By Caroline Klapper, The Mountaineer, Waynesville, N.C.

Jan. 25--When Rebecca Elliott first moved to Haywood County with her family more than five years ago, she often worried about where they would go if one of them got sick.

They couldn't afford health insurance or to pay a doctor out of pocket, which meant their options were to wait it out, or head to the emergency room. But that was before she heard about the Good Samaritan Clinic.

"There were many times we did not see a doctor because we've lived in places where there are no options," Elliott said. "It's thinking, 'I know something is wrong with me. I know I need to get it fixed, but what am I going to do?'"

After hearing about GSC, a ministry offering health care to uninsured and low-income adults in Haywood County, Elliott realized she didn't have to worry anymore.

"To take away that fear away and that worry, it's amazing," she said. "The care I have received would have been equal to anything I've ever gotten."

While things have improved for her family -- her husband found full-time work and she has a part-time job as a peer tutor at Haywood Community College -- she still relies on GSC to help with many of her health care needs.

"My husband got a job that offers health insurance, but the premiums were extravagant," she said. "It's such a load off to know you can come here."

And that's exactly what the ministry is all about. GSC's mission statement reads that its purpose is to "help others as Jesus would," and Executive Director Donda Bennett said in the past year, the nonprofit has refocused its efforts on doing just that.

In addition to offering health care to 4,500 active patients, GSC also offers a prayer ministry, devotionals, Bibles and prayer shawls and chemo caps for sick patients.

"We really feel like we've stepped up that side of the ministry," Bennett said. "We already offered high-quality health care but we wanted this ministry to be stronger than it had been in the past."

Bennett said the renewed ministry focus is another step toward getting area churches more involved in GSC, especially when it comes to help with funding. With 71 percent of GSC's funding coming from churches and individuals and an annual price tag of around $900,000 in free clinic care for patients, GSC is in need of consistent support from the community.

On the health care side of things, the clinic only has one provider and has stopped taking on new patients until enough money can be raised to add a second provider to the staff. The step is a necessary one, Bennett said, because right now the clinic is "overwhelmed" with people who need help.

To aid in the fundraising efforts, GSC is asking local churches to conduct a love offering to benefit the clinic sometime during the month of February. GSC will offer bulletins, donation envelopes and presentations to any church interested in participating in the fundraiser.

It is a cause Cynthia Golden said she hopes to see churches rally behind because she is one of those 4,500 patients who receives care from GSC.

Golden works part time as the Children's Director for New Covenant Church, and while she enjoys her job, it doesn't offer health care.

"It's always a question that my husband and I have faced, but we always have the assurance of the clinic being there. I don't know what I would do without it," she said. "I love the care I get there."

While GSC does ask patients to pay $15 per visit if they are able to, Golden said there have been a few times where she couldn't pay the fee but still received care. Although she tries to offer extra money to the clinic when she can, there are many more people like her in the community who need the kind of help GSC offers, she said.

"I'm willing to do whatever I can to get the word out," she said, adding churches that don't already participate should try to get involved in the love offering.

For information, contact Donda Bennett at 454-5287, ext. 1002 or email her at bennetts6509@bellsouth.net.


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