UM Relief Center blew in with Hugo—and Pat Goss

By Emily Cooper

MOUNT PLEASANT – “I sit here in my chair and wait.” That was scratched on top of an application of home repairs made to the United Methodist Relief Center.

That got the attention of Director Pat Goss.

When she went to check it out, she found him confined to the bedroom of a shotgun-design house, the window-unit air-conditioner going strong – a necessity for his physical condition. He turned out to be Kevin Brown, a quadriplegic.

Goss checked out the house and came back to him to ask, “If you could have one thing, what would it be?”

“I don’t know what makes me ask these dumb questions,” Goss said. “God puts them there.”

“Could I have a window?” Brown asked.

Here was a graduate from S.C. State locked in a room by his physical condition and unable even to see outside.

The United Methodist Relief Center built him a room on the back with windows all across it and equipped it for his special needs. Someone found him a computer. His family was inspired by the center’s work and put together enough money to buy and equip a van so he could go to his nephew’s soccer games.

“God told me I was going to live,” Brown told her, “and now that Pat Goss is here, I know I can live.”

How Pat Goss got there is a story of God’s leading.

When the economy went sour in Pennsylvania more than 21 years ago, her husband’s helicopter business was no longer viable and they wanted to move elsewhere. Pat’s requirement was sunshine and God told Gary Goss, “Charleston.” They came to look around, found a house in Mount Pleasant and made an offer that was quickly rejected.

When they went home, they decided to try to sell their home anyway, but before they could list it, someone bought it. Three days later, the S.C. sellers called to say they wanted to accept their offer.

In June 1989, they moved Gary’s ailing parents to Charleston with them and settled them in an apartment. Always a United Methodist, Pat and Gary Goss became a part of Hibben United Methodist Church.

In September 1989, Hurricane Hugo was on the way and the native Floridians considered riding it out, but gathered parents and headed for Florence.

When they returned, the parents’ apartment was gone and their house was without power and had 35 trees down, but it was still standing with its roof on. Many people came to stay with them during that period.

“I’d get in bed and wonder how many people were wet and cold,” she said.

Pat would show up at Hibben to take her day’s marching orders from Pastor George Duffy. She handed out food and worked with the Red Cross taking applications for assistance. “God was preparing me.”

One morning when she arrived at Hibben, two women were there and Duffy said to them, “Here’s your answer.” Little River UMC had donated a mobile office and the conference had paid to have it moved. The women helped her set up an office in it to handle housing repairs. Eventually they told her they were going to hire her. Goss had worked for a bank and, one summer, for a home-improvement store assuring she knew a little about lumber terminology and knew a screw from a nail. Most recently, she had been looking after their children.

In the mornings, there might be “80 or 200 men standing outside waiting for me to tell them what to do,” Goss said.

In McClellanville, she found two stalwarts for the Relief Center, Annie Edwards and Mac Smiley. Smiley, of Rock Hill’s St. John’s UMC, was a retired engineer and executive for Wrangler.

Smiley is now deceased. His widow said people were just bringing in things and dumping them and her husband saw that things had to be organized. ‘He said, ‘Let me go home and get a computer’.”

Goss asked Smiley to help her develop a system. They established teams of assessors who would visit the sites and report back, “We need five sheets of plywood, 120 board-feet of lumber … and six men for three hours.” The families got the money from FEMA so they would get the material and have it at the house when the six men showed up.

A year after Hugo hit, Goss was at a debriefing meeting where groups reported how many houses they had repaired. Someone said “twenty;” someone said fifty-something. Then it hit Goss – they had done 1,642, and all with one secular grant of $50,000.

She sent a letter to the Conference Board of Missions and in June of 1991, the Relief Center officially became an outreach of the UMC (Advance Special 741585).

UMRC’s purpose is to address poverty and substandard housing and the underlying causes of poverty.

Goss sees the center’s work as something the church could shout about. “So goes the mission, so goes the church,” she said.

The center is supported by many sources other than the church and many volunteers from other denominations, but the UMC’s donations are critical because, unlike grants that say exactly what the funds can be used for (they don’t pay for paper and administration), UM donations can be used for whatever is needed, Goss said. In the last year or so, UM donations have dropped. Finding money is the stressful part of her 21 years at the UM Relief Center. The rest she loves.

The center moved into Hibben in 2000 for a very low rent. About that time, Goss began hiring more than the part-time secretary. With the recession, they had to say goodbye to two, but they have managed to keep six inside staff and seven in the field.

There were too much “Slam ‘em up, bang ‘em up” construction, so Charleston County got tougher in its building permit regulations. Goss had to get her contractor’s license. “God got me through that,” she readily admits.

The volunteers come from all over; some are even tourists who join in. There is, of course, the NOMADS, Roman Catholics, Lutherans, Wesley Foundation students and on and on, many of whom have been coming for years. “Some teams have been coming since Day 1,” Goss said, but some are now too old. “I cannot believe how 80-year-olds can put roofs on,” she said. Clarence Westendorf, a Roman Catholic, is one she named who had building expertise and could show them how to do the work.

“Volunteer participation helps them to realize that folks are not here by choice,” Goss said.

For a while, millionaires were demolishing houses on the Isle of Palms and building their mansions. Goss and her colleagues moved the houses to people living in homes that were too bad to be repaired.

In the late 1990s, an elderly woman lived in a house with the roof partly caved in. She was so embarrassed by it, when Meals on Wheels came, she met them at the end of the road. “Clarence (Westendorf) and I drew up a plan on a paper nap
kin – with wheelchair capability – for the first Elderly Transportable Housing,” Goss said, and it was paid for by what has become Coastal Community Foundation. Since then, many groups and churches have built ETHs to be moved on the elderly person’s property so they can continue to live in their own home near their own family and friends. When they are deceased the housing is passed along to another elderly person in need.

Goss has collected a number of stories to reinforce why she’s given more than two decades to this work.

The Rev. Clark Wilson called her to come up to where he was serving UM churches in the St. George area. Goss said she’d looked at three and really was ready to go home. “Come on,” he said. “You have to see this house in Reevesville.”

Miss Julia had plastic taped on the ceiling of the one room she lived in to keep the rain from falling on her bed. The cabinets were falling off the wall; the floor was falling out of her bathroom and the door to it was too small for Miss Julia’s wheelchair.

Goss began to talk about how she shouldn’t be living there.

“I can’t see. My legs are cut off, but the Lord’s right here with me,” she told Goss. “The tears started rolling,” she said. “I called Nick Elliott (at UMVIM) and he gave me a couple of names, including (the Rev.) Noble Miller. That weekend, she was at an Emmaus weekend, going up the aisle and Miller stepped out. “Did Nick call you?” she asked. “No, he replied. “Well, God did,” Goss said. Miss Julia’s house was fixed.

Goss has had special recognition by the S. C. Housing Authority, winning its achievement award, and several other agencies and organizations.

Elsewhere in the Lowcountry, there is a 20’x22’ home with no indoor plumbing. Goss is confident God, through the Relief Center, will supply.

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