Itâ€™s been more than a decade since the McKendree Methodist Menâ€™s group, of McKendree United Methodist Church, united with Lincoln County Schools to meet the needs of area children.
“The problems will absolutely blow your mind,” Country School Project leader Bill Keever said of the issues plaguing students.
The Lincoln County project started in 2000 after Keever overheard a female teacher at church describe the current needs of school children.
“I kept hearing her talk about needy children,” he said.
Keever later discussed the topic with a friend doing a similar Gaston County project called the Little Red Schoolhouse.
Through the Country School Project, a number of needs are covered, including cost of glasses and dental and psychiatric visits, but more frequently, payment of medical co-pays and medications for families who have yet to sign up for insurance or are waiting to be approved.
In addition, the men have also paid for surgical procedures and are always willing to provide for other type needs. Keever noted how they recently provided clothing for an area high school student who was kicked out of her fatherâ€™s house and forced to live with her grandparents where she had no belongings.
Keever said a majority of students needing aid are ones whoâ€™ve fallen through the cracks of Lincoln Countyâ€™s Department of Social Services, which according to head school nurse, Rhonda Gehring, is also overwhelmed with children who are needing assistance.
“The need is great,” she said. “We are seeing more and more kids fall through the cracks and families struggling. Even to get help, you have to jump through so many hoops.”
Gehring and other school nurses determine which students are most in need before sending the names to Keever and fellow project leader Don Ormsby. “Youâ€™ve got to have someone screenâ€¦to see if itâ€™s legitimate,” Keever said.
Gehring noted that they use the Country School Project as a “last resort” once all other options have been “exhausted.”
“Heâ€™ll say, â€˜Get the child what they need,â€™” she said of Keever. “Heâ€™s great to fill in the gaps. We could not serve a lot students that we serve without him.”
During the projectâ€™s initial year, the menâ€™s group decided to start out working with only one school, Union Elementary School in Vale. Keever said after talking with the schoolâ€™s nurse about his ideas for the project, he handed her a brochure, and just hours later, she contacted him.
“She said she had a need that night,” he said.
Although the Lincoln County effort has yet to grow as large in size as its neighboring countyâ€™s project, Keever said through the years theyâ€™ve aided around 350 children and spent nearly $20,000 in funds donated by area churches and residents along with local businesses.
“The Lordâ€™s blessed us,” Keever said. “The moneyâ€™s been right there when we needed it â€¦ People have supported us faithfully.”
Although he and other project workers never actually get to meet the children being helped, they do consistently receive thank you notes and words of praise from parents. He said more than anything heâ€™s glad to know “the kids are getting taken care of.”
He especially gives credit to the school nurses. “Nurses are the key to all this,” he noted. “They are critical to the program.”
On the other hand, Gehring called Keever “a saint.”
“Their goal is to show the love of Christ through meeting physical needs,” she said.
Keever said the Country School Project has been the McKendree Methodist Menâ€™s most successful undertaking.
To donate to the project, individuals can contact Bill Keever by phone at (704) 735-8530 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or call Don Ormsby at (704) 748-9041.
Donations can also be mailed to Keever at 1108 Walker Branch Rd., Lincolnton 28092.