|United Methodists walk across Alabama for poverty|
Jonathan Correia, a volunteer with Alabama Rural Ministry, helps clean up an
elderly woman’s yard in Selma, Ala. A UMNS photos by Barry Simmons.
By Barry Simmons*
July 15, 2009 | SELMA, Ala. (UMNS)
Lisa Pierce expected the sore feet and blisters when she set out to
walk 168 miles across Alabama. It was the purple rash that crept up her
calves that surprised her.
"Pesticide poisoning," she said, as she dodged traffic along a busy
stretch of U.S. 80 just outside Selma. "It's been more of a
challenge than what I think I bargained for."
Pierce runs the United Methodist nonprofit Alabama Rural Ministry,
which she started more than a decade ago to provide home repairs for
families in this poverty-stricken area. Over the years, she has
dispatched teams of volunteers throughout the region to re-shingle
roofs, clear brush and install plumbing for more than 2,000 homes.
Now in its 11th year, the Auburn-based ARM is struggling in the
current economy – like many of those it helps. So Pierce decided to
attempt a different kind of fundraiser.
"We just felt like we needed to do something bold and big," she
said. "There's moments I think when you have to really not only dare
other people but dare yourself."
Pierce settled on an 11-day walk, with a goal of raising $111,000 and promoting greater awareness of poverty housing.
"People who are challenged with low-income houses, they have a lot
to deal with," she said. "So to come out and deal with the hot sun and
just to think about what families go through, it helps you relate in a
certain way that poverty's hard, and this walk is hard."
Pierce began her journey in Tuskegee. Along the way, she was joined
by a handful of supporters, including the Rev. Fred Zeigler, who leads
Church Street United Methodist Church in Selma.
On this day, with temperatures soaring above 90 degrees, Pierce's
group had grown to six, including two teenage girls wearing flip-flops.
As they made their way along the highway's shoulder, a car honked.
"Just to call awareness to the need of the folks around here is very
important," Zeigler said. "The church is vitally involved in doing
Lisa Pierce (front, blue shorts) is joined by a youth group from
Dothan, Ala., on the poverty walk along U.S. 80 at Selmont.
Pierce waved, though she wasn't sure if the honk was made in support or disbelief.
"My board of directors have said we're crazy," she said. "People just look at us and go, 'Good luck with that!'"
"Lisa just has a passion about helping people that are less
fortunate than she is," said her mom, Denise Merrill. Recently laid off
from her own job, Merrill followed her daughter in a support van
equipped with ice, water and bedding supplies.
"I'm kind of the cheerleader," she said.
Five days into the walk, with 70 miles behind her, Pierce was
surprised by a busload of youth from Dothan United Methodist Church who
drove in to join her for several miles.
With an entourage now numbering more than 75, Pierce stood amazed as kids continued filing out of the bus.
"This makes my day right here," she said, smiling. "This makes it really all worthwhile."
Motivated to act
Even before she'd reached the finish line, Pierce and a few of her
supporters took a day off to help clear brush from the neglected house
of a woman now living in a nursing home.
"It's actually getting up and doing it," said 23-year-old Jonathan
Correia, describing what the experience meant to him as he operated a
gas-powered weed trimmer. "Putting your feet to the ground and doing
what you say you're going to do."
Pierce exceeded her goal by raising $113,000 for the walk, which
ended in Livingston, Ala. Inspired by the experience, said she is
already planning another walk next year.
*Simmons is a freelance producer based in Nashville, Tenn.
News media contact: Fran Coode Walsh, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Affordable Housing for Elderly
Housing the Homeless
Home Repairs Bring Hope
'ARM Across Alabama' help raise awareness of poverty
ARM Across Alabama - 11 Day Walk Raises Awareness About Poverty
Alabama Rural Ministry
Alabama-West Florida Conference
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