An Intern’s Perspective By Andrea Paiva All it takes is a life altering moment of fully witnessing the depth of despair in your own hometown to change the way you view life and its basic necessities. I still remember that heart-wrenching moment on my first MUST Ministries Summer Lunch ride when I saw children rushing out of their apartments to get their lunch bags. I couldn’t remember a time when I ever had to worry about whether or not I was going to eat that night, so this was a huge eye opener. It was this day when my perspective on homelessness and poverty was greatly challenged. I would have never guessed that down the road from my home, there are children who are not promised a meal everyday and that children make up a large percentage of homelessness in the U.S. I never really gave much thought to the idea that a mother would rather take her kids and flee an abusive relationship, with no guarantee of a place to sleep, then to allow her kids to witness the abuse on a daily basis. Every situation is different and every person that receives help from MUST has a unique and personal story to tell. The MUST family, made up volunteers, staff and those who give to the organization, believe in each individual that receives care at MUST. They come to work eager to hear the stories of transformation and driven to play a roll in those stories. This kind of encouragement is transferred into the office, where work isn’t just work, it’s a mission field. This summer, I worked alongside Kaye Cagle, Director of Marketing and Public Relations, and the development team. I got to see how people celebrated each other in their accomplishments and I too was celebrated when I got my first Hispanic Media placement. I was privileged to sit in on Monday afternoon meetings with the development team as they initiated each meeting with prayer. It was refreshing to be in a work environment where, even during a hectic day, you are encouraged through prayer and reminded that He is in control. After this summer at MUST, I have a better understanding of homelessness and poverty and how prominent it can be, even in areas closest to where you live. I am a much more grateful person, thanks to this experience. I know that my seemingly large troubles truly do not compare to those of others and it has helped fuel my passion to help those in need. Philippians 2:4 says, “Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others.” I think it’s so easy to get caught up in ourselves. However, I’ve found that joy comes abundantly when I think of my life less and invest into the lives of others. Ultimately, this is the heart of MUST Ministries. It is a family of people from all walks of lives, who see the vast need in their community and have made a decision to dedicate their time, resources, skills and money to see an end to homelessness and poverty and to see lives transformed. This truly was a rewarding experience and I am eager to continue being part of this wonderful organization in the years to come.
I have been volunteering at MUST for a relatively short amount of time. I know of quite a few people that have been volunteering here for years, which says a lot of both the organization and the level of commitment of the volunteers at MUST. I have thoroughly enjoyed my Tuesdays volunteering in the Employment Services department of MUST Ministries – from meeting and assisting clients to getting to know fellow volunteers and staff members. There is a certain aura of warmth that fills the air. Even when I first started volunteering here, I would have never hesitated to ask a question or voice a concern (not that there were any!).
Employment Services is a great resource that MUST offers and I have been blessed to be a part of it even in a miniscule way. A Back to Work class is offered followed by resume writing and job search assistance. Many clients do not have a resume at all and the thought of writing one from scratch can be daunting. Needless to say, it is amazing what tenacity and a little encouragement can produce within a couple of hours! Many days, I would help a client finish his or her resume and they would be well on their way to Cobb Works or another job board to find viable jobs. Employment Services offers many other great ways to improve one’s standard of working and living, including OSHA classes, ServSafe training and empowerment seminars – there truly is no limit to the potential of the program and the dedication of staff and volunteers.
When I was first looking in the area for volunteer opportunities, I gravitated towards MUST partly because I was familiar with it (I volunteered here back in college as part of a sociology course) but more so because MUST honors God’s call to serve. At MUST, I am consistently reminded that it is a blessing to give. I cannot help but think that all I give is my time and attention and what I receive back is tenfold to that. Since I began volunteering at MUST, I have come to learn, understand and hopefully embody the lesson that when we give, serve, encourage, and are simply kind to others, the blessing we receive within ourselves is tantamount to whatever we gave out. When I have helped a client finish their resume and they have put in a couple of hours of job searching online, I can tell that they feel empowered and ready to face the job search challenge. Having a complete resume is monumental; once it is ready, a major hurdle has been overcome and I have come to recognize the look of relief and gladness in faces. Finding a job can be tedious and discouraging at times for anyone, especially if you factor in the reality that some of the men and women that we assist are living in the shelter at MUST and/or facing some critical challenges in their life.
I am humbled and privileged to meet and work next to these individuals. I can now say that I’ve been on the receiving end of genuine appreciation; it is an awesome feeling and I am often overwhelmed by a feeling of gratitude myself. Oftentimes I want to tell them that it is I who is appreciative, it is I who has been the recipient of giving and the pleasure of meeting was mine. God placed me here at MUST for a reason and I am most humbled and grateful to be a part of His great plan.
So you see, MUST has been part of a journey for me. I am moving out of state next month to continue that journey and I could not leave without having told someone, anyone who may read this, that I am thankful to MUST for providing the means to serve and the environment to grow, for both myself and the communities served every day. Apart from college, I had never volunteered anywhere and now it has become an integral part of life. I want my son to grow up knowing what it means to be part of something larger than oneself, what it means to volunteer and serve without expecting anything in return. What he will have to learn for himself is that when you give without expecting a return, more often than not, the return is priceless.
Stories are what make situations real to people who are otherwise detached from them. I hear about a situation and want to help out in some way, but until something or someone pulls on my heart strings, it doesn’t motivate me.
I began my internship at MUST Ministries excited to help my neighbors in need. I thought I had a pretty good idea of what MUST does and as far as programs and help offered, I did. What I didn’t know, were the stories hidden behind what they do here and why. I underestimated the impact of experiences of the clients and their journeys.
One of my key responsibilities during my internship was to help organize MUST’s first ever health fair. I thought I knew the impact this would have on our clients, but I was mistaken. Throughout the day, I heard stories from various clients and other staff members who had spoken to clients about how the health fair helped them and change their lives.
One man found a suit from a group donating free clothing to those enrolled in the health fair. That sounds great, but this suit was special. He had a job interview the very next day and didn’t have anything to wear to it prior to the event. Everyone knows first impressions can make or break a job interview. This suit gave him the chance to make a good first impression and be well on his way to supporting himself once again.
Another man walked all the way from Cartersville (a good 25 miles at least) in old, worn-out shoes that were badly in need of replacing. From the same donation group, he received a gem: a pair of hiking boots in his exact size- name brand, top of the line, and good as new. Since he walks everywhere, this was perfect and such a delight to him.
Throughout the summer, I also went on some summer lunch deliveries. I knew that many children relied on this program as their sole meal for the day throughout the summer. Think about how many times a day you get hungry and get up to grab a snack. Take that hunger and add the heat of the summer that drains your energy. To me, it is unbelievable how these children can play outside in the heat, with only one meal a day.
In my last summer lunch delivery, I discovered that many of the children will eat only half of their lunches, then save the rest for dinner… smart idea. I know it would be incredibly difficult for me to not eat it all in one sitting. Could you?
The stories behind the situation show the true impact of what MUST is doing. Though we don’t always think about it, these are individuals- not groups or statistics- and individuals with unique stories about their journeys in life. Your help gives these individuals a chance to create a new chapter in their lives- a chapter filled with hope. Why waste time and sit in front of the T.V. hearing about generic situations when you can not only make an impact, but also find out the stories each person has to tell and be a part of their stories? It will open your eyes and change the way you think forever.
- Jennifer Germano
An Intern’s Perspective: My Widened View of MUST Ministries
When I started my internship at MUST Ministries I thought I knew everything MUST had to offer, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. I started my Internship in the middle of May with marketing and public relations and I had no idea that this internship would open my eyes to more than just writing and media relations skills.
Something I was unaware of was the number of counties that MUST helped. I was not aware that they reached out to eight different counties in Georgia. I grew up on the county line of Paulding, Bartow and Cobb and never realized the number of those in need was so great. It opened my eyes and sparked a fire for service to help those I know in need. It was right under my nose for 21 years while living at home with my parents and still is today living in Kennesaw. I always thought I wanted to travel overseas to help those in need because we were so well off here, but I found that I could do a lot here at home as well as help those overseas.
I was pleasantly surprised when I learned of all of the programs that MUST had to offer the eight counties. I knew that MUST reached out to children over the summer with the Summer Lunch Program and I knew about the shelter at the Elizabeth Inn, but what I didn’t know were other ways that MUST reaches out to the community. MUST provides job training, health fairs, the Loaves and Fishes Community Kitchen, permanent and supportive housing, veteran’s supportive housing and community housing, and even MUST Toy Shops during the Christmas season. Being able to experience first-hand some of the programs and help with them was the most rewarding part of my internships.
The reason all of the programs are able to work and the reason MUST can reach out to eight different counties in Georgia is the staff. With my time here I have tried to meet as many people as possible that volunteer or work at MUST. I am not saying this because I Intern here or because I am trying to be nice, I genuinely like every person I have met. It does not matter if they are the CEO of the company, a board member, a director or a volunteer, everyone treats me with kindness and respect and I will always remember that.
I have been taught so much from everyone and every experience while interning with MUST. The lessons I take away from MUST are more than just writing and media relations. These lessons are ones that will help me become a better person and help me impact my community.
How did you first get connected to MUST Ministries?
I was an occasional volunteer through Mt. Bethal UMC in the 1980s and 1990s when I was a member there. I never dreamed that in 2003 I would go to work for MUST full-time for nearly ten years. Today, I serve on the Board of Directors.
How/Why does the MUST mission motivate you?
My faith drives me to serve my neighbors in need. I pray daily that God will open my eyes and heart to see where He is already at work so that I might join him in fulfilling His purpose. MUST clients also motivate me to get involved. I have heard and seen stories of faith in the midst of extreme struggle, perseverance and strength when life beats someone down, and hope when there appears to be none. If you listen to clients, they will talk about how blessed they are just because MUST offers them the very basics of life. It keeps me in check when I complain about trivial matters.
3) Why do you donate to MUST monthly/regularly?
I donate to MUST monthly because I see how lives are changed there every day. I also know what good stewards MUST is with donors’ gifts. After working there, I trust MUST and know that every designated gift and undesignated gift is honored and appreciated.
Although I don’t feel wealthy, by the world’s standard I have been richly blessed in my life. I wanted to give more than I felt that I could write in a single check. When I looked at what I wanted to give and divided by twelve (months), I thought, “Wow, that’s doable.” I actually have it put on a credit card and pay it off every month. I don’t even miss it. It is a great way to give and it is something that MUST can count on every month.
4) Do you have a personal experience that tells your MUST story best? (running in Gobble jog, volunteering at shelter, etc.)
One day I was at the Elizabeth Inn and passed a resident and just said, “hey, how are you today?” She said, ”Honey, I am so blessed.” I thought “How can she be blessed when she has nothing. She is living in a homeless shelter!” So I asked, “What makes you feel so blessed today?” She replied, ”Are you kidding? I slept in a warm bed under a dry roof last night. I have eaten three meals in the last three days. Honestly, I can’t remember the last time I had three meals in one day. Someone is going to help me find a job and create a plan for my FUTURE! What more could I ask for. Praise God!” It made me reflect on my complaining to my husband the night before how I was driving a ten year old car and wanted to get a new one. And, when could we afford to get a cleaning service to help me keep up at home? Wow! That MUST client ministered to me in a powerful way. When someone asks me if we are witnessing to MUST clients who are living in darkness, I secretly smile. If everyone would just listen, I think MUST clients can witness to those who have so much and take it for granted. I think the people in my neighborhood need to hear my witness more than MUST clients. Many clients depend on their faith to get them through each day.
5) Is there something we haven’t asked you about your MUST Ministries experience that you’d like to share?
There are so many miracles I have seen at MUST. I could tell you about so many things I have witnessed. Most importantly, though, MUST is an ongoing story of provision. To know that through the community’s response,
- a ton of food is given to the needy each day,
- that enough nice clothes are donated that MUST can operate the MUST MarketPlace,
- that people are willing to donate time and finances to ensure that MUST can serve 34,000 people in need each year,restores my faith in the basic good in people.
Celebration is the acceptance of life and the constantly increasing awareness of its preciousness. We can only really celebrate when we affirm our present condition. It is the recognition that something is there and needs to be made visible so that we can say “yes” to it. To be present to the moment is an affirmation of each other in many different ways we experience life.
When I enter with the children into their joy, I enter also with them into their unique understanding of value in the ordinary discovered completely by surprise.
In the ending days of our summer lunch program, two tanned barefoot boys ran to our van and eagerly exclaimed, “Yesterday my brother and I found two baby chicks running in the trailer park.” He continued, “We begged our mom to keep them. She said only if we can find a big box. Our trailer is too small for animals to be running around. We remember that you brought big boxes to carry the lunches you deliver to the children and we told her we were very sure you’d let us have one for our chickens’ new home.”
Not only did we have big boxes, but also we had little ones and middle-sized ones. We had choices, wonderful choices! We consecrated the chickens’ new home and left with more respect for an ordinary cardboard box.
It is odd how these “little celebrations” of surprises and kindness can link us to the diversity of our ministry:
- A mother finding a suit in our MUST-Wear Clothes Closet for her son to wear to the senior prom
- Mental Health Consumers unloading donuts and bread in a joyful community effort
- A guest in the Elizabeth Inn sharing with his case manager that he has been sober for 30 days, whereas he had never gone more than 14
- The words overheard on a cold winter day in the soup kitchen, “This cornbread is almost as good as my grandmother’s.”
- A single mother of three exclaiming to her delight, “Because I had childcare and support, I’ve stayed long enough at my job to get benefits! That’s never happened before.”
- A family of five taking groceries from the food pantry and returning the next week, after the father got his paycheck at the end of the month, with a small box of food to say thank you
My days at MUST are made up of ordinary moments where life is fully celebrated with kindness and affirmed in truth.
As the winter days stretched into longer light, and I discovered the surprise of the early buds of spring resting in the limbs of the tree outside the MUST shelter, I remember in celebration the beautiful words of the Psalmist, “kindness and truth shall meet” (Psalm 85).
Carol Hunt is a Georgia native, retired school teacher and long-time staff member and current volunteer at MUST Ministries. Carol has a passion for serving the poor and helped launch MUST Ministries’ Summer Lunch program. She is also a devoted Associate Sister of Mercy.
Every month we will feature MUST Shepherds who are helping serve your neighbors in need through their gifts of time, talent and treasure.
How did you get connected to MUST?
My first job at my church, First United Methodist Church, was to head up local missions. The MUST board at the time had about three or four pastors and they needed someone with a background in pension planning. I was it. I became board secretary in 1995/96.
What is it about MUST that keeps you coming back?
My mom tells me I used to come home from school and feel bad about kids who didn’t have what I did, and we were your average middle class family. I think I was just born with this giving spirit. I’ve always wanted to give back.
I truly believe MUST has been a gift for me and has given me more than I have given it. It has made me stretch. Through my work on the board, I have matured both personally and professionally. Everyone at MUST values what I do for them. I feel like I can help make a difference and I’m seen as making a difference. I think volunteering and giving go hand in hand. It doesn’t just mean writing a check.
Why do you give monthly?
I believe I was recruited into the MUST monthly giving program at one of our many board meetings. From the very beginning, it just made a lot of sense to me to participate. I just assumed all board members were part of the monthly giving group. Why wouldn’t you be? Every time I serve at my church in Sunday school, or the dinners we serve at the community kitchen on the Elizabeth Inn campus, people are so appreciative of what we do. It really is a privilege to do it. That’s really what it’s all about; we don’t get these opportunities to have an impact in a life enough.
MUST Ministries has been coordinating Summer Lunches for children living in poverty for 18 years and this year saw a 31 percent increase in the lunches as the final tally soared to a record-breaking 247,087! Almost a quarter of a million sack lunches reached hungry children this summer thanks to an overwhelming effort by communities in eight counties.
“This is an amazing accomplishment for the Summer Lunch 2013 team,” according to Kelley Henderson, Vice President and Chief Programs Officer. “Not only did they meet the hunger needs of more than 6,000 children across eight counties, they worked together to our little neighbors in need. This monumental effort showcases MUST Ministries’ continued commitment to working with local community partners in service across North GA.
“A special thank you to our partners, volunteers, benefactors, sandwich makers, bag decorators, checkers and packers, drivers, PB&J mixers, cold cut stackers, and of course our outstanding team of staff,” Henderson said. With numerous groups and organizations involved in making this happen, the list is too long to innumerate, he said, “but we are grateful to churches, civic clubs, sports teams, scout troops, families, businesses and individuals who all pitched in to make this happen.
For Cherokee County, the number of summer lunches rose to 67,5489 from 51,338 for Cobb County, the number rose to 90,537 from 85,140 ; Douglas County 24,947 from 15,976; Gwinnett 23,365 from 16,367; North Fulton 26,747 from 20,833; and we added Bartow and Pickens Counties with 8,299 and 5,643 respectively.
Henderson estimated a 58 percent increase over the last four years as MUST Ministries has gone from serving Cobb and Cherokee Counties to reaching Bartow, Douglas, Gwinnett, North Fulton, Paulding and Pickens as well. “It’s remarkable what a community can do when they all work together on one cause. We are pleased to help lead this crusade to serve children in need in our area.”
That’s a good question. There are so many charities and nonprofits out there to choose from. They all appear to do good deeds, have their heart in the right place, but how do you know which one will use your donation dollars the most effectively? Here are just a few things to consider:
1) How does your charity measure up? Has it been rated by Charity Navigator or Standards for Excellence? These are two independently rated sites that were created to help the public determine which nonprofits they can trust. They review charities and document the financial health and transparency so you know where your dollars are being spent. Don’t be fooled! There are many sites that claim to do the same, but all a charity needs to do is become a paid member to get a good rating.
2) Is your charity a 501(c)3? The Internal Revenue Coded (26U.S.C. 501(c) ), provides that 28 types of nonprofit organizations are exempt from some federal income taxes, however, not all can receive donations. A 501(c)3 identifies a public charity in the United States by the IRS. In short, this allows your donation to be tax deductable. Just because they say they are a 501(c)3 charity, doesn’t mean they are. Be sure to do your homework to confirm their 501(c)3 status.
3) Is your charity using a middleman to collect donations? Did you know when you get calls for donations, many times a third party company is used and a percentage of the amount donated goes to that company? Make your donations directly to your charity by donating online or mailing your check.
4) Are you spread too thin? While diversifying your portfolio when investing in stocks is a good thing, you want to do the opposite with your philanthropic giving. Once you decide which cause you are passionate about, and find a worthy charity, concentrate your giving so it will make a bigger impact.
I have to admit, before I started working for MUST Ministries, I did not research my charity donations. I would make donations to just about anyone who asked (if I had the money). Because MUST has been awarded Charity Navigator’s 4 star rating 5 years running and is one of only 230 organizations in America to receive the Standards for Excellence award, I’m proud to say I work for MUST because I know my donations are used wisely. How does your charity measure up?
Two volunteers at Smyrna Program Services at MUST Ministries are creatively helping to feed those in need. Deb Chamblee and Stacey Brown became friends through volunteering at MUST Ministries. Their three year volunteer experience has not only forged a friendship but they have also become great couponing buddies. “We really wanted to help people, so we started comparing and collecting coupons”
Deb explains that the idea to expand their help to MUST Ministries through couponing “started when I was in my grocery store and the cashier offered me coupons for free Chef Boyardee products” she further explains “I told her I don’t eat those meals and didn’t need the free Chef Boyardee products”. The cashier noted, ‘But don’t you volunteer at MUST?’ I walked out of there with 27 free cans of food and realized I could really help. Now people bring us coupons and we each commit to spend $5 per week. People are amazed at how much we bring in.”
Aside from volunteering, the two couponer spend time looking intently for useful items they can get for little or no cost. They buy deodorant, cereal, peanut butter and other staples in the MUST food pantry. In December, Deb even found coupons for a free transformer toy, went to the store and then took the toys to the MUST Toy Shop.
“Our husbands grew up in this area,” Stacey explained, “and we want to help our community” The bonus is that aside from helping the community Deb and Stacey have managed to cut their own grocery bills in half and encourage others to do the same. It’s a win-win for everyone. They learned that it doesn’t take a lot of effort or much money to make a big impact in someone else’s life.
For more information on how to get involved at MUST Ministries, go to www.ministries.org. The charity for those living in poverty helps 34,000 people in eight counties. Almost half of those clients are children.