I wanted to move into non-profit and try to help. I ended up in Children’s Health Care of Atlanta, not your typical non-profit in the sense that it’s been incredibly successful. They’re saving lives right and left, and they do it with unbelievable quality.

The Christian Children’s Fund serves kids in poverty around the world. At one point, Anne and I were sponsoring eight. We’d pray for each one. Every night at dinner the kids would rattle off their names. But finally I realized that if everybody’s writing checks and nobody is doing the work, nothing’s going to get done. So what can I do?

The Samaritan Clinic provided the opportunity to do something in Newnan and give back to this community, which I really am thrilled that I did.

Joan: You must have met a lot of wonderful people in your quest for donations.

Lou: One of the donors at the clinic told me about a man she met in an airport in Florida. Somehow they got onto the subject of philanthropy. He shared with her that he has decided he wants to give his money where he casts his shadow. She took that to heart. She said to herself, “I’m here in Newnan. I’m not casting my shadow in India or other places.”  So she changed her philanthropy dramatically to the benefit of the clinic, the Humane Society, and a number of other local charities. She is now giving where she casts her shadow.

Joan: Do you have other passions? What do you want to do next?

Lou: For some reason, seasons came to mind. Having just finished up my time at the clinic, to some extent, passion-wise, I’m in winter. I had the summer and the bloom when the clinic opened, and all the great things it did, then kind of found myself a little worn out and questioning myself as to whether I was the best person to take the clinic to the next step. Now the leaves have fallen off, and I’ve chosen to step back.

I’ll always be passionate about poverty and the less fortunate, but I don’t know what the next step will be. Bur the beauty of the seasons is, I may be in winter, but spring is coming. The blooms are going to come out. I’m totally confident my next step will be shown to me.

Anne and I, on our own paths and somewhat in a shared way, have always been interested in spiritual growth, so that’s always going to be a passion.

The whole concept of simplicity just speaks to me, and I don’t mean in the narrow, clean-out-your-closets, keep-it-simple kind of way. I mean it much more broadly, where simplicity is the hub of your relationships. I’m also reflecting on spirituality. There are three or four things that define how I want to give my time. But within each of those, undergirding it, are simplicity and spirituality,

Joan: What do you mean by simplicity?

Lou: Well, everything from not being complicated to whittling down to what’s really essential. In fact, Anne had a book on her Kindle called Essentialism. The premise is, there are so few things that are truly essential. There are thousands of things that just aren’t important yet we manage to clutter up our lives with nonessentials if we are not intentional about our choices.

That leads me to my relationship with Jesus. All that we have to learn to understand and to grow is a quest toward greater unity and oneness with Christ. Just realizing that He is not just out there, He’s in here, in everybody and everything you’re encountering. And that leads to gratitude and appreciation. I can’t tell you how excited I am that I planted seven little gardenia bushes, and they’re all blooming. It’s their first year and they’re not even that fragrant yet, but the excitement! God is in those little white blossoms, and in the yellow leaf that fell off, too.

Anne Graner’s Story

By Joan Doggrell

I’d heard that the Launch Pad Library at Ruth Hill Elementary School is an awesome place, and when I visited it, I wanted to be a kid again. The large, colorfully decorated room is organized so that books, STEAM activities, and community connections are grouped together by common themes. They are organized in six learning portals: Travel the World & Beyond; Learn from the Past; Stay Fit & Healthy; Investigate Nature; Express Yourself; and Discover a Solution. And it all looks attractive and inviting.

Kids can experiment with a sewing machine, a 3-D printer, and musical instruments. They can also make movies and audio recordings in the recording studio.  They are involved with career exploration, are taught soft skills focused on professionalism, and are encouraged to create projects that impact others.

The learning portals are sponsored by community partners who supply materials and expertise. If students have a project calling for outside help, the partners are ready to supply it. For example, the Newnan Times Herald carried a story on June 9 about students making weighted lap pads that are used to help autistic children focus on learning.  The Coweta Community Foundation stepped in to help them purchase useful, quality products.

Obviously, the Launch Pad Library is a far cry from traditional school libraries. Its conception and creation are the work of St. Paul’s own Anne Graner. Anne is on a mission to empower the Ruth Hill students, 85% of which are on free and reduced lunch.  She believes that every child has the potential to succeed. With the collaboration of other teachers and community partners, the Launch Pad Library constantly strives to improve its offerings to close the opportunity gap so many of the students have.

“We don’t stop when the school year ends,” said Anne.  “For three summers, we’ve had a weekly bookmobile that reaches some of our neediest students so they can have free books over the summer.”

I met Anne at a St. Paul’s women’s retreat at Banning Mills a few years back. She took us on a “prayer hike” where we stopped and prayed at inspiring natural sights, and then she led a free-form dance that encouraged us to worship with our bodies. I knew then that this woman had a creative gift, one that could inspire others.

My own involvement with the Launch Pad Library occurred every Tuesday afternoon while students Christian and De’ Angelo filmed and interviewed me about my prosthesis. This video project ended up winning first place at the Coweta County Technology Competition.

I usually arrived just before dismissal. I watched Mrs. Graner bring her busy fifth graders, who were working on various projects throughout the library, to a halt with very few words – spoken softly. They all stopped in their tracks. They sat down together to debrief about their activities, and then were quietly dismissed. I was speechless in admiration.

How does a person become an Anne Graner? Where does that creative leadership come from?

I had a chance to ask her on June 13, when she and husband Lou Graner (more about Lou in another post) agreed to be interviewed. We began with a question:

Joan: What is in your background, or what inspired you, to develop that wonderful Launch Pad Library at Ruth Hill?

Anne: I have to go back to my parents. They were creative educators and missionaries. My mom started out teaching kindergarten and later became an elementary school principal. My dad was an Episcopal priest. Soon after they married, they went to Liberia, West Africa, as missionaries for the Episcopal Church. Mom co-founded a school there. Along with leading worship services, Dad taught courses at Cuttington College –the oldest private and coeducation university in Africa — and also served as its interim president.  I was born into this way of being: following a call, serving God and others with the gifts you’ve been given, finding creative ways to solve problems, and making the most out of being alive.

Later in life, I became a classroom teacher and noticed how much my parents’ philosophy of education and living fully influenced the type of teacher I became. That early childhood influence was a key foundation to leading me to create the Launch Pad Library.  I have found that when you observe kids and listen to them, you can get a better sense of what excites them, what they are curious about. Then you build a space and bring in resources to help them explore and become.

Mom and Dad passed away before the creation of the Launch Pad Library, but their essence permeates so much of what occurs there. I am also blessed to have the support of my husband Lou who has scrubbed floors, worked the book fair, moved bookcases and has been a sounding board for ideas and an extra hand when needed.  Our two daughters, Jessica and Lindsay, have witnessed the birth and development of the Launch Pad Library, and are excited to see how the legacy of their grandparents lives on.

Joan: Anne, any other passions that drive you?

Anne:  Yes!  I have a passion for story- for discovering other people’s stories, for documenting others’ stories with video, and for expressing my story through free-form dancing.  And I’ve always had this desire for deeper spirituality. I’ve been to the Kripalu Holistic Health Center in Massachusetts where I’ve taken workshops and trained as a yoga dance teacher. All of it was about how to access and bring alive deeper, sacred parts of me, and to learn how to invite and lead others in spiritual experiences.  It’s been a blessing to lead workshops, sacred dance experiences, and now currently, to be a healing intercessor at our church.

My passion for story led me to explore documentary filmmaking.  The training I received was very hands-on and entrenched me in the life of another. What an experience!  For someone to allow you to film them in their ordinariness and in their self-discovery was so sacred.

After the training, I was able to film other videos and created a website for these videos: http://snowpicnicfilms.com/  One of the videos features church member Billy Newman and his creative photography.  The website’s name, Snow Picnic Films, is in honor of my dad because he used to take us on picnics in the snow when we were living in New York state.

What it all boils down to is I just want to be true to my callings, to use the gifts I’ve been given, to embrace different kinds of people, and to live life fully.  Life has not always been easy.  I’ve experienced a lot of heartache.  But I continue to try to navigate all of this alongside taking time to listen, to pray, to be in nature, to create, and to just be.