For those who found themselves at their lowest point in life and had nowhere to turn and no one to turn to, Archie Shepherd must have seemed like a godsend.
Whether it was a convicted murderer and an armed robber looking for a second chance or a young woman who was denied needed disability benefits, Shepherd filled the role of helping hand to those who had nothing.
For those efforts and many others, Shepherd was given the I Have a Dream Award Sunday at the 27th annual Martin Luther King Jr. celebration in Newton County. The award is s given to a person who exemplifies the philosophy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Fellow community volunteer and NAACP member Cathelene Perry was given the Trailblazer Award.
"The least of God's children, they don't have anybody to stand up for them," Shepherd said Thursday. "If I see a need I try to get involved and help that person, because the shoe could be on the other foot...When somebody calls me and I listen to them, I try to put myself in their position. How would I feel if I had this problem and there was nobody to help me? So I go that extra mile because I know there's nobody else who's going to take time to get involved."
Shepherd, 73, said one of his greatest accomplishments was securing early release for armed robber Terry Thomas, who Shepherd believed was ready to turn his life around but couldn't be released because of a rule of Georgia's parole board.
Shepherd and others went before the parole board to lobby and convinced the board to suspend its guidelines to allow for the man's release. Shepherd then helped Thomas get a job and turn his life around.
That "jailhouse ministry" was a big part of Shepherd's life, as he took then 68-year-old James Thornton, a convicted murderer, into his home, got him a job at Shepherd's janitorial company and eventually helped him get an apartment.
Shepherd also helped troubled youth as well as those who were unjustly accused and locked up.
Labor issues were another of Shepherd's passions, as he was a union representative for 18 years. Some of his other strongest memories, include helping deserving people get disability benefits, including appealing the case of a young girl, where he had to present all of the evidence over again because the court tape had been lost.
"That was something that really, really made me feel good, that I had accomplished something," he said, noting she received $25,000 in back payments she would have otherwise lost.
"People know if they call me and they got a problem, I will try my best to help them. That's what I've always been about."
Shepherd is also involved in several local community groups. He has been a member of the local NAACP chapter since 1970, including spending eight years as president, is a 32nd degree Mason, and former worshipful master, is on the board of directors of the Willing Helpers Medical Clinic and helped start Literacy Volunteers, the predecessor of Newton Reads. He is also the director of the Order of the Knights of Pythagorus, the youth version of the Masons.
Shepherd and his wife, Bobbie, have three children, Terry Shepherd and David and Belinda Winfield.
Cathelene Perry has spent much of her life tutoring youth, including entering her 10th year as advisor of the local NAACP Youth chapter.
Perry, 64, has been a member of the adult NAACP for 36 years and is currently second vice-president. She also serves as a volunteer driver transporting children to and from Bethlehem Baptist Church's Summer Feeding Program, is a member of Washington Street Community Center and, as someone who is HIV-positive, helps those with HIV and AIDS education.
Her involvement made her a perfect fit for the he Trailblazer Award, which is given to a Newton County resident known for community service.
"It was just a blessing to know that someone thought enough of me and has seen the work that I have done over the years," Perry said Thursday. "It was just shocking to know that those people thought enough of me to nominate me for this. They thought about the love I have shown; people always say the spirit I have uplifts people."
Perry said she has helped as many as 60 youth go to college, and that makes an impression on future youth. When she took a group of youth to Macon State College in Warner Robins, a former student ran up and started hugging her, almost knocking Perry over. That meant a lot to Perry and the students she was with.
"I thank God that students feel in their heart that I did something for them and that the parents trust me with their children," said Perry.
Perry, who grew up with 11 siblings, was married to the late Larry Perry and has one son, Clarence Wendell Williams.