Salute Our Heroes: Community Care Ministries celebrates 20th anniversary

Salute Our Heroes: Community Care Ministries
Updated: Aug. 23, 2021 at 8:45 PM CDT
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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - 20 years ago, the council of churches in Wamego looked at ways to find where people were hurting. Lorena Carlson and Elizabeth Hesse reached out to Rosemary Helms with their ambitions to assist people with the church’s support.

Carlson said, “Rosemary is the nurse, and I’m more on the social side. My husband and I taught for 26 years here in Wamego so we know many of the people and many of the parents and everything.”

But first, they needed more planning before the churches would sign on.

“Mind, body and spirit,” said Helms. “It was health and wellness but also included food and that was the concept or what they thought it was to provide food for and social environment. Well mine was to bring health care into it.”

The three established Community Health Ministries to reach low-income individuals. The name has since changed to Community Care Ministries, but their mission to help others has not. The Presbyterian church in Wamego gave them a house to operate in, but they did have to jump through some hoops before that.

“Until they came along, we worked out of the back seats of our cars. So, that was great fun to tell people that that’s where we started,” said Helms.

Through donations and grant money, they serve community members whose household income is at or below 200% of the federal poverty level, and are uninsured or underinsured.

They provide non-emergency medical care, a food pantry, and financial assistance -- like helping to pay for rent, utilities, clothes, and transportation.

This year is the group’s 20th anniversary. They have not celebrated yet due to COVID-19 concerns but they are planning a way to celebrate properly.

Carlson said it’s more than the group and volunteers they have that allowed them to grow to reach new areas outside of Wamego.

“It’s not just the churches. It’s the women’s organizations, the men’s organizations, the schools that help us. And in the schools, there’s a lot of teachers that know what families need the help,” she said.

Carla Malone’s career with the organization started 15 years ago when Carlson gave a speech in her church, asking people to join. She is now the COO.

“Our pantry, we do about right now we’re only doing about maybe 70 families a month but we have done up to 150 families in the past here in Pottawatomie County,” said Malone. “We have just opened, or started up again, medical in Wabaunsee County. We have a nurse practitioner that’s going down once a month seeing clients down there.”

She said they had the dental equipment and one dentist when she arrived -- now they have around 5.

She’s excited to see how the group that started in the back of cars can continue to grow.

Malone said, “There’s just so many things that we can help people with, and just being able to sit down and talk with them and find out what those needs are --because the more you talk with them the more you find out.”

Carlson said, “It’s unique how God makes things grow.”

Helms retired around 4 years ago and Carlson is in the process of retiring from the organization now.

They all say the creation and growth of their organization wouldn’t be possible without their religious background.

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