Hearts & Hands Diamond Service Award
A leader putting in the hours and relishing the relationships
It should be no surprise that the Helping Hands Clothes Closet is full of clothes. But this two-story former parish house next to Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Lynchburg is full of clothes; racks and racks and bins and bins and shelves and shelves of clothes.
Then there is the attic, with enough boxes of winter clothes to strain the ceiling joists. Then there are the incoming donations even now being sorted by volunteers around the kitchen table.
And yet there is always a need for more. The clothes go out the door, in bags carried by needy local families and individuals, as fast as they come in.
Overseeing the inflow and outflow of this stream of fabric, thread and buttons is Helping Hands Coordinator Karen Murphy, a 2018 Hearts and Hands Award winner. She was nominated by Bethlehem trustee Ann Johnson.
Murphy was on the church leadership team nine years ago when Bethlehem seriously considered closing Helping Hands. She stepped up.
“I saw many children coming to school without socks, in January, in torn clothes,” says Murphy, then an elementary school speech pathologist. “Mothers who were ashamed because their children’s clothes weren’t what they should be. There was a need for this to continue.”
“She had a vision. She had expectations and a penchant for details, organization, and scheduling,” Johnson wrote in her nomination. “She had a knack for getting volunteers. Eight years later, she has maintained these traits, and added more. The services provided and clients served far exceed those of the past.”
The numbers are certainly impressive. More than 1,600 people were served last year, thanks to Murphy and 40 to 50 volunteers from five Lynchburg churches (“They should be here with me, getting this award,” she says), and a wide network of donors, from individuals to local shops to other churches to the Lynchburg Dental Society.
Dental society? Yes. The Helping Hands volunteers also distribute 260 school backpacks — stuffed with clothes, school supplies, toothbrushes and toothpaste — to underprivileged children.
And, as Johnson said, the Helping Hands Clothes Closet is organized. Volunteers are on hand to assist clients five days each month. Clients schedule visits as often as every 60 days through Bethlehem Lutheran.
Visitors attest to this.
“They do put a lot of work into it,” says one vistor as she looks for clothes with a teenager. “It’s very nice. You feel like you’re coming to shop in a regular store.
“We have many children in our household, and to purchase clothes as they grow, sometimes it’s very difficult,” she continues. “So the opportunity to come here to get clothes to keep them warm or cool, it’s been a great help.”
Another visitor agrees. “I have custody of four babies,” she says. “So I come here and get the stuff they need. The people here are real sweet. It’s a nice place.”
Murphy is justifiably proud that the Helping Hands Clothes closet is a “nice place.”
“It’s about the relationships here,” she says. “The relationships you gain with the volunteers — we have volunteers with many different talents, huge hearts and amazing senses of humor.
“And the relationships you gain with the visitors,” Murphy continues. “We have grandparents raising grandkids, men coming out of correctional facilities, mothers and fathers fleeing domestic-abuse situations. We get to know some people on a first-name basis.”
And some people, Murphy believes, come by to talk to the volunteers as much as to get clothes.
“I didn’t realize just how many people are lonely,” she says.
Working at Helping Hands “also reminds you of your relationship with God,” Murphy says. “It allows you to suggest to others there is a place to come if you so wish.”
What Murphy won’t quite acknowledge is that it is also a lot of work.
“She is here and working more than at a job,” says Becky Keaton, who became the Holding Hands co-coordinator last year. For a time, she says, “It was more than she could handle, I think, but she handled it.”
Johnson writes with awe about Murphy’s ability to “handle it.”
“She is selfless. She is the epitome of a good, working leader,” she says. “She is passionate about this Christian ministry, whose clients are treated with dignity.
“She has a mission, and she is on it!”
Hearts & Hands Gold Service Award
A retired teacher’s mission: Keep on teaching, of course
Children skip and run down a grassy slope to get a closer look at a horse grazing near a shining white church. There isn’t a strip mall, car, or even a cell phone in sight, but this bucolic scene is part of a program helping kids who face some very modern challenges, including broken families, learning disabilities and the Virginia Standards of Learning.
Keeping a watchful eye on everything is retired teacher, reading specialist and administrator Jane Perry, a 2018 Hearts and Hands Award winner. She was nominated by her husband, Robert, and The Rev. Kate Gosswein, pastor of Edinburg Lutheran Parish, which includes Zion Lutheran.
This outdoor burning off of energy marks the end of another session of Spring Forward, a tutoring program founded and run by Perry with help from Robert and a group of dedicated tutors.
Two hours earlier, Jane and the tutors greeted a dozen or so schoolchildren walking into Shenandoah County’s 229-year-old Zion Lutheran Church. The church’s rural location seems like an unlikely place for an after-school program, but it’s on the border of two school zones and draws students from both.
The children lined up for snacks, said their “Thank you’s,” and sat down for some food and socialization, with a tutor at each table to “nudge and inspire good conduct,” Perry says. Then it’s time for a “gathering in the round” to review the printed Plan of the Day and complete a writing exercise. When a student shares his or her work, today entitled “A Perfect Day,” other students demonstrate their comprehension by summarizing the essay and asking follow-up questions.
Students then divide up for an hour with tutor-led groups and more specialized lessons before finally heading outside for cartwheels, basketball, pogo sticks and their equine buddy, Bullet.
It’s an afternoon of smiles and giggles mixed with learning, encouragement and belonging. The chaos that can come with a group of kids is avoided through routine, no-nonsense guidance and engaging activities.
Jane Perry did not create Spring Forward as after-school childcare: A purposeful curriculum, written after lots of communication with teachers and parents, focuses on real needs that might range from below-grade-level reading abilities to developing study skills despite an imperfect home life. Tutors aren’t just well-meaning. They are retired elementary, middle and high-school educators who know a thing or two about working with kids.
“Not only do the Spring Forward tutors provide education assistance, they provide a nurturing and safe environment for kids to grow and explore,” says Aleshia Burner, the mother of one of Perry’s scholars. “In addition, Spring Forward teaches things some students may not learn at home, such as social skills, limits, and boundaries, which are all essential in developing life skills.”
Spring Forward came to be after the Perrys retired and moved back home to Shenandoah County in 2005. They joined Zion Lutheran and the Hamburg Ruritan Club. Jane was soon looking for ways to get involved in the community.
“It was a matter of wanting to follow my passion, which is teaching,” she says.
Perry was soon proposing an after-school program to the church, (which had just built a large, well-appointed fellowship hall), Shenandoah County Public Schools, and the Ruritan Club. Flash forward to 2018 and Spring Forward is celebrating its 10th anniversary.
“Our program almost instantly developed a reputation for consistent quality and performance,” Robert Perry wrote. “Jane is the driving force and energy that has led to the program’s success.”
And success means real success.
Jennifer L. Proctor, principal of W.W. Robinson Elementary school, calls Spring Forward “a great support for our students.” J. Michael Williamson, an associate professor of science at Wheelock College, in Boston, says Spring Forward “is an important and impactful program serving youth in the Shenandoah Valley. Spring Forward enhances academic performance, but it also helps develop positive life skills and habits well beyond the classroom.” Nancy Fitchett, grandmother of a Spring Forward scholar, says “I honestly can’t say enough about this wonderful program my daughter is participating in. It helps her in many ways in her schooling.”
Spring Forward must be a lot of work for Jane, but she sees it as an opportunity, not a burden.
“The Lutheran Church has taken a strong position on encouraging education,” she says. “So we are doing what we a called to do.”
Hearts & Hands Silver Service Award
A worker who can’t abide blank calendars or unaddressed needs
You know someone like Kim Begnaud, but probably not quite like Kim Begnaud.
The head of community ministries at Trinity Lutheran Church, in Stephens City, Begnaud is a do-gooder who, by virtue of her drive, organization, and apparent lack of sleep, does a lot of good, indeed.
Kim Begnaud is a 2018 Hearts and Hands Award winner. She was nominated by Brenda Boldin, Trinity Lutheran’s parish administrator.
“Kim has always cared more about other people than herself,” Boldin says. “She is on constant alert to help those in need, whether through the church or on her own. It is who she is.”
And Kim is who she is because she is her mother’s daughter.
“You never knew who would come home for dinner,” Kim remembers. “Mom made sure people were fed and clothed. Even if they needed a place to stay — there was always room for them somewhere in our little house.”
A look at the Trinity Lutheran community events calendar, scheduled a full year in advance, says a lot about Kim. Every month has multiple events and drives scheduled, from the fall coat drive to the Advent and Lent concerts to the big Thanksgiving and Christmas basket drives (with food for not one family meal, but at least five). Then there are the ongoing projects, from a monthly community meal to CARE packages for college students, deployed military and shut-ins to collecting pet food for Buddy, the town’s stray dog.
“Kim plans, organizes, and executes every social ministry event at Trinity,” Boldin says. “And she’s always thinking about how to make a process work more smoothly, be more effective or otherwise improve the experience for the recipients.”
Then there is the networking. Many of Trinity’s events and drives tie in with schools, agencies, and businesses, as well as with other local churches. And if Kim gets wind of a particular person’s or family’s particular need, she knows who knows how to fix one of these or might donate a spare one of those.
Asked about this, Kim nods with pride. “I have a phenomenal network,” she says. “I have no problem calling people and saying, ‘Hey, I need 42 cans of peas,’ or a heater, or whatever.”
But no one does this amount of community work out of a love of checking off items in a list. For Kim, the question of motivation goes straight to the emotions.
“My heart is most full when I know that people are being taken care of,” she says. “It’s not the everyday people, the ones who always need help, it’s the ones who are in-between, who won’t ask.
“There are people who sleep in cars, who go to our own schools just up the street here,” she says. “They can’t help it. They may have lost their job, they don’t have health care. I just hope that people would be more willing to help with that stuff. I mean, we are a country of plenty, and we’ve got people who are starving to death and kids who can’t focus in school because their stomachs are hungry and they don’t have decent clothes and shoes.”
So Kim will continue taking time off from running her own medical supplies business to lug her plastic bin of community ministry folders, calendars, plans and proposals around town, answering and making phone calls about helping children, the needy, veterans, animals, the elderly, and the sick.
After all, there is the veterans pancake breakfast to plan, the Winchester Congregational Community Action Project meeting to attend, the disposable diapers to collect for the Winchester Red Wagon Ministry, the Angel Tree gifts to wrap, the bake sale to organize and the Blessing of the Animals to advertise.
“There may be those who roll their eyes when they see Kim marching toward them with a determined look in her eyes,” Boldin says. “But every member of this church also knows that if they, or someone they know, needs any kind of assistance, Kim is the person who can and will help, no matter what.”
But does Kim ever just toss her folders and phone and schedules aside and just relax for a day?
“Ask my husband!” she says, laughing. “No.”
Bob Ballard, Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, Wytheville
Rick Sizemore, St. Tabor Lutheran Church, Roanoke
Donna Wright, St. Philip Lutheran Church, Roanoke
Judy Beaver, Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, Wytheville
Martha Crute, Christ Evangelical Lutheran Church, Roanoke
Jimmy and Suzanna Masters, Christ Lutheran Church, Wise
Pat Morgan, Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, Virginia Beach
Catherine Ray, Muhlenburg Lutheran Church, Harrisonburg
Robin Reitzel, Emmanuel Lutheran Church, Virginia Beach
Carol Wasko, Emmanuel Lutheran Church, Virginia Beach
Barbara Wingo, Trinity Lutheran Church, Pulaski