Back in the 1970’s, I became one of three paid staff working for Community Volunteer Services, a non-profit aid and social work agency in Myrtle Beach, SC. We were not paid much, and our salaries allowed for a very limited lifestyle, but the other “payments” were priceless.
My first involvement started with filling in for a few weeks for Jon Leiter, the family service director, while he filled in teaching school for a few weeks.
I did not know there were such severely underprivileged areas in Myrtle Beach, but I soon found out. Likely today most people don’t know there were and are such places. Say “Myrtle Beach,” and you think golf, the beach and endless miles of restaurants and shopping centers. You have to work to find the sections like Racepath where we mainly working.
Jon’s then girlfriend and now wife of many years, Mary, envisioned a child development center in this one neighborhood. Mary is kind of a Norma Rae character, which I say with great affection and respect. Little will stop her, and her visions are deep and loving. She was and is all about working closely with people and helping to bring out their abilities.
I was hired to be the project coordinator to turn a donated little house into the said center. With no experience along these lines, save for a little construction experience and eagerness for the position, it was trial by fire with a huge and rapid learning curve.
One of the standout characters in the whole drama was Auggie Gause, a teenager in the neighborhood who loved us but went out of his way to torment us and round up other kids with him to try to make life difficult for us. Auggie was beyond mischievous. You loved him and wanted to strangle him at the same time.
That was 1975. Several years went by and I moved back to my native Massachusetts. One night in the 1990’s my phone rang. It was Auggie. He tracked me down because he wanted to catch up and let me know that Jon and Mary and I inspired him toward his present career as a minister with a very giving mission. You could have knocked me over with a feather. Over the years Auggie and I have stayed in touch and have occasionally seen each other.
Fast forward to March of this year. I ended up moving back to Myrtle Beach. This morning I called Auggie and asked if I could drop in on him, which I did. Thirty-nine years later, and he is still inspired with his very active ministry. Money is always in short supply and always has been, but Auggie has enormous faith and seems to be pretty much in a constant state of communication with God.
He has after school and summer programs for children, yearly Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners, and ongoing support for a number of people in all kinds of ways. He told me that he is now gearing up to reach out to help some families in other communities, even though he does not know where money or supplies will come from.
Along the way his house was firebombed by drug dealers, and he was threatened with a gun to his face and told he would end up in a body bag because of his efforts to get rid of the dealers and bring healthy life to his area. He has faced many hardships, including relentless ailments, some serious and ongoing. He has experienced the loss of family members and many others. And always his vision is forward-looking.
We talked about the power of love as the number one force for helping one another. My life was changed forever by my early days with Auggie and others in his neighborhood, and the same is true for a number of other people I know.
Aside from the fact that it was great to see him this morning, I say prayers that he will receive more support so he can touch more people. We will continue to see each other.