We say it before meals, sing about it in church and associate it with a ballerina’s bearing and poise. But what does grace really mean to us in Richmond County?
Merriam-Webster’s defines grace as “disposition to or an act or instance of kindness, courtesy or clemency.” It’s a word with spiritual and temporal connotations, and both are evident at The Place of Grace, a fledgling tent city for homeless Richmond County men and women.
Mark Joplin, a concerned resident who helped spearhead a grassroots effort to provide Rockingham-area homeless people with a safe space, teamed up with the Rev. Gary Richardson of New Life Church. Richardson is providing church-owned land to house a community of care for the down and out.
The tent city will include a 250-gallon water tank for drinking, cooking and washing, portable toilets and an on-site manager. Organizers are working to prepare the site in anticipation of a Sept. 6 kickoff and fundraiser event. The Place of Grace will host a community cookout, bringing prospective donors together with the homeless people the site will serve.
Joplin, who incorporated the nonrpofit group Transitional Services of Richmond County this month, is working toward the goal of a permanent homeless shelter and an array of mental health, substance abuse and job-training services to offer those who take refuge there.
The Place of Grace represents the first step down a long road to helping Richmond County’s homeless. For a place where the issue can be unnecessarily divisive, that first step is significant.
Rockingham’s longtime homeless shelter, the historic Baker House, was destroyed in an August 2013 fire. The Mental Health Society of Richmond County tried to rebuild the shelter, but grousing neighbors and appointed city zoning officials blocked the project. The shelter’s charred shell was demolished about three months ago.
Homeowners who lived near the Baker House complained of crime and social ills and successfully pressured the Rockingham Board of Adjustment to give a new shelter the thumbs-down. We wish they would have been a bit more gracious and instead came to city leaders with the willingness to find workable solutions to their problems.
While government failed to help Richmond County’s homeless, private citizens and our faith community have stepped up to the plate. We’re heartened to see concerned residents reaching out to give a hand up to brothers and sisters plagued by poverty, addiction and mental illness.
By taking it upon themselves to improve living conditions in their community, Joplin and Richardson are setting a tremendous example. We’d all do well to follow it.
We hope churches, local nonprofits, civic clubs and families come together to support the Place of Grace. Homelessness is a complex problem, but it’s nothing an entire community working together can’t get a handle on.
Richmond County — and all of us, for that matter — could use a little more grace in our lives.