New Location for Columbus Industries in the Wake of Hurricane Matthew is “Blessing in Disguise”

One year ago, Monarch staff in Whiteville were looking for a new location to move Columbus Industries, a day program that supports people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD). Little did they know, that need would become more urgent as Hurricane Matthew strengthened and plowed toward the North Carolina coast that October.

Matthew, the most powerful Atlantic storm in nearly a decade, resulted in loss of life, left thousands without homes and left more than a billion dollars in damage in the state. Columbus Industries was caught in the wake.

“Group homes and day programs were flooded and we had staff and people we support that were completely displaced, so it was a very traumatic time because it wasn’t just their day program that was lost. Even if they weren’t displaced or didn’t lose any of their belongings themselves, many of their family members did,” said Amy Chavis, Monarch’s director of program operations in eastern North Carolina.

Even though they had lost so much, the people supported and staff members were still helping others by volunteering to clean up and deliver food and water to those in the community who did not have any. Still, without a day program to attend, the need to find a new home for Columbus Industries grew.

In the months that followed, Monarch staff members came across Barefoot Church, a large parish in north Myrtle Beach with a campus in Whiteville, where one of their ministries works with people with IDD. Only about three miles away from the flooded location, the church was established as the new place for participants of Columbus Industries to flourish, and by March 2017, Monarch had moved in.

“Moving to Barefoot Church hasn’t changed our schedule or activities, in fact, it has allowed us more opportunities. We have more space and the pastors have opened up the entire church to us,” said Susie Nathan, community engagement team leader at Columbus Industries.

The sanctuary is used often on days when there is choir practice, Monarch staff and people supported utilize the audio system and it also serves as a space for play rehearsals leading up to the holidays. The greatest benefit is that the church is a more immediate and consistent way for people supported to be involved in the community.

“We’re in a great location now, it’s definitely an upgrade. We’re in a shopping center so there’s always people coming by and people we support can walk to the store or a restaurant, and they have really been welcomed by the employees at these businesses. Participants enjoyed coming to the program before, but now it seems they are more enthusiastic and they feel more valued,” said Nathan.

One of the people supported is Bobby Galloway who has been attending the Columbus Industries day program for more than a decade. He said he enjoys going to Columbus Industries more now because he can get more involved.

“On Wednesday mornings, we can go to Bible study, I can walk to McDonald’s, the people there are great to me. I like coming here too because I just really like to help and encourage others,” said Galloway.

“They tell me how much they love it here and sometimes I’ll ask them, what can we do to make it even better for you? And they say, this is it Miss Susie, we love it. Their parents and guardians love it here as well, we get a lot of compliments, no complaints,” said Nathan.

More than one hundred people joined together to celebrate the partnership on a Sunday afternoon in June, an event Barefoot Church coordinated to welcome Columbus Industries and included a choir performance by participants.

“Under such a difficult situation, where we had already been looking for space when we got displaced, Barefoot Church was the perfect combination,” said Chavis. “Everything fell together and it has really been a blessing in disguise. It’s more than a landlord type of relationship with the church, they’re very interested and involved in what we do.”

Photo: Columbus Industries participants perform at a welcome celebration at Barefoot Church in Whiteville.

Posted on: Sunday September 24, 2017