Though Sumter United Ministries' location and services have changed during the last couple decades, the mission and foundation remain the same after 25 years.
"I'm amazed at how it's grown," said Katy Greenawalt, the ministry's first executive …
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From January to November in 2018:
in financial assistance
More than 2,800
volunteers with more than 14,600 volunteer hours
worth of in-kind food donations
More than $84,400
in other in-kind donations
"I'm amazed at how it's grown," said Katy Greenawalt, the ministry's first executive director, who served for 13 years. "The ministry has grown and has become much bigger than I ever expected."
United Ministries of Sumter opened its doors in January 1994 with less than $2,000, she said, and about 30 people showed up for the first volunteer training session.
Though the start was slow, Greenawalt found confidence knowing God would provide the people and resources needed to make the ministry successful.
The volunteers, money and facility showed up, she said.
The ministry has come a long way, she said, continually adding new programs and meeting the needs of the community.
SUM opened its free clinic and pharmacy in 2014, and the education assistance ministry aimed to assist single mothers complete a post-secondary education started in 2017.
Since the beginning, the ministry's main goal has been to provide assistance and educate those in need so they can help themselves in the future.
One of Greenawalt's most memorable clients was a young woman who needed help managing her budget and leading a better lifestyle.
She was in her 20s and had six or seven children, Greenawalt said. Her mother was in jail, and she did not know her father.
The young woman was totally lost and didn't know what to do, she said.
Greenawalt said the saddest moment during the client interview was when she reached to hug the woman's son who was about 3 years old, but the child did not know how to hug.
The mother didn't know how to show physical affection toward her children, Greenawalt said, which means her children never learned.
After months of working with the woman, encouraging her and teaching her how to make a budget, she was able to take care of herself.
"She finally got strong enough to make it on her own," she said.
At times, Greenawalt felt overwhelmed because the needs in the community were so great.
She said she was also touched to work with the elderly, most of whom lived on limited income mainly provided through Social Security.
"My heart always broke for the elderly," she said.
And some of the elderly live in conditions that others could not imagine, she said.
"We will continue to have the poor among us, unfortunately," Greenawalt said, "and the needs will always be there."
Though the work is never-ending, knowing someone's life has been changed because of the ministry gives Greenawalt satisfaction.
She told a story of being thanked by a former client years ago while visiting the post office.
Greenawalt said she could not remember the man's name, but he thanked her for the referrals and prayers that were given to him when he went to the ministry for help.
"I thought, 'God, we are on the right track,'" she said.
As her health began to worsen, Greenawalt started wondering when she should leave the ministry.
After days of praying, she knew the organization would be in good hands after talking with Mark Champagne, the current executive director, who had an interest in leading the ministry.
"God told me Mark had the right heart," she said.
Greenawalt remembers the last moments in her old office and leaving the keys on the desk at 3 a.m. before her husband picked her up to take her home.
"I cried and cried when I left," she said.
But she left the ministry knowing Champagne and the other staff members would continue to take care of the people in need.
"I knew things were in good hands," she said.
Over the years, SUM's services, client list and volunteers have increased in an effort to keep up with the community.
"I am so impressed with the community and the way the people get connected," Champagne said.
That connection, and those who make up the ministry, he said, goes across socioeconomic lines and race.
Success for the ministry can be seen in the number of roofs that have been repaired, the number of residential wheelchair ramps that have been built and the number of families that have a warm house to sleep in at night, just to name a few of the ways the organization has touched the community.
This will always be Sumter's greatest strength, Champagne said about the community's dedication to helping others.
When asked about the future of SUM, he said he doesn't know what the future holds but that the ministry will be ready for whatever comes.
For certain, Champagne knows the ministry will focus on one of its newest projects to move its emergency shelter from West Oakland Avenue to Artillery Drive, where the main office is located, and build tiny houses on the same lot.
"We really just look to see what God lays before us," he said.
SUM will celebrate its 25-year milestone with an event to honor everyone who has worked with, donated to and volunteered for the organization on Saturday.
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