Blue Ridge Hope is here to help.
The Rev. Travis Smith, who holds a masters degree in pastoral counseling will not only be there for survivors of recent family deaths, those going through other individual or family crisis, but his services are often available for free.
Several granting agencies recognize Rev. Smith's heart for those who can't pay; and they have stepped in to help him help low-income folks. His Main Street, Forest City office is open to all. He does very much appreciate those who can pay.
His favorite story of helping folks with grief comes from a day he spent working as a hospice chaplain.
"I went to a very modest home in Henrietta. There were even holes in the floor I had to step over to get to a back bedroom where a man lay dying," Smith recalled. The man said, "Preacher, the worst part of dying is leaving my family behind."
Within a matter of hours, he was in what he figures was a $2 million home in Lake Lure, walked across a marble foyer to reach a man dying in an ornate bed. He said, "The worst part of dying is leaving my family behind."
For Smith, it was one of those lightning strike moments of insight. In the end, money is not important.
Maybe not in the end, but what about before you reach the end? One example is needing money to pay for the kind of care Smith offers in his 155 East Main Street, Forest City office of Blue Ridge Hope. "We do have grants from agencies that understand the kind of care we offer is not always something people can pay for."
Among those who have funded Blue Ridge Hope are private donors, The Area Agency on Aging, The Stonecutter Foundation, and North Carolina Caregiver Support. Smith and his allies are always open to new grant opportunities and private donor support.
Among his most vital allies is his wife, Allyson. When asked how she helps, he said, "It would easier to list how she doesn't help, because she helps in so many ways." He listed sounding board, emotional support, social media marketing, website maintenance, graphic design, grant writing, manual labor, almost every aspect of the agency's work. She is also the leader on the new work being done by the group to address health and wholeness along with another volunteer, Kristin Austin, who is a nurse practitioner. These two women look to move the agency more and more into nutrition, exercise, home health care and other areas that address the needs of the whole person.
And although Blue Ridge Hope serves people of all incomes, the focus is always on the 19 percent of Rutherford County that lives in poverty.
Since Smith emphasizes overall wellness, what does he think hobbles low-income people from getting well, especially around issues of grief, change, surviving hardships, recovery, other issues he addresses?
He listed transportation, child care, employment and educational opportunities, housing, medical care, but he felt a critical missing component is an "Anatomy of hope. They don't have in their bodies a sense they can get things done. They haven't had experiences that give them the idea they can achieve anything."
Doing almost anything requires believing we can.
Among Smith's allies are his agency's board of directors, local leaders: John Miracle, Amber Gibson, Rodney Greene, Danielle Williams, Jennifer Goossens, Jackie Hampton, and Kirk Wilkerson.
Blue Ridge Hope serves all comers regardless of religious background or sexual orientation. The agency's website is blueridgehope,org and phone number is 828-305-9806. Donations can be made online. Checks can be mailed to P.O. Box 1138, Forest City 28043.
What does Smith offer those suffering from grief in particular?
"Understanding. I want them to know they are understood. Grief is different for everybody, but when they forget their children's phone numbers or miss an appointment, I tell them that is to be expected. I've been down a road similar to the one they're on many times. I know it is dark, but I'm holding a lantern. They may have a rough time, but I want them to know i will keep holding that lantern.
"One man lost his wife and was devastated. He had no idea how much he had depended on her. He tried to manage his grief by looking for new romantic relationships. He's not from around here, so nobody will recognize him. It was too soon and those romantic relationships failed and failed, but we worked together for four years and eventually he found a successful new relationship. I even did some pre-marital counseling for them. They are now doing great; and he gives Blue Ridge Hope a lot of credit for their success. He even recently sent the agency a check for a thousand dollars to thank us."
Checks of any size are greatly appreciated.
Smith has been doing grief counseling for 14 years.
He is the consummate servant, volunteering with the committee opening the new park in downtown Forest City and meeting as a volunteer weekly with a group of spiritual conversationalists at the Twisted Pear in Forest City. That group is called Sacred Ale and can be found on Facebook or in person at seven on Tuesday nights. He has also run a free book study recently on Bryan Stevenson's Just Mercy, the New York Times Bestseller that tells the story of an innocent man convicted of murder and other heartbreaking stories of justice gone wrong.
He also serves as Family Minister for Salem United Methodist Church and teaches at the seminary at Gardner Webb University, both paying jobs. He and Allyson live in Forest City and work hard to improve the quality of life for all whose lives they touch.
He tells his students at Gardner Webb, "Nobody will ever ask you your grade point average on a job interview. As important as education is, the end all and be all is love, relationships, connections, community."