reporter contents :: albright college
ometimes you have to help the helper.
That’s what Rev. Stewart McCleary ’47 and 17 other members of his mission group from Cavalry United Methodist Church, including Albright alumni Rev. Jack Grove ’62 and Robert Wagner ’68, found when they arrived at the Bennett Center of London, a Christian service center for southeastern Kentucky.
Although the Bennett Center provides many outreach services such as hot meals, home repair, respite care and yard work, what they asked of McCleary and the rest of the mission group was a little different. “They said they needed a group to really devote itself to getting the Bennett Center campus into shape,” McCleary says, adding that while the lawn had been mowed regularly, nothing else had been done for years. “It was just overrun.”
McCleary and the group quickly got to work pulling weeds, spreading mulch, mowing, trimming trees and bushes, restoring a nature preserve and painting. They even cleared out an old tennis court to make way for a new picnic pavilion and place of worship that the center was interested in building. McCleary says with a smile, “They said that our group had the place looking the best it had in years!”
When not busy being groundskeepers, the mission group also spent time in the community. “There were a few people in the community who had just gotten out of the hospital and asked if we could mow their lawns,” says McCleary. He adds, with a rueful smile, “That was the day that I learned I’m not as young as I think,” referring to his need to sit it out for a bit.
Each day would begin with a morning devotion, lead by McCleary, and would conclude around a campfire. “We even found some time to play Scrabble!” he laughs, noting how much he enjoyed his time with the group. “The outstanding part of the trip was the fellowship among the 18 of us,” he says. “There wasn’t one griper among us! Everyone just pitched in and worked hard.”
The group stayed on the go, taking a one-day break from work at the Bennett Center to visit the original Red Bird Mission in Beverly, Ky. They traveled 50 miles west of the Bennett Center and found themselves in the heart of Appalachia, where the mission center offers a school, a medical clinic, dental clinic and countless other community outreach programs. As he was being given a tour of the mission, McCleary says, “I almost felt like I was coming home.” McCleary had always heard about the Red Bird Mission. Growing up in Harrisburg, he used to go to mission band as a very young child and bring his penny for the Red Bird Mission. “I tried to go there a few times through the years, but it never worked out,” he says. “It felt real good to be there. I wish we could have spent more time getting to know the community.”
This wasn’t the first time McCleary traveled to faraway places to help others. In 1999 and 2001, he traveled, along with Charles Wolfe Jr., D.D.S. ’60, to Puttur, India, in the southern portion of the country, where he assisted at the Good Shepard Mission. McCleary can’t forget the extreme poverty they found there, and notes that he was particularly impacted by the number of homeless children wandering the streets. He and his traveling companions also found themselves braving the narrow roads of the countryside to reach isolated villages where McCleary had the chance to preach through an interpreter and perform baptisms.
Although McCleary wishes that he could have met more people on his latest trip to the Bennett Center and Red Bird Mission, he knows that he and his group performed a service that was really needed. “I had always wanted to go and never had. This was my opportunity.”
– Loren A. Morgan ’05