Service through OMP reaches neighbors, transforms communities

By Amy Forbus Editor It’s June 11, and Ozark Mission Project’s 2014 camps are in the middle of their first week. Founded in 1986, the United Methodist-related, Arkansas-based mission experience for youth has grown from a single camp per summer to a dozen week-long experiences hosted by churches and camping facilities across the state. On this sunny afternoon, Alyssa Burleson and Michael McMurray, two of OMP’s college-age staff for the camp based at Lakewood UMC North Little Rock, are making the rounds to check on the teams, called family groups, to see how they’re doing at their work sites—the homes of those they call their Neighbors. But first, they make a stop at the home of Frankie Harshaw-Whyte, whom everyone within OMP knows as “Ms. Frankie.” In 2006, Ms. Frankie, who lives in the Dark Hollow neighborhood of North Little Rock, hosted a meeting in her home so she and her neighbors could discuss how they might work with the city to help improve the area. When she contacted the City of North Little Rock following that meeting, a city staffer referred her to Mandy Stanton, a board member with OMP. Frankie Harshaw-Whyte shows Ozark Mission Project staff members Alyssa Burleson, a freshman at Arkansas State University, and Michael McMurray, a junior at Hendrix College, her meticulous records detailing where Ozark Mission Project has helped people in her community.That referral began a relationship that lasts to this day, and is transforming neighborhoods. OMP painted Harshaw-Whyte’s house that summer, and served a total of five families in that same neighborhood. In 2007, Ms. Frankie began receiving leads from other people concerning those who might need help. For example, a cousin-in-law who is a beautician referred several of her customers who were unable to make home repairs on their own. And as a retired social worker who worked in the public school system, Ms. Frankie herself remains well connected within the community and able to get in touch with those who may have a need OMP can meet. OMP is different from any organization she’s seen, she says. “It has made a great, great, great difference,” she said. “A ray of sunshine and blessings. It’s a picture of love…. To see this—no fees, no charges, young people, integrated—it’s wonderful.” Austin Phillips of Grand Avenue UMC Hot Springs and Bethany Gallimore of Piney Grove UMC Hot Springs paint a house as part of their Ozark Mission Project experience. This summer marks Phillips’ fifth time to attend an OMP camp, and Gallimore’s fourth time. During a week-long session, the average OMP camp tackles about two dozen jobs for Neighbors. In recent years, they’ve used the connections Ms. Frankie provides to source projects for the camps based at Lakewood and First UMC Maumelle. She even prioritizes the list to help them plan. Harshaw-Whyte’s neighborhood includes many single women, and she also knows quite a few retired folks on fixed incomes. OMP doesn’t have requirements about income, though; it simply assesses and meets the need. “OMP does a lot with the time they spend in a neighborhood,” she says. After partnering with OMP and churches to help neighbors in her immediate area, Harshaw-White began to expand her reach. “What I’ve been doing now is to try to work neighborhood by neighborhood,” she says. The newest neighborhood on her list is the Dixie Addition area of North Little Rock. “It seemed the Lord just put it on my heart to go there,” she said. “I started on I Street.” OMP campers Michael Brown of Little Rock, Ike Irvin of Mountain View UMC and Katelyn Bondhus of Piney Grove UMC Hot Springs paint a house in the Dixie Addition area of North Little Rock.Once there, she found three frame houses with peeling paint. She knocked on the door of the first one, told the resident about OMP, and that neighbor was enthusiastic. As a result, several OMP family groups went to work on those homes. People who have received help from OMP in the past now give Harshaw-Whyte referrals of others who might benefit from the organization’s work. In fact, the morning of June 11, she had received a call, so she shared the information with McMurray and Burleson at the end of their visit. Before they left, the staffers invited her to Neighbor Night, a community dinner held at the host church on the Friday evening of camp. OMP isn’t just about fixing homes, it’s also about building relationships. And the work Ms. Frankie does alongside the staff and board of OMP shows that the relationships make a difference.