When the youth group at Shiloh Baptist Church in Monroe went on a mission to the Dominican Republic in 2014, Ginger Walle said “God really opened our eyes.”
“Wow, there’s so much need here in our own community,” said Walle. “So we got together as a youth team with our youth pastor, and decided to tackle our own needs here in our community.”
That decision, timed with the youth group’s reading of Bob Goff’s book “Love Does,” started a series of questions, answers and connections that led the youth group to start a nonprofit called Heart for Monroe. Walle, a 46-year-old Monroe native, is the organization’s director, a volunteer position.
The idea is that if you love this community, you can get involved, and you can make a difference.
They started by helping at East Elementary School – a Title 1 School without a parent-teacher organization. Heart of Monroe provided beds and assistance to people moving out of the Union County Community Shelter into new residences as part of the shelter’s Home Again program.
Before long, other churches and organizations began partnering with them.
A year after it was formed, Heart for Monroe’s partners now include 17 area churches – representing 10 denominations – and six nonprofits, including Good Steward Ministries, Operation Outreach, Union County Community Shelter, Union County Literacy Council, Union County Crisis Assistance Ministry and Youth With A Mission.
In March, Heart for Monroe held the Follow Your Heart 5K, a fundraiser that attracted about 300 people who ran and walked through downtown Monroe. Twenty of those runners were from East Elementary School, thanks to sponsors and UCPS-approved “running buddies” who helped serve as mentors.
Walle said it was wonderful to see those students cross the finish line with smiles. They received medals.
East Elementary Principal Denny Ferguson said Heart for Monroe has had an outstanding impact on the school.
“They really ask the questions, ‘How can we support you? How can we help you reach your goals?’ ” Ferguson said.
One of the contributions he said he values is “that relationship, that trust, that support,” he said. “The volunteers build relationships with our kids.”
Walle said she is pleased the nonprofit has spread across denominational lines.
“One of the reasons we called it Heart for Monroe to begin with was so anybody could take up that banner,” she said. “We didn’t call it Shiloh Baptist Heart for Monroe. The idea is that if you love this community, you can get involved, and you can make a difference.”
She said Heart for Monroe formed a steering committee with representatives from each of its partners who identified homelessness, hunger, education and relationships as needs in the community.
“If we can unite and if we can organize, then we can do so much more together than we can do apart,” she said.
David Elsey is pastor at Oakland Baptist Church, a Heart for Monroe partner. He said crossing denominational lines helps to focus on what we have in common.
One of the things he said he’s done with other Heart for Monroe volunteers is to “go into the community and ask, ‘Can we pray for you?’ ”
He said it has had a strong impact on many of the people they’ve asked – primarily in Monroe’s poorest neighborhoods.
“We’ve seen fights broken up. We have seen people come to tears,” he said.
Walle, said helping those in need is “something that stirred in my soul from the time I got back from the Dominican Republic, and this was just something that had to happen.”
She shared a story about being one of several Heart for Monroe volunteers helping a mother and her two sons move into a new home from the shelter.
“They went from sleeping in a car, being homeless, to going to the shelter…to moving into their new home with new beds,” Walle said. “She now has a new job, and her sons are doing phenomenally…”
Those things restored the mother’s faith, Walle said, and that story represents the rewards Walle and other volunteers get from their efforts.
“I get so much more out of doing this than I give,” Walle said. “I could give 24/7 and not give as much as I get.”
Jane Duckwall is a freelance writer: email@example.com.
Want to go?
On Saturday, Oct. 31, the first annual Heart for Monroe Family Fall Festival will be held at 700 Charles St. All activities are free, and more than 500 children and adults are expected to attend.
In November, Heart for Monroe is helping YWAM feed 500 families in Union County for Thanksgiving.
For more information – or to find out how you can volunteer or donate – visit www.heartformonroe.com.