Hope4Gaston builds on success
What started as a single neighborhood effort is now an ongoing project.
A small spark jump-started Hope4Gaston, but the humanitarian effort spread like a brush fire.
The original idea was for volunteers from local churches to spend a day rebuilding blighted homes and providing food for needy people.
What was seen as a one-shot "extreme makeover" in a single neighborhood became an ongoing project - now handing out free clothing, furniture and appliances.
Two years after start-up, the momentum keeps building.
On May 7, the organization will launch its fifth neighborhood project .
Meanwhile, Hope4Gaston has won the 2011 Gaston Together Community Leadership Award. It will be presented March 31 at the Gaston County Country Club with WBTV anchor Maureen O'Boyle emceeing.
Each year, Gaston Together gives the Community Leadership Award to an organization that's made a major impact on improving the quality of life. Gaston Together Executive Director Donna Lockett told me Hope4Gaston fit the award criteria "very well."Two of the most important elements: unique problem-solving and collaboration.
Hope4Gaston Director John Whitaker gave me an overview of the Christian outreach ministry. It began with the vision of two local ministers.
Dickie Spargo at Bethlehem Church and John McCullough at Friendship Christian Church, along with others, spearheaded the plan, which began in May 2009, in the Highland east neighborhood.
The city of Gastonia contributed $7,500 in federal block grant money.
Volunteers came from 10 churches. Forty to 50 each were assigned to 15 houses. From 7 a.m. until about 5 p.m., they painted, put on new roofs, did all sorts of work.
But this was about more than home repair; it was also about fighting hunger.
Hope4Gaston's partnership with the local Angel Food Ministries distributed boxes of food to 1,000 families, enough to feed a family of four for a week.
Then the day ended with a big block party.
The all-day event had been a big success, and organizers wanted to try it again. Instead of waiting a year or more, they were at it again in six months, this time in the Highland west neighborhood.
They added a free flea market to the agenda. People donated clothes, shoes, furniture, appliances, toys, household items - all of it spread around the gymnasium at the Ervin Center.
Whitaker said folks began lining up outside at 4 a.m.
Last year, two more events were held.
Here's the Hope4Gaston tally to date: 90 homes remodeled; 30,000 people fed; more than 8,000 flea-market shoppers; more then 50 churches involved.
Whitaker said Gastonia has contributed $47,000 and when volunteer labor is figured into the mix, the projects have saved $1.3 million for the city and homeowners.
The next event is May 7 in the Parkdale mill village, across from Bradley Memorial United Methodist Church.
Something new is coming up on April 16: Hope4Gaston's first golf fundraiser, an event sponsored by Planet Fitness.
According to Whitaker, more local businesses are supporting the coalition. They see the program's impact along with its sustainability.
Hope4Gaston got national attention last year. The program was a key in Gastonia's successful bid for an All-American City designation from the National Civic League and winning the National Livability Award from the U.S. Conference of Mayors.
I asked Spargo why a coalition like this was needed when we already had public and private programs targeting the poor.
He's a former Habitat for Humanity board member and knows about housing needs. There's a group of people out there - especially senior citizens - with income levels too high to quality for government assistance. But they can't afford to fix up their homes.
Hope4Gaston targeted this group and from housing repairs the program reached out into other service areas, Spargo said.
Diversity is an important part of the coalition - getting people from different races involved. As Spargo said, "We're trying to reflect the community."
The coalition is a small army on the march in Gaston; I wish it continued success in 2011.
I agree with Don Harrison, Gaston Together's leadership award selection chairman, who commended the program, saying "they're trying new things...and rallying the community to address needs."
Joe DePriest: 704-868-7745; firstname.lastname@example.org