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Horses help vets see ‘your yesterday is not your tomorrow’

As a combat medic in Iraq and Afghanistan, Donnie Gist saw the horrors of war firsthand. Back in the States after deployment, Gist’s two sisters died a day apart.

vets DSC_0054 (1024x681)The trauma was almost too much to bear.

“I was very depressed and had no way to channel my emotions,” Gist says, “but I had heard you could work through issues by learning to care for big animals.” A rodeo cowboy helped him discover a healing love for horses.

Next, Donnie helped veterans in MUST supportive housing to overcome issues that prevent them from living successfully. On an outing to the Calvin Center, an equestrian therapy center in Hampton, Donnie saw new light in the eyes of several veterans as they overcame fears and made friends with the horses.

“They were clearly nervous,” Gist says. “At the end, they were smiling and dismounted like cowboys, without any help. The look on their faces said a million words.”

Something clicked

vets DSC_0042 (1024x681)Omar Edwards grew up in New York City, so his exposure to horses had been limited.

“The Bronx is not a horse place,” says the Army veteran, who served nine months in Jalalabad, Afghanistan. “I remember seeing a police horse in Central Park one time. Other than that, I saw some Animal Planet documentaries.”

When Edwards met his Calvin Center horse for the day, Atticus, something immediately clicked.

“We bonded, in a way,” Edwards says. The horse was playful with him and kept tugging at his shirt. When Edwards climbed anxiously into the saddle, Atticus seemed to know exactly what he wanted him to do.

‘Grateful every morning’

vets DSC_0177 (1024x681)Art McDaniel, on the other hand, grew up in rural Banks County, Georgia, where he had his own horse on the family farm. But it had been four decades since he had ridden.

McDaniel, a former Marine who struggles with PTSD, felt nervous about being around large animals again.

“At first I wondered how I would react around them,” he says. “But then I remembered what it was like growing up, and my confidence came back.”

The experience on horseback helped McDaniel realize in a new way just how much progress he has made through MUST’s veterans programs.

“I was pretty broken when I got here. There’s been a lot of repair work done on me,” he says. Every now and then, I still turtle up and withdraw into my shell.

“Now I know I’m in a safe place and I have good people around me,” McDaniel adds. “I have other vets who check in on me, and I just keep moving forward. I wake up grateful every morning.”

Looking forward

Edwards, whose warehouse unit was attacked three times in Afghanistan, lives with OCD and finds it difficult to relate to others.

“My first two weeks at MUST, I was always inside. I never came out to talk,” he recalls. “Then I decided to give it a chance. I mean, what was the worst that could happen? We would exchange stories, and I would learn something.

“As I have grown, these guys have come to be more of a family,” he adds. “They all have put their lives on the line, and I have learned a lot from them. Life has steps, and we aren’t in a race to the top. You have to take time with each one.”

Through MUST’s veterans services, donors and corporate sponsors help traumatized veterans understand that “your yesterday is not your tomorrow,” Gist says. “The support of partners like The Home Depot Foundation lets veterans know somebody appreciates them. It helps veterans learn that they can grow and change.”

How you can help
Adopt a veteran for Christmas: Contact [email protected]
Serve MUST’s veterans in other ways: Email [email protected]
Corporate sponsorship of veterans program: Contact Don Crampton, [email protected]
The Calvin Center’s equestrian Therapy program:

Mark Kelly writes for MUST Ministries.

Canton translator loves giving others ‘a light of hope’

When Miguel Santiesteban moved to the US four years ago from Barranquilla, Colombia, he learned firsthand what it was like to be immersed in a culture that speaks a different language. But his godmother started bringing him to MUST when she came to volunteer. Now Miguel is giving back by translating for Spanish-speaking MUST clients!

Miguel Santiestaban 170926Serving at MUST helped Miguel learn English, and when he turned 18, he started volunteering himself. A student at Kennesaw State University, Miguel works the front desk at MUST’s Cherokee Program Center on Fridays during the school year. He answers questions for Spanish-speaking visitors and helps them fill out necessary forms.

Miguel says he loves helping others and knows how much of a difference it makes.

Spanish-speaking clients can open up much more about their needs when interacting with someone who speaks their language. It allows them to feel better about receiving help when they can be specific and elaborate beyond the few English words they know.

“You can be the bridge to help them understand the process and give them a light of hope,” Miguel says.

Miguel also helped pack lunches for the Summer Lunch program at North Metro Church in Marietta. This past summer, he interned at FOX 5 Atlanta, the television media sponsor for Summer Lunch.

You can make a huge difference in someone’s life by volunteering. To learn about the many places and ways to serve others at MUST, visit

Emily Varnum is a Kennesaw State University student and former MUST Ministries intern.


A unique business plan to help hungry children

Colleen Magel didn’t realize so many children suffered from chronic hunger – in her own community – until she helped deliver MUST Summer Lunches. Now she’s found a way to combat hunger through her daily work as a restaurant manager.

Arise Kitchen Colleen Magel 01

Serving as a Summer Lunch volunteer, Colleen delivered healthy bagged meals to children who receive free or reduced-price lunches during the school year, but often go hungry when school is out. In 2017, supporters donated food, assembled lunch bags and delivered more than 275,830 meals to children in six counties of northwest metro Atlanta.

“I saw the kids running out to get their lunches. I saw their living conditions, and I realized they’re in our neighborhood,” Colleen says. “It tugged at me, and I realized I needed to do something.”

Colleen prayed intently, then drew up a business plan and talked with her boss, Paul Dalrymple, at Buffalo’s Café on Highway 41 in Kennesaw. He agreed to begin opening the restaurant for brunch on Saturdays and Sundays. Colleen calls the initiative “Arise Kitchen,” and half the gross food sales are donated to hunger causes – divided between MUST Ministries and an organization she chose that serves in West Africa.

“This makes good sense for us locally because we’re a community. It fits with our mission as a business,” Colleen says. “Hunger is dear to God’s heart. I drive in these neighborhoods all the time, but now I see the area differently. When you know the children, it changes everything.”

How you can help
Companies that want to help people in poverty: Contact Don Crampton, [email protected].
Learn more about Arise Kitchen at


Honoring and serving veterans

We heal better when we share the journey with others – and veterans in MUST’s supportive housing now can have more fun together thanks to The Home Depot Foundation, which donated a grill, patio heater, picnic tables, outdoor games and a storage shed for our veterans housing in Marietta. Everything got a good workout at the Veterans Day cookout, and a team of MUST volunteers did a great job of assembling the new shed!

The Home Depot Foundation exists to improve the homes and lives of military veterans and their families. More than 35,000 associates of The Home Depot are veterans or active-duty military, and The Home Depot Foundation has committed to grow its commitment to veteran-related causes to a quarter of a billion dollars by 2020. MUST Ministries is glad they have such a heart for honoring and serving those who have served us all.

Please help us today to spread the word about #GivingTuesday!

Friends, we have an amazing opportunity tomorrow (11/28) to boost MUST Ministries in social media.

2017 GT InstagramThis year, Georgia Gives Day has moved to Giving Tuesday, which is a global social media event that can introduce MUST to an audience far wider than we have ever had before. We’re excited about the potential this holds for helping more of our neighbors in need!

All we ask is that you find the #GivingTuesday posts on our Facebook/Instagram/Twitter/LinkedIn and reshare with your friend network!


Important: If people donate on 11/28 during the “power hours” (12-1 pm and 5-6 pm), MUST has a chance to win up to $6,500 in matching-fund prizes.

Please reshare as often as possible until 6 pm on 11/28 so we can reach our maximum audience!

Please help us spread the word! If we reach our $50,000 goal, it will be a 2/3 increase over last year’s #GAgives receipts!


Ga Gives Day moves to Giving Tuesday

MUST Ministries’ annual Georgia Gives Day campaign is getting a major upgrade as the statewide initiative joins forces with the growing worldwide phenomenon of Giving Tuesday. MUST’s campaign page, where donations will be made, is located here. MUST’s hashtag for the campaign is #lovechangeslives.

iStock-489646335_med-res (600x400)From the announcement released by the Georgia Center for Nonprofits:

Georgia Gives Day is officially partnering with #GivingTuesday to become their lead organizer for Georgia, re-launching the state’s 24-hour giving marathon on November 28, 2017 alongside a 50-state, 97-country effort as GAgives on #GivingTuesday. Building on the year-over-year achievements both campaigns have amassed since they launched independently in 2012, organizers are looking forward to increasing momentum, resources, and revenue for the thousands of Georgia nonprofits that take part annually.

GAgives on #GivingTuesday falls on the Tuesday that follows Thanksgiving, and the twin retail phenomena of Black Friday and Cyber Monday, answering the public’s appetite to balance holiday “getting” with community “giving,” and kicking off the end-of-year fundraising season for nonprofits. Presented by the Georgia Center for Nonprofits (GCN), the event will unify the state in an effort to raise as much money and awareness as possible for Georgia nonprofits in a 24-hour period. As in past years, every Georgia nonprofit is invited to create a free ecommerce-enabled profile on the fundraising platform at, where funds raised will go directly to participating organizations.

Bringing together thousands of state charities in one place, makes it easy for Georgians to select a cause that matters to them, learn about the work of individual nonprofits, and donate directly to them. Everyone is invited to give to a cause that matters to them on Nov. 28, and help advance the movement by sharing news of their gift on social media – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and elsewhere – tagged with the phrase #GAgives on #GivingTuesday.

GAgives, also rooted in the Thanksgiving season, has raised more than $13 million in donations for nearly 2,700 Georgia nonprofits since 2012.

GGD partners

Health fair helps 70 homeless

For people living in homelessness, healthcare resources are a desperate need. Twice a year, MUST offers screenings and basic services to try to help stabilize diabetes, lower cholesterol, provide healthy diet information and check vision, for instance. The Sept. 21 event at the Elizabeth Inn Shelter was open to members of the community, as well as MUST clients, and provided 70 people with a range of free services that also included blood pressure checks, flu vaccinations, women’s health information and consultation on mental health. MUST hosted the event in partnership with Wellstar Health System, Walgreens Pharmacy and 10 other healthcare providers.

Wellstar nurse Elizabeth Elder helps a patient understand the results of her blood pressure check.

Wellstar nurse Elizabeth Elder helps a patient understand the results of her blood pressure check.

Marty Wilkes: Finding a way back

Marty Wilkes spent most of his career as a pastor and owner of a successful freight logistics company operating 82 trucks. He lived in South Georgia, raised three children and later followed them to Cobb County when they attended Kennesaw State University.

Marty Wilkes (768x1024)His life sounds ideal until he begins to share the rest of his story. After three neck fusions paired with a continuing battle with neuropathy, the beleaguered 61-yr.-old began showing signs of mood swings and an altered personality because of his medication. Last Memorial Day, he was out on the street with no home, no family and no hope. His only companion was deep depression.

After losing his apartment, his former landlord suggested he go to MUST Ministries’ Elizabeth Inn and get help. He did, and a shift began to happen.

“Every person at MUST is absolutely fantastic,” he said, remembering his 42-day stay at the shelter. “The volunteer who greeted me made me feel great about being at Elizabeth Inn, and I spent a lot of time talking with my caseworker.”

Marty came to MUST with employment, working in Guest Services at the Infinity Club for the Atlanta Braves. “Working for the Braves is a dream come true and I’ve never missed a game,” he said. “MUST allowed me to work the night schedule and sleep in the mornings so I could continue my job.”

He said when he first realized he was homeless, he looked in the mirror “and saw an old man”. He felt little hope, but “MUST gives you all of the assets and tools you need. They provide a bed, meals and volunteers even wash your clothes for you. To be honest, I kind of hated to leave when my time was up,” he smiled.

Marty explained that many people he met at the shelter were in similar situations. MUST clients just need some help getting stabilized. “MUST couldn’t have done a better job of working with so many people. They took everyone’s situation into account,” he said.

Today, Marty is renting a room from a coworker. Just a few weeks away from his stay at the shelter, he is making decisions about next steps. He appreciates his open invitation to continue using the computer lab, employment services and even hot lunches should he need more support. “MUST is doing everything they can to move people in a healthy direction. I feel like there is hope again.”

A creative director gave up … but MUST didn’t

Jasmina Jovic thought she had gone from fashion to failure.

Jasmina Jovic cropWith a master’s degree in textiles, an impressive career and success managing fashion design, she never dreamed she would be jobless, depressed and barely hanging on. But she was.

While attending a support group, someone suggested she try MUST Ministries for employment services. After two and a half years of being out of work, she had little hope anyone could help, but she reluctantly showed up at MUST where she met Nate Marsh and Jeff Edwards. That meeting changed everything.

The MUST Employment Services team helped Jasmina land a job that feeds her creativity and connected her with other women who have struggled financially.The Yugoslavia native has lived in the States for 30 years with an illustrious career, but today, she says she is finally “home”.

Working in the Glory Haus Repurposed on Purpose workshop, she is thrilled to be part of a group that makes creative items for celebrities, companies and other organizations. She is in a nurturing and caring environment and she laughs easily now, knowing she is moving forward.

“MUST helped me put together my resume and cover letter, rehearsed job interview skills and helped me land in this wonderful place,” she said. “I have come so far. I had little hope. Now I am enjoying work every day, eating meals here with my co-workers and creating products people love to buy. This is wonderful.”

A few of Jasmina’s accomplishments:
– Initiated, designed, directed and launched Wamsutta’s first “bed-in-a-bag”
– Prepared and launched Springmaid brand as Wal-Mart’s first national brand for soft home department
– Forecasted home fashion furniture trends

MUST opens 25th school food pantry to serve at-risk students

August 25, 2017 — In a continued effort to reach more school children and their families in need, MUST Save It Forward is opening its 25th school food pantry at Floyd Middle School in South Cobb. The new pantry was dedicated Aug. 28.

ribbon cuttingMUST serves an estimated 2,900 students and their families annually through the Save It Forward program by providing 75 lbs. of groceries and household supplies to families each month. The food and supplies are procured through food donation drives as well as a unique electronic coupon process supported by volunteers who shop weekly and donate these items.

This community collaboration begins with school counselors identifying families in need and referring to MUST to get started. Volunteers provide support for monthly distribution. The team effort is making an impact, according to Chris Fields, Executive VP at MUST.

“MUST is focused on eliminating hunger for at-risk students in local schools so they may have a greater opportunity to succeed in both school and life. We know hunger affects social behavior, grades, propensity to succeed, relationships and other vital aspects of a child’s life. Overall improvement has been reported and it’s so encouraging,” Fields said.

“We are so grateful to those in our amazing community who are already supporting this important family program and hope others will want to help as well,” Fields said.

For more information about how to donate, shop or volunteer, email [email protected] or call 678-401-8330.