By KATHLEEN SHAW
Daily News-Record 10/22/20
When Tony Brown discovered Our Community Place in 2017, he was living in a tent. After deciding to leave his life in the woods behind, he walked into OCP, unsure of what he may find. Brown became a volunteer by the next week, moved to be a donor within months and found housing two years later through OCP, as well as the courage to live there, he said in a livestream.
To celebrate the victories for people like Brown, OCP hosted a virtual fall gala on Saturday to raise awareness and funds for community assistance operations. Saturday’s Mask-erade event combined the organization’s annual fall gala and Christmas concert fundraisers into a single event and raised $28,145.
Originally, the organization set a $20,000 goal. Before the weekend, that goal was met. By Saturday,
the new $25,000 goal was also surpassed. At 5 p.m. that evening, OCP raised $27,520, so it set a final goal of $30,000 for the evening.
Throughout the virtual event, individuals heard testimonials from OCP workers, acoustic music from local artists and annual updates from Executive Director Sam Nickels.
Funds were raised by dinner sales, silent auction and donations. A slate top pool table, valued at $2,500, was available for auction.
Nickels said the idea to host the combined fundraiser, “Mask-erade,” was to take a negative representation of the current times and transform it into something cheerful.
“In the midst of this pandemic where there is so much suffering and stress from changed schedules and inability to do things we used to do, we’re still going to celebrate life,” he said. “We’re going to do it with the tools we have — masks — and celebrate the fact we can still come together.”
Brown shared his testimonial over livestream and said that adamant, resilient positivity is a core asset at OCP and helps change lives. Looking back to his first day at OCP, Brown remembered the sense of understanding and acceptance that radiated from the team.
“I held hands with a circle of people I did not know but would come soon to know and love. And I named one thing I was grateful for, which was being there,” Brown said.
Providing the same community services is hard enough during the pandemic, Brown said, yet OCP had expanded its offerings to delivering weekly meals as far as 30 minutes away, increasing case management services and expanding housing. “Every damn day is both an opportunity and a challenge. Under Sam’s leadership, OCP has met the multiple challenges of the COVID era,” Brown said. “We suddenly could not hold hands in a circle, but Sam and his dedicated staff did not ban the circle. Instead, the circle grew far beyond the walls of the building.”
Nickels said the organization has expanded to better assist vulnerable populations with the difficulties of the pandemic through increasing services to seven days a week, hiring new housing and case management staff, and bringing on additional kitchen staff.
Tim Cummings began volunteering at OCP in April, delivering hot meals to at-risk people living in motels during the pandemic. Cummings quickly rose to the position of housing specialist and coordinated over the past five months as OCP and Mercy House have found and facilitated housing for 34 individuals, and permanent housing is in the works for seven others.
In 2019, OCP served 17,000 meals. This year, the hot meal program served over 21,000 meals.
Nickels said the fall fundraiser serves as a thank you to all those who contribute to OCP’s mission of providing for neighbors in need.
“We couldn’t do what we do without innumerable contributions from families who buy food, farmers who drop off tomatoes, people who have slaughtered a beef cow that’s big and they bring the whole thing by,” Nickels said. “Nobody wants a receipt. Nobody wants to be thanked.”
Locally renowned chef Tassie Pippert prepared 130 meals alongside OCP kitchen staff on Saturday, which were sent for delivery and livestreamed. Meal recipients were encouraged to wear the most interesting mask they owned, so people could watch the interactions from home.
Talent from the Valley such as Scott Murray, Amy Martin and Trent Wagler from The Steel Wheels sent several clips of themselves singing songs with guitar accompaniments, played between breaks from fundraising updates and testimonials.
Spiky hair and scuffed guitar filled the video’s frame as Ketch Secor of Old Crow Medicine Show played an acoustic set of “Dixie Avenue,” the 2018 country hit that highlights his upbringing in Rockingham County. At the end, Secor dedicated the performance to the OCP’s efforts to uplift the community.
“For all the ways you bring people together with love and decency. With respect and with the thought of education, opportunity, burritos. And drum circles posted by Leons Kabongo,” he said. “All knitted together with a spirit of peace, unity, kindness.”