Former Covington Mayor Sam Ramsey calls Clara Lett "Newton County's Mother Teresa." Honesty compels me to admit that I always took that declaration with a grain of salt. After, all, Sam has been known to get a little over-exuberant about things he really believes in. He even says nice things about me every now and again.
Then I sat down and had lunch with Clara one day and heard about all the balls she is juggling on behalf of the hungry, the homeless, the poor and the downtrodden in Newton and Rockdale counties. Just listening to her schedule made me tired, and I stay pretty busy myself.
But I didn't want to just hear about what Clara does through her Garden of Gethsemane Ministry, I wanted to see for myself. I decided to visit her and follow her around and see for myself what goes on at her homeless shelter on Turner Lake Circle in Covington. After a couple of visits I decided that Sam Ramsey is really downplaying Clara's contribution to our community -- and keep in mind, I am not easily impressed.
The first time I visited the shelter was at about 3:30 in the afternoon. A school bus pulled up in the driveway and a young man jumped off with a brand new backpack and a big smile on his 7-year-old face. He ran across the parking lot and into the building that currently serves as his home. Humble as the facility might be, it is light years removed from living on the streets, or in a car, or in an extended stay hotel. No wonder the little fellow was wearing such a big smile.
Yeah, I know. I was skeptical, too. I have had all the thoughts you have. "People control their own situations," I have said. "There are plenty of government agencies to help 'people like that,'" I have said. That's a funny one, because I have said that one while campaigning against politicians who support government give-away programs for "people like that." I've done it on my way home from church, a few times, right after teaching a Bible story about Jesus admonishing us to take care of "people like that," and try as hard as I might, I have never found a qualifier in Jesus's admonitions or conditions placed on the charity he asks us to show.
Clara Lett runs a shelter which now houses somewhere between 62 and 80 people -- men, women and children -- who, if not for Clara, would be out on the streets of Newton and Rockdale county. She provides them with a warm bed, a safe place to be and three meals a day. She does everything in her power to help them find jobs and to get back on their feet and into society. In the process she gets to know each of them and treats them like her own and works tirelessly to secure funds to keep the doors open and the lights turned on in her facility. She has a budget which includes a salary for herself and her staff. Sometimes she gets paid, if there is money left after all the other expenses have been taken care of. Most months -- at least this year -- she has not drawn a check. Money is tight you know. It costs thousands of dollars a month just to keep the lights turned on.
The state of Georgia promised to help but, like I said, times are hard.
I walked through her compound and visited the barracks-style sleeping quarters -- small beds, bunked in the men's areas, built by Boy Scouts trying to do a good turn. I visited the food pantry and saw lots and lots of empty shelves. I heard Clara admonish a couple of people who needed a reminder about daily expectations at the shelter and I heard her encourage each and every person she encountered -- and I heard the respectful way they responded to "Pastor Clara" as she went about her day, feeding her sheep and taking care of her lambs.
Clara Lett can't do it by herself, y'all. The weak and the hungry and the downtrodden of our community aren't Clara Lett's problem -- they are all of our problem and should be all of our concern. She has taken on the heavy lifting. She's the one who stays in contact with them every day. The least we can do is help.
I know. I know. Lots of people need help. But there are not a lot of people who have devoted their lives to the people that the rest of us like to pretend aren't there -- and Clara is with them 24/7/365.
The Garden of Gethsemane Homeless Shelter can use money. I'll put it right out there. They can also use food and they can even use volunteers -- to man the shelter so Clara can have a little time off, to tutor the children or to teach GED classes.
Money would be the easiest way to help, wouldn't it? Thanksgiving is coming up and as you pause to count your blessings, maybe you could do something for folks who don't have quite so many. The number is 770-787-8519. Call Clara. She'll tell you how you or your church or your Sunday school class or your organization can help. I did. And I was blessed. You will be, too. Promise.
Sam Ramsey and I would be forever in your debt.
Darrell Huckaby is a local educator and author. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. For past columns, visit www.rockdalecitizen.com or www.newtoncitizen.com.