Open Table relationships created to transform the community

Pam Dudding
Contributing writer

There is nothing more powerful than when people bring ‘unity’ into their community.

Guest speaker discussing the concept of Open Table.

On June 4, representatives from Blue Ridge Behavioral Health (BRBH) brought good news to Craig, sharing that they had been able to obtain a grant to bring ‘Open Table’ to the people by “offering hope for those who may not have a neighbor or family in time of need, giving them natural support that they may not have.”

Rheanna Price, BRBH Regional Support Coordinator, sits on the CC Family Assessment Team at least once a month to help provide services and support to children in DSS. She has been vital to establishing the non-profit program, which is also in 28 other states.

“Open Table is a model developed in 2005 when a church saw a chance to help a homeless man,” said Price before adding, “It equips local churches, persons or other organizations to transform community members through the sustainable long-term relationships with people who have social and economic poverty.”

Open Table coordinator Angie Price shared that Unwavering Champions for Children and Families Agency (UMFS) brought Open Table to Virginia. She is now on the board, helping high-risk youth, adolescents and adults as well as being a mission leader in her church’s congregation. “This was what I had been looking for since my teen years,” she said.

She added that she and her husband became foster parents. “We recognized that if their families would have had the support that they needed, like Open Table, provides, then they would not have ended up in the Foster Care System,” she said.

She also noted that her vision of the purpose of Open Table is like an unfinished bridge. “When the community services end or fail, then the family fails and cannot seem to get out of the circle of confusion or inability to go forward,” she said. “Open Table is all about helping the community to merge and meet up with our service providers.”

Open Table was started by a man named John, but he tells the story that it was due to Ernie, a person in need.

John said that when he would pass by someone in need, he would just go on by.

One day, the youth of his church had decided to go to the local men’s shelter and serve them. All they knew was to buy stuff for them. John said he realized that nutria-grain bars could not solve their poverty problem and homelessness.

“We didn’t stop to ask the men what they needed, we just thought we would get what we thought they needed and set the stuff up on decorated tables, with us on one side and the men on the other, handing them the stuff’,” said John in a video. “Without intentionally meaning to, we created a barrier, an us and them dynamic.”

It was explained that the thing they needed the most was for John and the group to simply offer themselves. Personal connection lacked.

The story is told that, Ernie, a man at the shelter, did not get the ‘us and them’ memo, rather he walked around the other side and started chatting with the guys, asking them questions. When he found out they were from a church, he told them, “I want to come to your church.”

Johns thoughts were, how was he going to get there because he may not be on the bus line, or what if he doesn’t take a shower? Or if he does pick Ernie up maybe, he won’t even show? What would other congregation members say? He had preconceived notions that were whirling in his mind.

But he went. Not only was Ernie waiting for him, but he was standing on the corner of the homeless shelter, holding his cat, Cutie Pie. Though Ernie was ok that the cat could not go, John realized that Cutie Pie was the one creature on earth that offered Ernie unconditional love and relationship.

Six months later, while still transporting Ernie, John had a thought, “How is it that every single Sunday, we are returning him to a homeless shelter?”

Angie emphasized that, “Many families next door to everyone are families who are just one flat tire away from losing their jobs, or one paycheck away from losing their home.”

The church didn’t know what to do, so they formed a Board of Directors which Ernie became the chair of. He shared the definition of his success and his goals.

Ernie had a vehicle that was broken down. He needed dental care. So, they advocated for Ernie. He was also a Veteran, but needed the support to help him get access to that help. He wanted to be a security guard and to save money to buy a mobile home to live in.

After only nine months, Ernie had been able to fully accomplish his goals.

Then by accident, a model was born.

“Many people want to give, but they just don’t know how,” Angie shared. “Most communities have enough for everyone, they just need guidance to show how to give of themselves.”

She noted the critical ‘Theory of Change’ non-negotiables that are to be present to help someone.

•Relationship – mutual (the most important piece of the model)

•Shared purpose (recognizing the human potential of everyone)

•Safe place – (build trust, giving them a place where they are not judged)

•Transformation and reconciliation

Local determination and ownership (unique to every community)

Any organization can license the model and form the tables (groups of persons) by mission leaders or mission teams who make sure Open Table happens, conduct training, maintain model and support and help expand by forming multiple tables.

The individual in need, or sister or brother, is to be assisted with things such as: transportation, insurance, community life, education, occupations, housing, finance or healthcare. The commitment is for a year; however, many end up making friends and friendships that last much longer.

Beckie Horton from the Department of Social Services emphasized, “This is the perfect opportunity for us to have an outreach. We want to put our love in action, and now we have the tools and services to utilize this. If anyone wishes to be a part of this wonderful solution helping with this new opportunity, they may contact 540-864-5117.

A video of a young girl named Jessie, who received Open Table assistance, shared this at the end of her year, “I know what love is now. I wouldn’t know what that feels like had it not been for Open Table.”

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