New Center brings Hope in the Mountains

By Audrey Stanton-Smith

They may look like simple boxes of food. To those in need, though, each box is a special Thanksgiving dinner. And to those who filled those boxes, it’s a first glimmer of the hope they plan to carry out through many community outreaches.

Volunteers at a new community center in Sophia — a project of Hope in the Mountains, Inc. — plan to offer residents of southern Raleigh County and western Wyoming County hope in many forms. This past week, hope came in the form of 50 boxes stuffed with canned goods, pies, rolls, canned ham, corn, green beans, instant mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, and gravy.

“God has been at work here. But we’re not exactly open yet, due to Covid,” explained Pastor David Rumberg, board chairman of Hope in the Mountains and pastor of Sophia United Methodist Church. “Once we are, we will have a clothing closet, food pantry, a community center.”

Board members of Hope in the Mountains, a non-profit corporation, envision a public space with Internet access, programs for seniors and youth, tutoring and homework help, arts and crafts, and free classes on life skills and a variety of topics at the Hope Center in Sophia. 

“We plan to help folks with things like immediate needs — food, clothing, help with shelter …,” explained Gary Hartsog, secretary of the board. “The other part is that we need to take a longer view to try to help children get a little better start in academics as well as life skills.”

From budgeting and checkbook balancing to cooking classes, Hartsog said the board and volunteers look toward a time when they can safely help people of all ages with whatever their needs may be.

“The whole idea is to help them live better, more self-sufficient lives, and to me, that’s a lot of what the Christian approach should be,” Hartsog said.

Though it is a mission project of the Southern District of the United Methodist Church West Virginia Conference, board members did not want to place the center within a church. Instead, the Hope Center is quietly setting up such things in a former doctor’s office at 410 West Main Street, Sophia.

“A big part of the reason that we have moved toward this clinic location is to get away from the barrier that the idea of church has with some people,” Hartsog said. “We want to carry the message not so much in words, but in deeds.”

The organization’s board is made up of members of Sophia UMC, Mabscott UMC, Beckley Community UMC, and United Methodist Temple. But they aren’t limiting volunteer help to members of their own churches. Hartsog said board members have been in discussion with different churches in the area, community organizations, and with the 4-H Extension Service.

“We can do far more together than separate,” said Rev. Dr. Joe Kenaston, Southern District Superintendent for the United Methodist Church W.Va. Conference. “This will take us several years. … We’re starting small. And it is a sign of what God is doing in the midst of a pandemic, that we can start a new ministry in southern West Virginia.”

Kenaston said the center will have its own assigned worker in the future, but board members decided to move ahead with volunteers because of the need in the area. They’re modeling the center after the United Methodist Church’s Upshur Parish House in Buckhannon.

“We’re calling it a soft opening,” Hartsog said, “given the Covid situation and the fact that we’re just getting our feet under us.”

Rumberg said the Thanksgiving boxes give the board hope of its own, that it can grow and continue helping those in need. All of the money spent on the Thanksgiving boxes came strictly from donations, allowing the volunteers to reach out to school social workers and the DHHR to identify recipients. Plans are already underway to carry out a similar project for Christmas.

“I think it’s a sign of hope,” Kenaston said. “It’s an opportunity for people, for neighbors to help neighbors, and it’s the mercy of Christ being extended.”

Hope in the Mountains is in the processes of applying for tax-exempt status as a 501-c-3, but until that is granted, board members request that donations be made through a local United Methodist Church with
“Hope in the Mountains” written in the memo line, or mailed to the Southern District of the United Methodist Church at 213 South Heber Street, Beckley, WV 25801.

On Facebook, visit Hope Center WV.

Audrey Stanton-Smith is the Southern District Communications Coordinator.