By Les Gura
In this small community, and around the nation, volunteers give the gift of transportation
Not long after Rev. Sam Lewis (below right) received his first pastoral assignment last year to Oak Grove United Methodist Church in Mocksville, N.C., he realized the smaller church needed to challenge itself to become more engaged in the community.
He solicited help from church membership, and four people joined him for community training in March that would allow them to help folks with unmet health-related needs. Their first assignment was a tricky one—arranging transportation for a throat cancer patient who required near daily treatments for several weeks from his home in Mocksville to Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, some 25 miles away.
The patient couldn’t speak because of his cancer, which made communication a challenge. Volunteer Judy McClamrock says the lack of voice didn’t prevent the volunteers from bonding with the man, who was not a member of their church.
He looked forward to seeing somebody
“I think maybe it was just the compassion that our team showed him from the very beginning,” she says, “but I think he really looked forward to seeing somebody else besides the nurses and the doctors.”
Because the man had no nearby family, he came to depend on the Oak Grove volunteers. In August, he was transferred to an in-home facility; McClamrock says she will be visiting him this week to bring him a birthday card signed by the entire volunteer team.
McClamrock says that twice during the period the man required transportation, he wound up being admitted to Wake Forest Baptist. She went to visit him almost daily, even though her transportation services weren’t needed while he was in the hospital.
“I would go over and at least sit with him for a little bit. We’d watch some westerns for a while and I’d stay three to four hours and they’d come and get him to go to radiation and I’d ask if he wanted me to go with him and he did,’’ she says. “And I’d stay with him through that. I’ve just been blessed through this whole experience.’’
Transportation connects health and community
“It doesn’t do any good to provide a service if people can’t access. For poor people, it may be helping them to get their medications, get to a doctor or get to a grocery story,’’ Lewis says.
Already more people in need in the community are being identified.
“We took one man 25 minutes to see his primary care doctor and at the same time, some of our Methodist men helped fund and picked up a load of furniture to help this individual and his brother furnish their apartment. It was helping them reconnect to health and to community.’’
He says he hopes that within the year, his small church, with about 200 members overall, will have a team of eight to 10 steady volunteers. They are looking into obtaining a grant that could help them pay for a handicapped-accessible van for transportation; right now, the volunteers are using their own vehicles and gas to help those in need.
For Lewis, who became a minister after a 30-year career as a landscape contractor, providing transportation and more to people in need is part of a changing society.
“Rethinking church is something we will constantly need to be doing,’’ he says. “We have to begin to look at folks in the community not as people we need to fix, but as people we need to lift up. To help them to feel they are valued and loved no matter what issues they’re going through.”
Art: Andrea Benetti, Creative Commons