Brittney Burns – Staff Writer
From April 2015 to April 2016, Macon New Beginnings took the opportunity to help 172 individuals in the community who are either homeless or at risk of being homeless. Last year, when the volunteers with Macon New Beginnings were laying out the plans for what they hoped to accomplish in the coming year, they planned to help just over 40 individuals. Now a year into their service to the community, Macon New Beginnings was able to help 94 people avoid becoming homeless, including 38 children and infants. They also helped 78 people in a time of crisis, which included 30 children and infants.
“Franklin was voted the 2015 Best Small Town,” Bob Bourke told members of the Franklin Board of Aldermen last week. “Franklin is the Best Small Town but for a different reason. I believe Franklin is the Best Small Town because of how it has addressed our homeless challenge.”
Bourke and his wife Debbie are the leaders behind Macon New Beginnings, and with the help of volunteers who have put in 1,150 volunteer hours over the last year, have managed to begin the first steps toward addressing the county’s homeless epidemic.
“There was one gentlemen who came to us without a place to live, and in 24 hours, he had permanent housing and a job,” said Bourke. “And that isn’t because of what we did, that’s a testament to this community. That is because of landlords stepping up to waive first month’s rent, and business owners willing to take a chance to provide someone with an opportunity. That’s why this community is so great.”
Bourke said that Macon New Beginnings has been able to help as many people as they have because churches have donated time, money, and food, local governments such as the town of Franklin have approved grants to help offset the overhead of running the non-profit, and business owners, motels and landlord and civic organizations have all stepped up to offer their services and help when it is needed.
Macon New Beginnings focuses on homeless prevention and is working to develop a crisis shelter to help those in transition. They also provide backpacks that have essentials such as snacks, hygiene products, and socks to be distributed to those in need. In 2016, Bourke informed the Franklin Board of Aldermen that Macon New Beginnings will be taking over the responsibilities of the Serving Spoon, a weekly free community meal.
For years now, the Serving Spoon has been working with different churches and organizations in the community to host a free community meal to those in need on Thursday nights. Macon New Beginnings plans to take the event under its umbrella to continue the program each week. According to Bourke, they plan to apply for the town’s non-profit funding pool to secure funds to pay for the rent on the town-owned facility where the Serving Spoon meets.
The Serving Spoon is held weekly at the building located at Franklin Memorial Park. Previously, the town charged $50 for the rental on the building, but as of July 1, the rent on the building was increased to $75 for the few hours the meal is served on Thursday evening. While Serving Spoon volunteers have asked the town to waive the fee for the meal, since it is held by volunteers and no funds are generated, the town has declined to do so. Churches and organizations provide the food, which is served by volunteers, so no money is exchanged. With Macon New Beginnings taking over operations, Bourke said he plans to apply for a town grant that would provide funds to cover the cost of rent on the space.