By John Tompkins

Two local residents are working to bring an organization known as “Love In the Name of Christ” to Rockbridge County.

The national nonprofit organization coordinates and mobilizes local church outreach across denominational lines. Instead of giving out money, Love INC aids in the donation of resources, such as furniture, to those in need. The organization’s employees and volunteers seek to form lasting, Christ-centered relationships with those they serve.

Becca Cash and Debbie Brown decided to try to bring Love INC to the area after they saw that their local church could not meet certain community needs.

“There’s nothing linking the churches; there’s a lack of coordination,” Cash said. “People want to participate and serve in their community, but they don’t know how.”

Both women are social workers in Augusta County, but live in Rockbridge County and attend Fairfield Presbyterian Church.

Love INC was founded in 1977 and now has more than 155 branches across 30 states. It boasts a network of more than 9,000 churches, 7,000 community-based organizations, and 300,000 volunteers. Love INC began expanding internationally in 2008, when it opened five affiliates in Kenya.

The Staunton-Waynesboro-Augusta County branch of Love INC is the organization’s closest presence to Rockbridge County. A local affiliate could take two years to establish.

Cash said she refers many of her clients to the nearby Love INC affiliate in Augusta County, which began operating in October 2012. Several of her clients have found the organization to be helpful.

Debbie Ramsey, executive director of the Augusta branch, said that volunteering and Christianity are at the core of Love INC’s work. According to Ramsey, Love INC focuses on the stories of those they help, not just their needs.

“We facilitate opportunities for people to serve in the local community. We give local churches the opportunity to get out into the mission field,” Ramsey said. “One of the hardest things for anyone to do is give up their time, and that’s what we ask for, for people to get into lives, to walk with people.”

However, according to Ramsey, starting a Love INC branch is no easy task. She said it takes a great deal of commitment. Potential founders must get at least six different denominations of Christian churches to agree to collaborate in the area in which the affiliate will operate.

Cash said that she and Brown are in the beginning stages of bringing Love INC to Rockbridge County. However, they have already faced some challenges.

According to Cash, it has been difficult to get some area churches to commit to a coordinated volunteer effort and make it clear to local residents that there is a need for a Love INC affiliate in Rockbridge County. She said that poverty in Rockbridge County, especially in the city of Lexington, is often “out of sight, out of mind.”

Poverty estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau, released in 2013, show that poverty 25.2% of City of Lexington residents live below the federal poverty level; in Rockbridge County, the number is 12.6%.

“When you initially look at Lexington, you think it’s more affluent. But in my experience, when you start venturing away from the city’s main hub, you get to areas that are more poverty-stricken,” Cash said.

All Love INC branches adhere to the same development model and have a strict application process for clients who seek the organization’s help, to ensure that their needs are legitimate. However, according to Ramsey, the outreach area and efforts at each affiliate vary.

The “Loving Your Neighbor” program is one operation that is unique to the Augusta County Love INC. The branch’s clients can enroll in a series of life skills classes, ranging from parenting to financial management, through the program.

“Right now we have approximately 30 families that are participating in the ‘Loving Your Neighbor’ program,” said Ramsey. “They have to make a commitment to 12 weeks of taking the classes and showing up on time and staying the entire time.”

If participants fulfill that commitment, they can earn vouchers for items they cannot buy with their food stamps.

Cash said that learning from other branches is critical while developing a new Love INC. She previously met with Ramsey and is interested in bringing some of the Augusta affiliate’s ideas, including the “Loving Your Neighbor” program, to a future Rockbridge branch.

Even though it may be two years before she and Brown formally establish the nonprofit in Rockbridge County, Cash said the obstacles do not daunt them.

“I am optimistic,” Cash said. “The challenges that have been brought up; they’re not insurmountable. There’s definitely a need here, and we’re in it for the long haul.”

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