Opening of Hope Center celebrated in Sophia

By Audrey Stanton-Smith

“They’ll know we are Christians by our love.”

“That’s what this is all about,” Gary Hartsog, secretary of The Hope Center Board of Directors, told a group of nearly 40 people gathered Palm Sunday afternoon at 410 West Main Street in Sophia to celebrate the dedication of a new community outreach center for Raleigh and Wyoming counties.

Sunday’s service at The Hope Center included words of thanks to board members, volunteers, contractors, churches, donors, and others involved in preparing the former doctor’s office for its new purpose.

Those in attendance also heard a message from Bishop Sandra Steiner Ball and an invitation from Southern District Superintendent Chip Bennett to spend time in prayer as they walked through the building, viewing the former exam rooms that will now serve as classrooms, meeting spaces, and hands-on learning labs.

Bennett called it “a shining example of what ministry can look like.”

“We so often get wrapped up in what we do not have, that we fail to recognize what we do have,” Bennett said, attributing the success of the debt-free building to the combined efforts of several United Methodist churches within the district, the conference, and from as far as Williamsburg, Va.

“This place is a way of offering help with honor and respect,” Hartsog said, explaining that visitors to The Hope Center won’t need to meet any economic guidelines or feel pressured to do anything other than be part of an environment that teaches practical ways to improve the lives of children, adults and seniors, free of charge.

‘If somebody needs help with math, we’ll set up a math cohort with three or four kids and tutors,” he said.

But math help is just one of the many skills volunteers with Hope in the Mountains, Inc. — a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit, ecumenical mission project of the Southern District of the West Virginia Conference of the United Methodist Church — plan to support at The Hope Center. The center intends to be a healthy environment that offers classes to adults in areas such as basic financial management and healthy cooking, and to students where help is needed with homework. Summer enrichment programs for children, including those involving Spring Heights, are in the planning stages.

“I think the people who are involved in this project prayed deeply and listened for God’s direction, listened to the stories of the community,” Steiner Ball said. “They did not assume what was needed, but worked to get to know the community, listened to their desires, to their distress, to their pain, and in building this center, thought not about bricks and mortar but thought about how they can really help raise the people out of distress and give them hope and new life and new opportunities.” 

In her message, Steiner Ball quoted scripture from the book of Nehemiah, in which the wall of Jerusalem is rebuilt. 

“Nehemiah’s purpose was to elevate people … to bring hope and healing to the distressed. Isn’t that exactly what Jesus did in his ministry? He elevated the people and brought hope and healing to the distressed, and this is exactly the ministry to which we continue to be called today. This building’s purpose is to elevate people and to bring healing and hope to the distressed. It’s a good mission and a good ministry,”

This isn’t the first time the site has been used as a place of healing, Hartsog noted as he thanked Dr. Joseph Golden for giving Hope in the Mountains “one heck of a deal” when he retired and closed his practice.

“It’s a wonderful feeling,” Golden said of seeing what his old office has become. “We wanted the building to go to something that would be useful for the community, and this definitely is.”

“What’s happening here is another type of healing,” added Golden’s wife, Peggy Burkhardt. “His approach was always holistic, and that continues here with the healing of many things, the social issues and reasons behind why many people get sick.”

For more information on The Hope Center, visit the website

Photos for this article taken by Jonathan D. Schwitzerlette