Photos courtesy of Good Works Inc.
Power for good
Over the past three decades, Good Works in Appalachian Ohio has created a model of Christian hospitality by offering its neighbors a hand up and a chance to help others.
November 8, 2011 | Monty called Good Works Inc. in March after he was flooded out of the tent he had pitched along a river in rural southeast Ohio three weeks earlier. He had lost his job as a household mover and was struggling with alcoholism.
At the Good Works-run shelter called the Timothy House, he found a warm bed, regular meals and an encouraging staff that helped him envision a better future. Now, Monty is in his second term at a nearby community college, where he’s working toward an associate degree in heavy equipment management. He made the honor roll last quarter.
“I was at the Timothy House for three months,” he said, “and within those three months, they helped me get my papers straightened out with the IRS, enroll in college, get in to see a dentist and find transportation. It was just a bike, but I’ll tell you what, it’s come in really handy.”
Not everyone who stays at the Timothy House -- about 150 people last year -- has such an upbeat story. But many residents are helped in their struggle against poverty by this 31-year-old ministry in Athens, Ohio, a small college town in the state’s poorest region, along the western edge of Appalachia.
The ministry’s other “good works” include long-term transitional housing, weekly dinners year-round and daily lunches through the summer, a visitation program connecting seniors and young people, and help with household projects that at times are needed just to keep struggling residents’ homes habitable.
The ministry’s wide-ranging focus is impressive. But even more striking are the relationships within this close-knit community and the circle of giving and receiving that seems to touch all involved, from those assisted to the 25-member staff to the 1,100-person volunteer corps.
That is why people who know Good Works well describe it as a stellar example of how to walk alongside those in poverty.
“At a very fundamental level, a lot of their effectiveness is that they share their lives together -- with fellow staff, with volunteers, with neighbors, with people who are homeless,” said Christine Pohl, associate provost and professor of church in society at Asbury Theological Seminary. “It’s not the idea of, ‘We’re doing this for those people.’”
A little bit of light
In 1981, Keith and Darlene Wasserman had recently graduated from Ohio University, which is located in Athens. Keith had become a Christian a few years earlier. He grew up in a Jewish household in Cleveland Heights -- a four-hour drive and a world away from Athens County, where the U.S. Census Bureau reports 34.7 percent of residents live below the poverty level. (This is compared to 15.1 percent in Ohio and 14.3 percent nationally.)
When he saw people falling through gaps in the social service network, Keith Wasserman wanted to help.
The Wassermans welcomed Carol, the first guest of their ministry, into their home on New Year’s Day 1981. (Good Works doesn’t disclose the last names of its clients, to protect their privacy.)
After three years of opening their home to strangers, the couple formed a nonprofit organization and bought a four-bedroom house to serve as the shelter, which still operates as Timothy House. In 1994, Good Works purchased what is now the Hannah House and 35 surrounding acres, which gradually came to accommodate administrative offices and other structures tied to various initiatives.
Questions to consider:
- When have you experienced well-paced growth that has led to sustainability? When have you experienced poorly paced growth?
- Wasserman lives on the streets to understand the lives of the people he serves. How do you learn about the issues faced by those you (and your institution) serve? Does your information-gathering strategy teach you to empathize?
- What are the limits/boundaries you have established to ensure quality ministry?
- Where do you observe community support and mutual dependence in your work?
“The community is very supportive. We were able to create ways for people who wanted to help their neighbors to come to Good Works and do that,” Wasserman said. “So it’s been a little bit of light added to a little bit of light and faith over time.”
The ministry grew as the vision expanded, Wasserman said, stressing how important it has been for Good Works to take on new challenges only when the capacity and proper motivation were there.
Good Works has an annual budget of about $600,000, and private donors provide close to 73 percent of its revenue. Grants make up 12 percent of the ministry’s funding and churches contribute 9 percent. The remainder comes from businesses and miscellaneous sources.
“It’s all been incremental growth, and for the most part pretty smooth,” he said. “We’ve had to be able to build within our capacity to do it well. Managing things well, with excellence, is a really important value.”
In the ministry’s eighth year, Wasserman began living on the streets for periods of time to better understand the people he serves. He’s had nine such experiences in cities including Tulsa, Indianapolis, Jacksonville, Fla., and Lexington, Ky.