A young, single, African-American woman sat in front of me. Having recently lost her job of six-years  in the medical field, she was struggling to keep her apartment and had no other sources of support. I emphasized the importance of not to surrendering and not losing hope. She recognized that I supported and understood her yet she didn’t look me in the eye because she couldn’t hold back the tears. Anyone might find themselves in a similar situation and for different reasons. Before we had even finished talking, another family needed help with translating. In that short moment, I realized how important volunteering for the Norcross Co-Op Ministry can be.

As a research fellow for the Breakthrough Norcross initiative, I was able to spend time volunteering for the Norcross Co-Op Ministry during a GCO day of service. Upon first hearing its name, the Norcross Co-Op Ministry, I expected to walk into a church setting. Instead the Co-Op seemed more like an organized state social service agency.

Serving as an intake volunteer, I observed people sitting in the lobby waiting to be directed into private cubicles where they sat and discussed their issues.  Each year the Co-Op serves over 10,000 people in addition to partnering with 28 local churches. These partnerships allow for more resourceful and effective service to the community by donating food, clothes, baby items, Christmas gifts or even financial aid for bills or rent. Uniquely, the Co-Op is the only non-profit organization in Gwinnett County that provides temporary housing for the homeless.

Shaken, individuals enter with no food, no home, or no hope. The crowds seeking aid range from young adults, single mothers, elderly, homeless, educated and previously wealthy.  Sadly, an overwhelming percentage of those seeking aid are minorities. Many come in after an unexpected job loss and need help gaining marketable skills to compete for another job. They wonder about educational options such as degrees, certifications or high school diplomas. Most simply need aid to provide for their immediate necessities.

Life’s unexpected circumstances often weaken people causing their family, state of mind and financial resources to collapse. Those who suffer unexpected misfortunes or lack necessary resources may feel hopeless and even fall into deeper troubles. The Co-Op exists to be present in times of emotional or financial downturn where it seems that there is no way out.  In recognizing the value for a positive attitude and hope for a better future, the Co-Op is able  to recommend churches and spiritual support. Its staff and volunteers instill hope and purpose while establishing trust with the community and providing essential resources.

This perspective is foundational to the Co-Op. The building was donated by businessman Jim Ellis, owner of a host of car dealerships throughout the region, in honor of his son who committed suicide. The Co-Op works to combat similar feelings of hopelessness. That is why the Co-Op has an exemplary ability and vision to change lives. We all have a hope for a better future; the Co-Op makes sure that the people who enter seeking help have reached hope and an expectation to change the reason why they entered in the first place.



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