By Allison Lindsey, Advocate contributor
A drive through rural South Georgia where US Highways 441 and 84 intersect brings you to the heart of Homerville, Ga. in Clinch County. With a population of 2500, this town boasts of its hospitality, quality of living, and spirit of community expressed in their slogan, “There’s No Place Like Homerville.”
The residents take great pride in their town. This pride and the generosity of the people are now showcased through an event called “Hands on Homerville,” which brings this small community together to serve in big ways.
For several years, Rev. Joseph Carter, pastor of Homerville United Methodist Church, brainstormed ideas about how residents could give back to the community in tangible ways. His idea: a day of service designed for loving their town and caring for God’s creation. The inaugural launch of Hands on Homerville in 2021 was a one day event with 150 participants. But what unfolded that day took on a life of its own, displaying an energy that is nothing short of inspiring and contagious.
Fast forward to October 1, 2022, early on a Saturday morning and the parking lot of Homerville UMC begins to fill up with vehicles. Individuals of all ages stand together shoulder to shoulder - three hundred in number ranging from six years old and up - all dressed in their safety orange event t-shirts ready to roll up their sleeves and get to work.
A yellow school bus rolls into the parking lot, and, along with the head football coach, 80 Homerville Panther football players unload ready to tackle the day. The coach encouraged his players to take advantage of this opportunity to give back to the community that supports them under the Friday Night Lights, and that is exactly what they did, giving up a Saturday morning to jump in and serve. The technology department from the High School also came out flying a drone over the town capturing miles of orange t-shirts as work teams spread out in different areas.
“The registration was online, and we encouraged groups to sign-up and pick team names,” Rev. Carter explained. “Groups really had fun with this. The teams included the hospital, Board of Education, local businesses, civic groups, churches, industries, a boy scout troop, families and individuals.
“It truly brought all ages and all walks of life in Homerville together for a common purpose - to make the town they love more beautiful,” he said.
The pride in this community even extended beyond local residents. There was a mystery team named “Rhonda’s Georgia House” signed up for the event. Rev. Carter later learned this was a group from Florida who traveled each year to enjoy deer hunting in Clinch County, eventually purchasing a house, hence the name Rhonda’s Georgia Home. Joining in the energy and community spirit, these Floridians also offered themselves for this day of service.
All in a four hour time span Homerville was transformed: a Boy Scout troop - with the blessing of the Fire Chief - painted fire hydrants; a team of ladies re-striped an entire parking lot by the Post Office; litter pick-up happened all throughout the city limits; medians were spruced up; the historic city office building, which houses the Huxford Genealogical Library, received some much needed care; and mowing, edging, and debris clean up called for some hard-core teams breaking out front-end loaders and other equipment.
Because of Hands on Homerville an overgrown city park was cleaned up by a local industry business. These business leaders, after seeing the success of the event, adopted the park and installed new playground equipment providing a revitalized place for recreation and enjoyment for all ages.
“We are all amazed by all that has been accomplished and the spirit in which it has been done,” Rev. Carter said. What did these workers receive for their labor? A free t-shirt, a boxed lunch, and the pride of accomplishing so much together for their community.
“This is an accomplishment they visually see each and every day,” he said.
Carter continues to hear stories of in-kind donations from businesses, the impact on those who served, and the appreciation from city and county employees that find it challenging at times to keep on top of all that needs to be done.
It is well known that Homerville UMC and the Main Street Program are the coordinators of this event, but if you ask around to find out who is responsible for this beautification project, you will hear simply, “Hands on Homerville.” The community has shaped, supported, and taken ownership of this event, and those spearheading this effort love that this is where the credit is given and feel the credit is due.
Plans are already underway for 2023 with anticipation of continued growth. Rev. Carter says he now has individuals sharing things they have noticed which need attention around town and want to add to the project list for the future.
Interested in coordinating an event like this in your community? For more information and best practices, reach out to Rev. Joseph Carter at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Allison Lindsey is a member of St. Mark UMC in Douglas, Ga. and chairs the Conference Nurture Team.