By Jessica Brodie
WALLACE—Cabbage and baked chicken simmer in the kitchen as they gather around the folding tables in the community room at Wallace Family Life Center—older ladies and one older man, all huddled in pairs with calculators and workbooks, their pencils poised and brows furrowed.
As they work, program coordinator Linda Sanders stirs the cabbage and tells her tale: how she’d been at Wallace years ago, how she’d left but couldn’t get the center and its people out of her mind, how 24 years later she’s back right where she started, pitching in day after day to help the children and seniors who rely on Wallace get the Christian care they need.
“I’m in love with the kids,” Sanders says, a smile on her face as she slides a giant casserole of macaroni and cheese into the oven. “That’s really why I’m here.”
She loves the older adults, too; you can see it as she circles the tables, asking after health and absent friends, leaning in for a hug here and there.
Sanders, like many in the Wallace community, has seen the center go from a thriving haven to a struggling operation and back again. And today, as the center continues its climb to renewed stability, she says she’s trusting in God to use her and the other staff and volunteers to be His conduit, helping the people get the help they need regardless of what that looks like.
“God, you sent me back here to do a mission,” Sanders said. “We’re doing whatever needs to be done.”
A ‘worthwhile investment’
For 40 years, Wallace Family Life Center has served the people of Marlboro County, providing an afterschool program for children, adult education and arts and crafts, along with a food pantry and weekly hot meals that provide an opportunity both for fellowship and sustenance.
“Marlboro County is mostly agricultural and is often ranked ‘worst county in South Carolina’ with Williamsburg County in unemployment and other negative indicators,” said Kevin Long, Wallace’s administrator.
The South Carolina United Methodist Women funded and launched the center four decades ago to help the community. In its heyday, Wallace had a youth council, a homemakers club, dances and other activities for local teenagers, and more. But over the years, between decreasing funding and the aging building and bus, things started to slip. While the afterschool and seniors program are still going strong, the heating system in the building is failing, and the 18-year-old bus has broken down three times in the last year—with senior citizens in it at the time. Worse, Long said, center found itself down from $120,000 in donations for 2012 to $80,000 in 2016.
Their current state has motivated Long and Sanders, along with other members of Wallace’s board and advisory committee, to press on with determination.
They have shifted from full-time to part-time staffers, have a newly donated basketball goal, are on county water now instead of the well, and even got some funds to build a fence around the playground. They do devotions and a Bible verse in their instructions for kids in grades pre-kindergarten to five, and tutors come alongside both the children and seniors, helping wherever needed.
“We are turning things around,” Long said. “Whenever you impact somebody’s life that’s a worthwhile investment. I see the struggle most of these children go through: single parent situations, low income, but here they get homework help and a healthy snack, all with the purpose to make them better students. The adults get a hot meal, basic schooling refresher to keep their minds sharp. But if you saw where some of the adults live—old sharecropper houses in the middle of a field, very basic—it’s very sad.”
‘Nothing is too big for our God’
Wallace Board Chair Betty Swinton said Wallace is strictly a mission project supported by the South Carolina Conference United Methodist Women.
Helping Wallace is very important because of the location, Swinton said.
“It’s in a very, very rural, area and the economic level of our people in the area is low, so the center has served to be a place where we are bringing services to the people in that area,” Swinton said. “With funding we are struggling, as are a lot of mission projects, but with the funds we do have they are doing a tremendous job.”
Garvin Gilley, former South Carolina Conference United Methodist Women representative, said much the same.
“It’s time for a God-sized dream. Finances are critical,” Gilley said, calling on people to join her in praying for a miracle. “Nothing is too big for our God.”
To learn more about Wallace, visit https://wallacefamilylifecenter.org.