Everyone isn’t willing to spend the night with strangers.

However, an area organization has been doing so for several years now.

Now, during a period in which many hope leads to the post-pandemic era, the Lebanon-based organization Compassionate Hands Center for Hope and Renewal feels that it is better equipped to serve the area than ever.

“We are entirely a Wilson County ministry,” Compassionate Hands Executive Director John Grant said. “The last four or five winters, September, October and November were killers for the leadership. We were scrambling. Last fall was incredibly stressful. There was so much uncertainty. This year is very different.

“We are following the same safety protocols from last winter — hand-washing, daily sanitizing. There’s still massive work, but it’s so different this year.”

Compassionate Hands provides a shelter for area individuals who need a place to stay from Dec. 1 through March 15.

“The volunteers are the ministry,” Grant said. “We say that we are a network of churches. Those 45 churches (who contribute to Compassionate Hands) are the ministry. Our program takes (requires) 25 volunteers every night. Our volunteers are the ones who touch the lives. Friendships make a huge difference in people getting into stable housing. It’s the support system. We would not exist without the volunteers every night. It’s incredible the way they serve and the love they show.”

The overnight ministry began several years ago, started by Cross Style Church.

“For 15 years, they fed people every night,” Grant said. “They would feed people, and they would say, ‘Hey, I don’t have anywhere to spend the night.’ So, they started allowing them to spend the night. That became too much very quickly.”

Cross Style reached out to other area churches, and Grant was a part of the staff of Lebanon’s College Hills Church of Christ at the time.

Shortly thereafter, College Hills was among the eight churches allowed the individuals who needed shelter to stay there one night per week, with men staying at one church each night and women staying at a different church. The participating churches would serve in that capacity one night per week.

A five-person leadership team for the organization was formed by the end of the group’s first winter (by March of 2014). Now, it’s led by a six-member board of directors.

Growing up

Compassionate Hands operated exclusively on volunteer efforts until 2018, when Grant was hired as the executive director.

Another individual was hired approximately a year later, and the growth has continued to accelerate, with the staff now consisting of seven individuals.

“This has grown so fast,” Grant said. “God has been so good.”

After Grant was hired, the organization’s long-term goal was to have a facility to operate out of.

However, Compassionate Hands moved into its current home last November, in the building that formerly housed Lebanon’s Kids World Daycare.

“We found this in September,” Grant said. “It hit the market Nov. 1. We had a contract Nov. 5. We were just desperate.

“It was a long-range play to get a facility in year five. It happened due to COVID in year three. God really provided.”

In slightly more than a year’s time, the building — which is located at 214 North College St. in Lebanon — is more than halfway paid for.

“The churches have been so generous,” Grant said.

A year ago, the women stayed at the Glade Church every night, with different churches alternating to handle the supervision on those nights, while the men stayed at the Compassionate Hands facility.

One of the volunteers, Susan Whitehead, became involved when the church that she was attending (Generations of Grace) partnered with Compassionate Hands.

“When we first started it at our church, we started an overnight program,” Whitehead said. “Then, Generations of Grace (church) started doing this. We decided as a church that we would help with the registration process. Since then, my husband (Greg) volunteers on Monday nights, and I will do Wednesday nights. Being retired, we like to give back. The Lord has blessed us, and we like to bless others.”

Another area church — Generation Changers — is among those that have recently connected with Compassionate Hands.

“There was a lady at our church, and we were just looking for things to do in the community,” Jared Harrison, the Lebanon campus pastor of Generation Changers, said. “We contacted them, and they said they need churches to bring meals.

“There’s a difference between having church and being the church. When you can exercise the faith you have, it’s real.”

Generation Changers Ladies Night Out lifegroup leader Tammy McCormick added, “God gives us the ability to do these things. God gives us different challenges in life. When you get over those (challenges), you see other people going through those things. You want to help.”

The real deal

Generation Changers recently served a Wednesday lunch at Compassionate Hands.

“You can tell that Compassionate Hands is working in their lives,” McCormick said. “You can hear it in their voice. If it wasn’t for Compassionate Hands, you couldn’t tell that they have hope that things are going to get better.”

Lebanon native Chuck Bradley has benefited from the services that Compassionate Hands provides.

“I was living in Nashville and came back here, and someone told me about these people,” the 54-year-old Bradley said. “At first, I was skeptical … but they lifted me up. They lived up to what their name is.

“They speak of God a lot. It’s something I have always believed in. It’s not just one person. It’s everyone who comes through that door. It’s not a bunch of bullcrap. It’s love. You have to have a heart to do this kind of stuff.”

Bradley had lunch at Compassionate Hands on the day that Generation Changers served.

“They give a warm hug, a smile and a warm plate of food,” Bradley said. “Every town should have a place like this. It’s an awesome place and awesome people. It’s real.”

Grant hopes that the organization is better equipped to handle this winter’s challenges after having navigated through the pandemic a year ago.

“Now, we know what we’ll do if somebody has COVID,” Grant said. “The staff has been together. There is greater confidence … and also worries. You never know what you are going to get when you have a transient population with problems. There’s always worries … and God has always taken care of those.”

Sleepovers and more

Jan Cahill was a member of the sanitation team last winter who moved to Lebanon in June of 2020 and began volunteering with Compassionate Hands in May.

“They have a good mission,” Cahill said. “As a Christian, I like to do anything I can do to help my community. I love to help them.”

The regular volunteers quickly build relationships with those they serve.

“I talked with this guy (recently), and I said, ‘When you were in here a couple of weeks ago, you said you were struggling. I’ve been praying for you,’ ” Cahill said. “He said, ‘I’ve still been struggling.’

“Sometimes, that’s all you can do is to pray for them.”

Each week, Compassionate Hands serves Monday dinner and Wednesday lunch, and those who stop by for the meals can also shower, receive basic medical care and do laundry while there.

The organization also assists individuals who need to submit applications for a variety of services, assists individuals in getting identification, helps them to get online access and connects them with professional caregivers.

Compassionate Hands also holds workshops pertaining to faith, life-skills and obtaining housing.

“From the beginning, with just the nighttime stuff, a lot of them came in inebriated,” Whitehead said. “That was ok. They needed to get out of the cold. Now, being here on Wednesday for lunch, seeing them not inebriated, it’s been encouraging getting to know them and seeing them in a better light. It’s been nice to do that.

“They come in and see my face. They’ll smile, and I’ll smile at them. It’s nice watching people that they have been able to hire to help out.”

The volunteers indicate that their efforts have been met with gratitude.

“They always seem appreciative,” Cahill said. “Every week, it seems like there’s a different church (providing meals). (Generation Changers) was great.”

Harrison added, “They’ve been thankful. I’d like to get more people here to hang out and talk with folks … to get to know them.”

Grant indicated that individuals who utilized the overnight stays did so an average of 24 nights last year, with some staying all 105 nights last winter. He also indicated that some individuals have stayed overnight at some point every winter that Compassionate Hands has been providing the overnight stays.

Grant is always hoping that those “regulars” find stability and aren’t in need of shelter any longer, but if they are, the ever-expanding Compassionate Hands ministry plans to be there to assist them.

“God has been so good,” Grant said.

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