John Berrong has a passion for helping people in Haywood County. He started working with the Haywood Christian Ministry in 1998 after he received a call from C.W. Harden who was the chairman of the ministry’s board at the time as well as the mayor of Canton. Harden offered John an assistant director position with HCM.
John did not hesitate to take the position. “It was like God gave me the opportunity. As a lay person, I had always wanted to get more involved and this gave me the perfect opportunity to help people,” he said.
1999 was a tough year for the HCM. On Easter morning, John received another call from C.W. Harden, but this time with the tragic news of the sudden and unexpected death of Donna Snyder, who was the ministry’s executive director. In the summer of 1999, John formally became the ministry’s new executive director. At this time, Kay Beaman joined the staff as the assistant director.
Later in 1999, the NC Department of Transportation contacted HCM to let it know that they were going to widen U.S. Business 23, so the new building that they had moved into in 1992 was no longer going to be available.
The Search for a New Building
“The department of transportation said that they were not going to take our building, but they were going to take the parking lot up to the building’s steps,” John said. “Without any parking the building was useless. I started negotiating with them, and they made us an offer, so we started looking for a new location.”
After an exhaustive search for a location, HCM found a property for sale on the other side of U.S. Business 23, and made an offer on it. This property had a house at the front of the lot and four acres in the rear on which the ministry intended to construct a new building.
“Well, the owners did not accept our offer, but the Lord was looking after us because it was not the best location because it was not central.”
One of the members of the board of directors mentioned that the Magnolia Antique Mall was for sale at 150 Branner Ave.
“I went by and looked at the building,” John said. “I was pleasantly surprised. We made an offer, and it was accepted. We had cash to pay for the property and moved into it in March of 2000. The Lord has been good to us! You can always count on the Lord!”
The property doubled the ministry’s available space, but it came with a couple of challenges.
The building was a totally open building with no partitions. This would not work because the HCM is a multi-faceted operation. It receives donations of clothes, food, furniture and accessories. It must sort through all these donations as well as organize and store them. Of course, there needs to be a retail area in which the public can come and shop.
“So, we borrowed some money from United Community Bank and did renovations to the building so that the flow would be good,” John said. “The interviewing rooms, office and retail area were upstairs, and the clothing and food storage were downstairs.”
A few years later with an investment of $96,000 an elevator was added.
“That elevator meant more to us than you can imagine. Before the elevator, we had to carry everything by hand upstairs, which was awfully hard. We could put the items on a cart and roll it up the steep sidewalk, but then, many times the cart would turn over and the items would drop into the street. Then there was the extremities of the weather,” John said.
The Beginnings of the Golf Tournament through 2005
“The golf tournament was already in its infancy when Kay and I took over. They had had a couple of tournaments. It was very local with very few players and only made $4,000,” John said.
“Then Art Wishman, who with his wife were volunteers for the ministry, took charge and said, ‘John, we need to move the tourney forward!’ He was very enthusiastic about it. He knew a lot of the players at Waynesville Country Club where he was a member. He said, ‘Let’s do more starting now!’ And I said, ‘Great! Let’s do it!’”
The first year with Wishman’s involvement saw the tournament make $8,000 and it started getting corporate or individual sponsorships. The following year the proceeds reached $10,000, but then Wishman’s wife passed away and his health was not good, so he resigned.
John said, “We were stunned and wondered, ‘Where do we go from here? Who’s going to step forward to fill this void?’”
As John tells it, there was another volunteer named Morris Thompson who went on a cruise and met another person from Waynesville named Allen Braswell. While on that cruise, Thompson talked to Braswell about the HCM and how it helped so many people. Once they returned from the cruise, they started “talking up” the ministry at a men’s Bible study that was held every Wednesday morning at Clyde’s Restaurant. Each week the enthusiasm kept building.
“The Lord did an amazing work. These were men with means who lived here part-time and lived in Florida part-time,” John said. “The men said, ‘Let’s take this thing to another level.’ There were five of them who contributed $5,000 each, so their $25,000 took care of all the expenses, and all the other funds we made were profit. The old saying goes, ‘Golfers know golfers.’ So, they kind of ‘leaned’ on their buddies to ‘encourage’ them to play in the tournament.”
The first year with the involvement of Thompson, Braswell and their cohorts brought in about $50,000, according to John. At this same time the Haywood Christian Ministry Golf Committee was formed, and they started having the annual Gala.
With the growth of the golf tournament, a second golf course was needed, and Laurel Ridge became another big part of the tournament’s success. This event kept evolving every year, and the greatest part about it is that all the net proceeds go to clients of HCM.
Later in this series, there will be a second article on John Berrong because he has been involved in so many aspects of HCM that more space is needed. Recently, John conducted an introduction meeting for new members of the golf committee. He continually emphasized two things. First, God always provides for the HCM in its time of need, but just as important, all the net proceeds go to help residents of Haywood County who have nowhere else to turn to but God and the kind-hearted volunteers of His ministry.
HCM is celebrating its 50th anniversary during 2021. The ministry has faithfully served the people of Haywood County and their crisis needs over these many years. Two important celebration events this year include the Annual Golf Tournament on Oct. 13 and the Gala dinner on Oct. 14.
A series of articles are being published about all aspects of HCM in The Mountaineer. If you have a special role in the history or information about an important topic that you would like to see published concerning HCM, contact JC Grose at 828-558-7965 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Originally Appeared Here