Stories of Hope
Melissa Atnip, volunteer
“It was a stub of a cactus in some dirt; but for a total stranger to think of her – it just blew her away. And it made me want to love her even more.”
Melissa Atnip is referring back to the first time she met the student she had been assigned at HopeWorks. The organization needed more faith encouragers and had approached Melissa about volunteering in this way.
“There was a need, they approached me and I stepped out and tried it. It’s really nothing more than making a new friend,” Melissa said.
Melissa first learned about the organization in the 1980s when it was known as Memphis Area Cooperative Services, and she was initially involved in the commodities portion and providing food.
“Not everybody likes to cook, but that’s just who I am,” Melissa said. “Whether you’re more comfortable behind the scenes, a people person or blessed financially, you can get plugged in and help at HopeWorks.”
But volunteering at HopeWorks wasn’t always something Melissa was comfortable with. It took her growing and maturing in her walk with Christ to realize that she didn’t have to be scared of those who didn’t look like her. Melissa’s work at the Regional Medical Center in Memphis also gave her a chance to put this realization into practice.
“Before I moved to Memphis, I came from a small town. I was not prepared for urban ministry at age 20, but living in Memphis and responding to God’s Spirit would help me overcome my own prejudice,” Melissa said. “I also worked at The MED, and the variety of people I worked for and with helped prepare me for my time at HopeWorks.”
Melissa believes that our individual trials and life experiences can be used to help others. She says if you have experienced God’s faithfulness through hard times, it becomes your responsibility to help someone else in need. And Melissa feels that everyone has a way they can help.
“No matter who you are, you’ve got a talent that HopeWorks can use,” Melissa said. “There’s a season for everyone. When I had small kids, I couldn’t go down and volunteer, but I could send a casserole – or a check. We have all the resources right in front of us if we just open our eyes to see them.”
Although being a faith encourager was a new thing for Melissa, it would prove to be infinitely rewarding and life-changing for both her and her student. HopeWorks matched Melissa to her student and set up a weekly time to meet at the building.
“We jumped right in on the first week. HopeWorks gave me a form filled out by my student before I met her, and it laid out all the facts on the table – number of children, suffers from depression, etc. It was up to me to find a common ground,” Melissa said. “Our first meeting was amazing because I really felt God had almost prepared me in advance to understand her.”
What transpired over weeks of meeting together was a meaningful connection and relationship for both Melissa and her student. Melissa found her time as a faith encourager as a prime example of putting her Christianity into action and living out her faith in God.
“I went to her graduation, sat next to her boyfriend (a chef), talked about ways to cook greens and clapped with her children as they watched their mother graduate from HopeWorks,” Melissa said. “The Lord used my family background and love for cooking to meet my student right where she was.”
In forming a relationship with her student, Melissa realized some amazing things. HopeWorks students are grateful for small things like food to rides across town. HopeWorks students are courageous for being willing to make an abrupt lifestyle change and turn away from the addictions and the streets they’ve known their entire lives. And volunteers can make a real difference.
Every faith encourager relationship is different, Melissa says, and sometimes it only lasts the length of HopeWorks’ program. Other times, God may use you to help out a student and family for another 20 years. Melissa believes opening yourself up to this relationship invites God to do incredible things.
“We can only change Memphis one family at a time, and this is my way of helping,” Melissa said. “The odds are overwhelming when you think of the huge need in our city. But when you consider one family at a time, you really can make a difference.”
Melissa stepped out of her comfort zone to try being a faith encourager at HopeWorks. And when she brought that small plant as a gift before even meeting her student, she had no idea that God would be using her to plant a seed for a lifetime.