Seeing hope in southwest Georgia

Glenmary News

Seeing hope in southwest Georgia

Brother Jason Muhlenkamp is often at the center of C-HOPE’s efforts to help those in need.

A young African American man peels potatoes in the kitchen of a tiny house on a Friday afternoon. He is helping to prepare food that will be sold the next day at a barbecue to raise funds for people in need. His work is a contribution to C-Hope Ministries, a program that is helping him to overcome one of the lowest points in his life. “Truly and honestly, I was pretty bad on meth,” says Dave.

Dave, a young man who has experienced homelessness, peels potatoes for a fundraiser.

The tiny house where Dave temporarily lives sits close to another trailer home that also shelters homeless people, like himself. Both houses are surrounded by a grassy lot that connects to a dirt road on the outskirts of the small town of Blakely, in southwest Georgia.

Dave, whose name has been changed for privacy, is one of 11 people currently living in three transitional houses provided by C-Hope. “They found themselves in a homeless state, a lot from addiction,” said Glenmary Brother Jason Muhlenkamp.

Now, Dave says, “I’m renewing my thinking. I’m getting sober and I’m learning new skills.”

C-Hope (“see hope”) is a faith-based organization that provides transitional housing, case management, prayer, a food pantry, as well as basic job opportunities to people in need. Brother Jason and Baptist Pastor Darrell Alexander head the ministry, with financial support from Glenmary and other donors.

Help for rehabilitation

The houses give shelter for about three months, and in some cases, up to six. Those who live there are required to follow certain rules, like avoiding alcohol and drugs, and contributing 10 work hours a week, Brother Jason explained.

Earlier that Friday, Brother Jason led a devotional based on the Gospel according to John: “I am the good shepherd. A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” He goes on to explain that Jesus is the good shepherd and we are his flock. Listening to him were a handful of the C-Hope beneficiaries who live in the transitional houses, former residents, staff and friends.

The daily devotional takes place in the C-Hope office at a strip mall in Blakely. Right next door, the program runs a thrift store. Almost all the other shops at the mall are permanently closed, a typical image in this economically depressed town mostly surrounded by cotton and peanut fields. According to the U.S. Census, 24 percent of the people in Early County live in poverty.

The thrift store offers one or two job opportunities, pays for the rent of the two shops—including the office—and sells clothes, furniture and other small items at very low prices. “We get so much clothes (donated), that we give a bag for $5,” Brother Jason says. “It gives an opportunity for people that can’t afford to buy these items new.”

The store is one of the three elements of what C-Hope calls its economic development program. The other two are lawn care and cleaning services, run by beneficiaries of the program and regular staff.

Beneficiaries who work past 10 hours a week either at the thrift store, lawn mowing or cleaning services get paid. “We don’t want them sitting at the house doing nothing,”  Brother Jason says. “The lawn care crew, those four people work probably 35 to 40 hours a week.”

Father Mike Kerin visits the C-Hope barbecue to raise money for their charitable efforts.

In addition to the economic program, C-Hope also provides spiritual support and directs people to services they need. For instance, “A lot of them come in needing medical attention. They may have not seen a doctor for a little while, so we get them to the doctor,” the Glenmary brother says. Others get directed to Aspire, a local agency that provides mental health services.

During Christmastime, C-Hope gives toys, shoes, clothes and other gifts to kids and adults.

Returning to the barbecue, for which Dave was peeling potatoes, all the plates were sold during the weekend. The money will allow C-Hope to pay for several program participants to attend a two-day spiritual retreat at a Catholic center in a nearby community.

“We want to reach the lost, we want to reach people at the level that they’re at,” Pastor Darrell adds. “But, I think, more importantly than anything, we’ve got to reach our youth, our young folks.”

Now, C-Hope has plans to grow. The program already acquired, for a nominal amount, a gymnasium that a local school stopped using. Pastor Darrell says that the goal is remodeling the facilities next year to begin using them in 2024 to offer after-school classes, sports and other resources to help the youth stay healthy and away from addictions.

Both Brother Jason and Pastor Darrell celebrate C-Hope as a collaborative effort inspired by God that unites people from different Christian denominations to help disadvantaged sisters and brothers. And God’s work keeps bearing fruits.

By Omar Cabrera

This story appeared in the Winter 2022 edition of Glenmary Challenge magazine.