ASIDE: HUMANS OF SUMMERVILLE
Kayden Evans: I moved to Augusta in august of 2013 to begin my college career. After growing up in North Atlanta, a fairly large suburban area just outside of Georgia's capital, I never thought I would find myself moving to the second largest city in the state. Augusta, GA, a place I had never been before, but would soon call home. I started my college career with a declared biology major, but quickly came to realize that was not a good fit for me. I changed my major to psychology and have been pursuing my bachelor’s degree ever since.
HOMELESS IN AUGUSTA
50 Saturdays throughout the year, from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. under the Calhoun Expressway, in downtown Augusta Ga., you can find the homeless congregating for a hot meal and free clothing.
Hundreds of chairs, staging, sound equipment, a food truck, and clothing racks are set up for the homeless. The two men leading this event are Hugh Hollar from First Baptist church and Roger Gardner from New Hope Church. This is the Bridge Ministry.
Unloading Chairs under the 15th street bridge in Downtown Augusta
Gardner started this mission 10 years ago in Augusta, with little less than box of food and a case of drinks given to him by a musician from the stages of Nashville. Candy Christmas gave up her life on the road to pursue feeding the homeless in downtown Nashville. Hollar joined along with 25 percent financial support, from his home church, First Baptist of Augusta. Gardner explained, “New Hope funds 45 percent of the cost of The Bridge Ministry.” The other 30 percent comes from ministries and individual donors.
On any Saturday, volunteers show up from churches and organizations from all over Augusta to help feed the homeless. To run the Saturday events Gardner said that they needed 40 volunteers to function smoothly. Usually The Bridge Ministry will have anywhere from 10 to 100 volunteers. What started as ten people under Calhoun Expressway, has grown to more than 200-300 homless every Saturday and on thanksgiving this past year, almost 1500 people showed up to receive warm meals and clothing.
Volunteers gather before the event
Hollar talked about the Golden Harvest food bank and how much food they purchase from them to feed the homeless under the bridge. This past year Hollar made the statement that “We purchased over one million pounds of food and all of that went to the warm meals prepared for the homeless.” Gardner talked about how the ministry is able to purchase perishable food for “pennies on the dollar” from Golden Harvest Food Bank. The largest expense, when it comes to food, is the meat that they purchase from Sams Club. It is higher quality than what the food bank can provide. Chick Fil A and PDQ, fast food restaurants on Washington Road, provide meals throughout the year also.
Hollar and Gardner use the bridge ministry, with the financial support of their churches and backing from other ministries, to help the homeless population in revitalizing these people’s lives and getting them into cheaper housing with job. The men see a need for more volunteers and they have faith that they will come. These men know that some people are content in being homeless, and they are happy to help, but they also know that others are wanting to break free from homelessness.
JANITOR AND SO MUCH MORE
Ricco Coleman standing in one of the classrooms he maintains
Ricco Coleman, seen by many students and faculty every day at Augusta University, comes in at 5 o’clock every morning and leaves by 2 o’clock in the afternoon to make it to his second job. Coleman is the youngest janitor in Allgood Hall, who is a dedicated, hardworking 30-year-old man. In an interview, Coleman spoke with the department of communication and further explained his life story.
Coleman told reporter Patrick Frits that he was born in Memphis, Tn., moved to Sacramento, Calif., spent time in Oklahoma where his father lives and ended up in Georgia with his mother in 1998. Coleman attended Fort Valley State University outside of Warner Robins and later moved to Augusta to attend Paine College.
Coleman was hired on with the university’s janitorial staff, after he ran into two women speaking to each other downtown at a gas station in Augusta, Ga.
“Those women were cussing up a storm and I was going to say something, but I ended up just asking them if they were hiring,” he said.
Coleman was not shy in sharing his rough background, but he was nervous that he may not get the job due to his run-ins with police. Coleman was determined to finish college, and by working at the university, he was able to use the tuition assistance program for faculty and staff. This program helps pay for nine hours every semester that the staff work. Last May, Coleman decided he was going to take some time off because his dedication to school was falling with the increase of work.
When asked about his favorite things to do, Coleman responds by saying, “I really do like reading the Bible, especially when you can understand what God is saying and the prophecies.” He said he cares about people and enjoys breaking down barriers between cultures.
Coleman breaks down those barriers by learning other languages in his free time.
“If you can learn a person’s language then you can break a barrier,” he said.
Coleman shares his first hand story of the time he befriended a West Indian family by learning their native language, Gujarati.
What might surprise people that see Coleman everyday, is that he just found an apartment one month ago. Before now he had been living in his car and showering at the Augusta University campus downtown, before he came back up to work on the Summerville campus. Coleman is a resilient human and a very humble man.
THE BRIDGE MINISTRY
There are many different ways to become homeless. Homelessness is everywhere in the cities, the towns, and the places we live. It is easy for people to have no place to go and have no roof over their head. What is hard, is the fight to regain a home and a place to stay. In Augusta, Georgia there are many homeless people in the downtown area. Many have been raised and poverty and have a hard time getting out of this cycle. We have many veterans who come to Augusta in hopes of finding medical care at one of the three Veterans Affairs Hospitals. These people who get minimal support from the government wind up on the streets here with no place, no food, and the clothing that they came in.
With the issue of homelessness in Augusta a problem that needs to be resolved, there are certain groups that have stepped up to bring the needs of the homeless to them. The Bridge Ministry that has just become its own non-profit, led by Roger Gardner, is one of the organizations that is stepping up to revitalize homeless people and take care of their needs every Saturday during the year.
Attendees of The Bridge Ministry sitting in the Sun
The veterans who are homeless in Augusta have many medical needs, but also feel as if they are being taken advantage of. Rodger Dunbar, a veteran from the Vietnam War says, “We were treated poorly when we got home from the war and we still are. It seems like they just want us to die out so they don’t have to take care of us anymore.”
This Ministry started 10 years ago with the support of two churches in Augusta. First Baptist Church of Augusta and New Hope Worship Center joined together to provide Gardner with monetary and volunteer support to start this Ministry, after he had seen its growth in a similar ministry in Nashville, Tennessee. Gardner told us in an interview that he brought down a couple cases of Coca-Cola and some nonperishable food from Nashville and began the Bridge Ministry with the help of a few volunteers and a show of at least 10 homeless people.
If you go down on a Saturday afternoon to see what the Bridge Ministry is about there will be some homeless people and also some that are living in Section 8 housing. Some attendees will just come for food, but others will stay to hear a sermon by Gardner. There is one lady that comes in her electric wheel chair and is dressed for a Sunday service. This is her church because it is easier for her to get there from Peabody Apartment right beside the bridge. If the attendees stay for the entire service under the bridge they get to leave with bags of food items and clothing.
This Ministry is faith based, but is not a religion. Gardner wants people to come just as they are. He would call it, “being real.”
The Bridge Ministry service
A man named Jack Brown who has been volunteering with the ministry for seven years comes each Saturday to help with security and to be there for the people who need his help in any way. Brown helps with all of the tasks during set up, tear down, and even is found taking meals to the people sitting by the stage who have trouble getting in line for food. Brown says, “I love it because I get to see the hand of God working in the lives of the people through Roger Gardner.”
This past Saturday almost 100 people came to the Bridge Ministry. Chairs were set up by the homeless and poverty stricken. These people have been helped by the Bridge Ministry and now they come to help others by setting up this event every Saturday. One of the regulars, who is often found downtown at New Moon Café playing chess or reading books from The Book Tavern, is a devoted attendant to the Bridge Ministry. His name is William Johnson. Johnson spends time making writing beautiful calligraphy and is a college graduate with two degrees. He has chosen the homeless lifestyle because it does not bind him. Johnson went on to say that he loves New Hope but he was turned away by the image of religion because of what he saw in the media. Johnson enjoys being downtown under the bridge for his Saturday service.
The Bridge ministry also helps people by working in relation with other organizations to help the homeless by getting them jobs and a place to live. They work with organizations like Augusta Rescue Mission which has a 15 day and a half year program set up to slowly get people back on their feet through working and saving money.
Gardner says, “The homeless population that we have seen so far in Augusta in the last 10 years has declined slowly.” He has high hopes for Augusta and the way they fight the hardships of homelessness. Gardner meets with Augusta Mayor Hardie Davis every Tuesday afternoon to pray for the homeless and to discuss different ways to help this communitie.
I had the great opportunity this semester during our studies and writing on homelessness to actually walk alongside and help a homeless 19-year-old guy here in Augusta, Georgia. His name is Treyce Crisman. I received a call from an old coworker one month ago around 10 o’clock at night. They were panicking saying that their grandson was on the side of the road in Beech Island, South Carolina, with no place to go. I left the concert I was at and got him to send me the coordinates from his phone. I picked him up that night and went to get him something to eat. Treyce came and stayed at my house for the next four days as I spent my time before work and after work calling business owners and programs in Augusta that would be willing to take on a young man who had no G.E.D.
After three days of having Treyce with me I told him that he had to take a job and raise money to pay for rent somewhere. I used my contacts with Roger Gardner to speak with the people at Augusta Rescue Mission and they were happy to take him in. Treyce’s father had just gotten out of Jail for prior Meth charges and Treyce’s mother was living with his abusive step-father. Treyce was able to move in with his grandmother after I found him a job with a moving company out in Evans, Georgia, where his grandmother lives.
This story just goes to show how easy it is to become homeless. Treyce had no choice in the family he was raised with and he was not set up for success with them. A couple bad choices on his part led him down a rough path, living out of a friend’s car and then in a friend’s basement. Treyce is slowly making his way back up, but at any chance one problem or mistake could end him back on the street.