By Sarah Wibell
Jean Holder and Fran Holmes founded Jesus’ Helpers Ministries, a social group for mentally challenged people, in April 2004 under the auspices of First United Methodist Church. The group not only continues to be active with meetings on the second Saturday of each month, day outings and occasional overnight trips, but also welcomes participation outside of FUMC as well.
Holmes said, “We started with six people, and that has grown to 26 now. People have become more active in helping us. It has been a really successful mission, and we’ve seen our members grow so much – some of them have been with us since they were kids.” She jokingly added that they welcome people age 11 to 100, although currently “our members range from 19 to 58 years of age.”
Sailing and tubing on Lake Tobesofkee in Macon, bowling, girls’ night out, boys’ night out, going out for meals, and camping are just a few examples of activities JH Ministries has organized. Colorful tie-dye tee shirts identify the group when they go out. Holmes said that this gets people’s attention: “It’s gratifying to see how other people react, come up, and ask questions.”
David Burbach, a current organizer of JH Ministries, stated, “Every summer, we spend a week out at Camp Collinswood on Lake Oconee. We have activities, fish, gather around in the evenings and sing, and rotate out assignments. Then, at the end of September, we have a fish fry from everything that was caught over the summer. We had 27 pounds of catfish last year. Through JH Ministries, (our members) are still learning how to work together and improve communication. We encourage responsibility: they cook, clean, and work together as a team.”
Holmes stated, “It’s the greatest thing watching the growth and caring these individuals give to one another. It’s a miracle to see and a blessing.”
Hand in Hand Ministries, an off-shoot of JH Ministries, partnered with Jewish Family and Career Services to develop and open a group home at Camp Twin Lakes in August 2015 for special needs people. The group home can house four people at a time. “We thought it might be a place people like our group could have and call home,” Holmes stated. “Also, it helps the parents.” Upon completion of its mission, Hand in Hand Ministries was dissolved.
“Being part of JH Ministries is one of the most wonderful things I’ve ever done,” Bob Reed, another organizer, shared. “I just fell in love with the group. I think I found my calling right here. We just bonded, all of us, on the same day. It’s the greatest feeling in the world.”
Although primarily a social group, JH Ministries engages in outreach by visiting nursing homes and bringing gifts for holidays like Thanksgiving or Valentine’s Day. Before Christmas last year, the group provided gift cards to foster families for food or presents.
JH members also sponsor a float every year in Madison’s Christmas Parade and participate in a swim group that meets once a week at the Aquatic Center. In addition, Morgan County Recreation Department offers kickball and softball Spirit Leagues for people of all ages with special needs.
In 2016, JH Ministries took 19 members and 11 chaperones on a Disney cruise. “Most of them had never been out of the country before,” Burbach recalled.
Bonnie Mason, whose son had been a member, added, “They get to do more than the average kid.”
“We’ve just experienced so many things – I could go on, and on, and on!” Holmes remarked. “We try giving them new experiences like eating escargot.”
On the fourth Sunday of each month, JH members from all churches are invited to participate in FUMC’s Sunday school class. Afterward, the group goes out to lunch where they enjoy each other’s company and fellowship.
“This is something they look forward to,” noted David Burbach. “It’s unconditional love.”
For anyone wanting to become involved or be a member, contact the First United Methodist Church at (706) 342-3325.