The only shelter in Newton, or adjoining counties, the Garden of Gethsemane Shelter can be part of the solution for dealing with homelessness in our community. The shelter’s 20-year history was celebrated at a Christmas Dinner Gathering on Friday, December 9, 2016, at the Church of Covington.
The genesis for the beginning of the shelter, which was founded by Pastor Clara Lett, was a camp for underprivileged children started by the Rainbow Community Center in Porterdale in the summer of 1996. To this day, Lett continues to serve as the director of the shelter. That first summer saw a great need as 420 children were a part of the ministry.
This ministry was expanded to work with the families of the children involved with the camp. In 2001, Lett led the next step forward with the start of the Garden of Gethsemane Homeless Shelter to provide emergency shelter for the homeless. A program for meals on wheels and a food pantry were added. The host church added showers and turned some classrooms into lodging.
Within two years, the ministry reached the capacity of what it could offer. Emergency pads were used in the church’s sanctuary but the need kept growing. In 2007, the then Mayor of Covington, Sam Ramsey, led the City Council to arrange for a larger facility on Turner Lake Circle. The shelter moved from Porterdale to Covington. The new location cam now deal with as many as 80 people if needed.
Community leaders, the shelter’s board of directors, volunteers involved in the ministry and other guest gathered to celebrate the twenty years of history as well as commit themselves to continue and strengthen their efforts to deal with the needs of the homeless.
The keynote speaker for the evening was State Senator Janice Van Ness. She represents the 43rd Senatorial District, which is made up of parts of DeKalb and Newton counties, as well as all of Rockdale. As she saluted the Garden of Gethsemane for its work, she reminded those present that this was the only shelter in the district she represents.
She said at times homelessness is more difficult to see in the area she represents than say a more urban area where people live on the streets. But look in the woods at the camps, or at times in cars in large parking lots, and you will see the people who have no place to go. While we must continue to deal with strengthening our educational systems and help grow the economy to provide jobs for those without work, we must also continue to deal with those with emergency needs,
Doug Doster, the chair of the executive board, and Sam Ramsey, the vice-chair, presented awards to the various local churches and of the volunteers that do the work of the shelter. Churches and volunteers help to provide the meals that are needed, staff the office, and lead classes for Life Skills and Life Support. Other volunteers help with Celebrate Recovery and with needed transportation.
A proclamation from Covington Mayor Ronnie Johnston and the Covington City Council acknowledged and applauded the good works of the amazing volunteers being recognized for their dedication and generosity. The proclamation offered best wishes, “for continued success in the years ahead.”
The holiday season heightens our awareness of those in need. But this celebration for 20 years of service reminds us that the needs are there all year long. When life collapses for people, our community needs to have a place to provide a safe and secure place for those who need a hand up to get back on their feet. For twenty years our community has been generous by supporting this very needed ministry.
Pastor Clara Lett has truly been a “saint” for our community as she has inspired others to give countless hour of service in helping people get back on their feet. It is a tough challenge and we can help those involved with the Garden meet that challenge. Truly there but for the grace of God could go any of us.
If you want to get involved in this ministry, I urge you to contact them at 770-787-8519 or stop by the office at 7133 Turner Lake Circle during business hours and find out ways to be a part of the answer to help the homeless.
B. Wiley Stephens is a retired United Methodist Minister and author who now resides in Covington.