When Cecily was working under the direction of Erie Sauder at Sauder Village, she was freer to focus on other things in the winter since the Village was closed for the season. Erie didn’t mind if she left work to volunteer for a good cause, and her first assignment was to build on an existing Christmas Cheer program in Fulton County. Cecily sought donors, raised money, and invited local schools, churches, and civic groups to gather items to stock a temporary “store” where needy families could pick their own Christmas foods, toiletries, blankets, and even brand new toys.
When Cecily began 31 years ago, there was $613 with which to serve about 300 children. In December 2014, the program helped 650 families, which included 1,200 children. Christmas Cheer now has a toy store, a grocery store, and a miscellaneous store that stocks closeout items such as hats, gloves, and mittens donated by merchants and area residents throughout the year.
It takes two days to setup at the Junior Fair building, located at the Fulton County Fairgrounds, with the help of FFA members to do the heavy lifting, set up shelves, and carry merchandise. Meanwhile, other teams of volunteers collect donations from schools throughout the county, sort and stock items, and donate and deliver a noon meal and baked goods for the setup crew.
Families in need are identified by local agencies and schools and are given a chance to register for the event. On one of the two pick-up days, they come to do their Christmas shopping. With a volunteer shopper to assist them, and a certain number of points to spend, the shopping and relationship-building begins.
Christmas Cheer volunteers come from various schools, churches, and organizations, and cherish the opportunity, saying Christmas Cheer kicks off their holiday season, and reminds them what Christmas is really about. People who were helped in the past with the program return to volunteer and pay it forward.
Cecily deflects praise for her work, saying, “Christmas Cheer doesn’t need me anymore.” Her only task now is to send an annual letter requesting donations. Workers don’t need to be notified of dates and times through any formal announcement; they are so dedicated they simply appear ready to work!
While Cecily was busy with Christmas Cheer, 20 years ago, Jerry helped establish a furniture ministry that serves Fulton and northern Henry Counties. People and retail stores donate good, used furniture and/or appliances. He and a team of volunteers pick up and store the items in warehouse space donated by a local factory. Churches, social service agencies, and organizations call when the people they serve need help. About 200 sofas and 100 mattresses are delivered per year, covering 10,000 miles. Jerry recalls delivering a bed and mattress to a retired man with cancer who lived alone and slept on a nest of sheets in the corner.
When Cecily learned an Archbold woman with five children had been evicted, and the closest shelter was in Bryan, she thought, “This community can do better than that,” and decided to open a homeless shelter in Fulton County. Five shelters are presently providing housing for 23 people. Shepherding Cecily and Jerry’s next project evolved from working with shelter residents. Each person had a lot of baggage, no one to rely on, and needed someone who could guide them. It was a huge undertaking and not one the Rohrs’ could handle on their own, so Shepherd’s Circle was born.
Shepherds are volunteers who receive five hours of training to help them assist individuals who may be homeless, low-income, former addicts and/or inmates. They teach budgeting and decision making skills; help secure employment; arrange transportation to and from work until the person is able to drive; offer guidance through court hearings; listen; and assist in times of crisis. This kind of uplift and support has moved many individuals from chronic joblessness to permanent full-time employment. Stabilizing a family’s primary provider also improves the life of each family member.
Cecily says relationships give people value: “It is important to expose the heart. Being a shepherd isn’t easy. There are days of pain and heartache. Our job is to keep doing the right thing. These are not surefooted people. They are good people who have made some bad choices. You cannot lie. You must be real. The shepherd may be the last plank in their bridge. Liking and accepting people where they are is transformational. We can sometimes break the cycle. We won’t throw anyone away, or call the police on them. If they are using drugs or alcohol, they are not ready for us yet. If someone falls off, we don’t go with them. Someone else is waiting, and there is another story within that new someone.”
Jerry and Cecily like people, not paperwork. Many years ago, Job & Family Services asked Cecily to make Christmas Cheer a private non-profit organization. As such, it is independent, doesn’t have to follow quotas, or generate excess paperwork. Cecily has since created non-profits for Shepherd’s Circle and the homeless shelters. “When someone needs help, they don’t need a committee, or pages of bylaws. If it’s in the best interest of a person and the community, we just do it.”
Cecily and Jerry don’t worry about tomorrow, and have faith that everyone’s needs will be met, as funding, food, and housing seems to arrive as needed. Together, they have conceived multiple ways to connect people from seemingly diverse worlds and give new life to some of society’s neediest outcasts, transforming the lives of their children and descendants. Together, they find ways to reach out, rescue, and restore.
Published: December 2015 - Living Today