The Church of the Good Shepherd is a small, sky blue, country style church that functions as the Aaron McNeil House today. Originally built by Reverend Aaron McNeil, a pioneer, churchman, educator, and community leader in 1896 (aaronmcneil.org). If you walked through their doors, you would enter a judgment-free zone and be greeted by a cheerful, caring worker ready to help however they could. Three dedicated employees tackle the often-needed crisis relief for families in the Hopkinsville and Christian County community.
The vision of the Aaron McNeil House is to assist financially or with food, offer educational opportunities, and facilitate community support and involvement (aaronmcneil.org).
Since 2012, the Aaron McNeil House has given $945,000 to 11,630 families according to Kurt Anderson, Director. The actual number is probably much larger because the organization has been operating since 1971. The magnitude of assistance coming out of the quaint little building is unimaginable. Bills and food are just a few things the agency will assist with. When determining whom to assist with bills, Tamara Watts, Administrative Assistant, says she takes three things into consideration, ‘1.
Is it out of your control? 2. Is it unexpected? 3. [Does it cause] financial distress?’ An example would be if someone had a water bill that was higher than a normal bill; this would be out of your control. The higher bill would also be unexpected because you prepared for the estimated normal price of the bill. It caused financial distress if you did not have any savings or extra money to cover the amount.
In addition to financial assistance, community members can also receive food from the agency. The food pantry is stocked with the monthly Feed America shipment and community donated items. Most of it will be quickly disbursed to the hundreds of families they feed every month. Wooden plant beds behind the building provide a fertile area for growing vegetables. This community garden adds to the friendly, country feel. It is available 24/7 for the public to take as much food as needed.
Next, budgeting money is a common struggle that the Aaron McNeil house is prepared to help with. An opportunity to attend a budget class is offered by the agency. This is a helpful alternative when the needed documentation for financial assistance is unavailable. Also, according to Watts, ‘we can’t assist [someone] every year.’ This is to prevent someone from seeking chronic financial relief. Although, the employees will consider the case before declining to assist. A reason someone could receive financial assistance more than once a year would be an emergency case such as abuse. Assistance would be provided because the goal is to improve the well-being of community members (Watts). The employees often take on the role of a counselor because normally when someone is seeking relief, they are experiencing a difficult time in their life. Offering guidance and friendship to community members is not a job requirement but is a quality of an Aaron McNeil House employee. Getting a job and keeping a job can also be a struggle for some. An opportunity to attend Jobs for Life classes provides an educational resource to community members (aaronmcneil.org). The Aaron McNeil House encourages self-sufficiency which is why they implemented the bus fare pass program. When the Hopkinsville Transit was installed, they saw a chance to aid those without transportation to work or doctor appointments (Watts and Anderson).
The Aaron McNeil House rely greatly on volunteers to help with the overwhelming needs of the agency. Anderson says, ’80-85% of food is donated.’ Not only do they need volunteers to donate food and other items, but also to distribute to the roughly 3,000 households served every year (aaronmcneil.org). The agency wants people to get involved by either donating money or goods, or by volunteering at the facility. An example of a reason for involvement could be, ‘you felt emotionally moved by someone’s story’ or ‘you need a tax deduction’ (aaronmcneil.org). Whatever the reason for wanting to give, the Aaron McNeil house wants everyone to know it is the right thing to do. They encourage people to lead by example and give with a purpose because they need the help of the community (aaronmcneil.org).
Kurt Anderson and Tamara Watts describe the Aaron McNeil house as a family atmosphere. Anderson, previously practiced law and sat on the board of directors for the organization. When the director positioned opened, he wanted to continue to see the Aaron McNeil house grow and chose to take the job; even though it paid less. Watts became inspired when she saw everything the community was doing after joining the leadership program. When the opportunity to work at the Aaron McNeil house arose, she quickly applied; driven by her desire to help others. More people like Anderson and Watts are needed. They have true care and compassion for the people they serve. Through their hard work, the vision Reverend Aaron McNeil had is still alive and thriving today. The Aaron McNeil house is more than just an agency that assists, offers opportunities, and facilitates involvement. It is a loving community center that wants to improve the life of every individual it encounters.
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