Atlanta Volunteers Change Lives

By Rusty Wright

My friend, Dan Hayes, reminds me of a guy on television who spins plates and bowls

The performer sets several tall sticks upright.  Atop each stick he spins a bowl, creating a small forest of spinning dinner ware.  On a table below he spins plates.  Then he scrambles furiously to keep everything spinning.

Dan spins plates in Atlanta for the common good.  Only his “plates” are volunteers and a bevy of service projects helping the distressed, needy, and vulnerable.  He spins not frantically but methodically.  The scope and effectiveness of the work make my head spin.  For instance …

Help in Crisis

A pregnant teen has to leave her surroundings in crisis.  She discovers the Kindred Spirit home.  This peaceful place provides her with care, love, hope and support: housing during pregnancy, rides to the doctor, good food, parenting training, assistance finding a place to raise her child, and more.

An immigrant feels isolated from his distant homeland, family and culture.  Facing relational, physical and spiritual struggles, he encounters a volunteer who befriends and assists him.  The immigrant finds faith plus a host of new friends who welcome him into his adopted society.

Feeling skeptical but needing help, an out-of-work businessman guardedly attends a men’s discussion group.  The participants are warm and friendly.  Many have endured similar employment disappointments.  His attitude soars as he discovers new resources for managing his dilemma.

The volunteer mobilization movement Hayes founded in 1996, Atlanta Community Ministries (ACM), inspires and equips volunteers to help meet real human needs.  This faith-based coalition challenges individuals and churches to get “out of our seats and into the streets” to link needy individuals with physical, emotional and spiritual assistance.

“Out of our seats and into the streets”

ACM helps men and women, young and old, rich and poor.  It assists efforts to prevent substance abuse in youth; to help women and teen girls heal from sexual trauma; to coach teens in developing faith, leadership and life skills.   

A Spanish-language program helps new Latin immigrants become employed as child care providers.  Programs connect volunteers with the homeless and poor; with seniors in assisted living; and with everyday folks who need support and encouragement.

ACM and partner churches have served over 300,000 people.  In the first half of this year alone, they donated over $284,000 worth of volunteer hours.

Is your head spinning yet?

Dan’s student days at Northwestern University in the late 1960s forged his concern for urban-dwellers.  He embraced faith during the heyday of the civil rights movement, and was burdened to communicate across racial boundaries.  An inner-city outreach in riot-torn Newark, New Jersey, enhanced his love for cities and their diverse populations.  “God must love diversity,” Dan observes.  “He created so much of it.”

ACM focuses on the biblical counsel to “Love … God with all your heart” and “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  Hundreds of volunteers with personal visions of their own share divine love in the part of the world they know best.  Their faith motivates them to serve others in practical, tangible, positive ways.  Hayes’ role is to inspire, connect, equip and encourage.

Total person care

Once a skeptic myself, I’ve become convinced through repeated observation that people of true faith display practical care for the total person: physically, psychologically and spiritually.  Jesus fed the hungry and healed the sick.  He also helped people see how they could connect personally with God.

“I’m a cheerleader,” confesses Dan. He has no question that “ordinary people can do extraordinary things” through trust and faith.

This cheerleader’s plates are still spinning.

Rusty Wright is an author and lecturer who has spoken on six continents.  He holds Bachelor of Science (psychology) and Master of Theology degrees from Duke and Oxford universities, respectively.

Copyright © 2010 Rusty Wright

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