MATTHEWS – Forty years after its establishment, the Matthews HELP Center hopes to find more ways it can serve the community.
Serving five zip codes in Matthews, Charlotte, Stallings and Indian Trail, the center helps families in financial crisis by providing rent, utility bill and food assistance, as well as resources for other needs.
Executive Director Sandra Conway has worked at the Matthews HELP Center for five years. She said her experience has been very powerful and looks forward to celebrating the center’s 40th anniversary of serving the community.
“It’s an amazing feeling,” Conway said. “I love being here, I love what we do and I love how it makes me feel. And I love that our volunteers get to experience that, too … Knowing that Matthews HELP Center has been here for 40 years of caring for people’s needs, it’s a really special thing.”
In addition to the year-round services the center provides, there are also seasonal programs. The nonprofit partners with a local police department to provide back-to-school supplies for students at the beginning of the year. It also teams with Elevation Church during Thanksgiving to provide meals for those in need.
Conway said the center has around 250 volunteers. Many of them work in the thrift store, where clients can shop for clothes, jewelry and other items free of charge, and community members can shop at a discounted price.
During the holidays, volunteers shop alongside clients as part of the “Christmas Holiday House” program. Conway tells volunteers that the day will be emotional but impactful as clients share their stories with them.
“It’s [the volunteers’] way of giving back,” Conway said. “That’s how the HELP Center started. It was volunteer-driven for many years. It was never a paid position. We were known as ‘the house with the heart,’ and that heart is not just for clients. It’s for our volunteers and the whole community.”
Conway recalls the first time she cried helping one of her first clients five years ago. She said a young, single father came in during the center’s holiday program after he had been laid off from his job and fell behind paying rent. The center was technically closed, but they spoke to the man anyway. Conway said he broke down and felt overwhelmed, but by the time he left the center that day, his expectations for how the center could help were exceeded.
Though the Matthews HELP Center was able to meet that client’s needs, Conway said they can’t fully meet every client’s needs, as they have caps on their budget.
However, the Matthews HELP Center Board of Directors recently approved a strategic planning session for the center, which has started and will take eight months to complete. Conway said they will address the needs of the center and if the nonprofit needs to reshape its goals.
Conway hopes the center can continue to go above and beyond for its clients in the future.
“My goal is to be able to figure out a way that we can help, when someone walks in the door, in a deeper way,” Conway said. “And a deeper way would be being able to help them with all of their needs. Not that we can have an unlimited budget, but just to go deeper… When someone comes in, we want to say yes.”
The center will launch its annual Hope Campaign fundraiser in November. Conway said they hope to raise $40,000 to celebrate 40 years of helping the community.
Donations for the fundraiser can be made online. Conway said there are other ways to contribute to the center, including donating food for the pantry and items for the thrift shop. A list of acceptable items can be found at www.matthewshelpcenter.org.
Conway said while the center helps with financial crisis, they also have resources for other hardships. She wants clients to know the center is going to guide them through the process and be a source of hope in times of adversity.
“We’re walking alongside them in this journey,” Conway said.
Learn about the center’s history
The Matthews Heritage Museum will open a new exhibit on the 40th anniversary of the Matthews HELP Center.
This exhibit traces the four decades of growth of the center from an all-volunteer agency assisting those needing aid and support to the professional staff of seven full-time and six part-time staff of today.
The exhibit will be available from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Thursday to Saturday through Feb. 1, 2020, at 232 N. Trade St. A small admission is charged.