By Kinnidy Thoreson, Staff Writer
As I entered college at Anderson University as a freshman in August, I am compelled to reflect less on what I lost due to the COVID-19 pandemic and more on all that Woodruff has nourished me with throughout the years. Even amidst this pandemic, I had the opportunity to work and volunteer in downtown Woodruff while exploring all that its community has to offer.
I started working as an intern at The Woodruff Times in March 2020, then was excited to step up my responsibilities as a part-time staff writer in June. Through speaking to businesses, highlighting members of the community, and interacting with the newspaper’s audience, I have not only fulfilled my passion for writing but connected with some of the most hardworking, compassionate and inspiring people in Woodruff.
Seeing the process of building and expanding a newspaper like The Woodruff Times these past few months, I now feel strongly that it has been an outlet for me to truly be involved in my community and feel as though I could contribute to the best parts of Woodruff. With every story, every photo, and every staff meeting, I have been prepared to make an impact on the world that stems from the kindness and hard-working spirit of our community.
This summer, I also worked at the Woodruff Community Center (WCC) and its resale store on Main Street. During my time here, I learned what the needs of the community were from the director of the center, Fran Burgess. For almost every need I saw, I observed an overwhelming amount of effort to help in return.
Part of the services offered at the WCC is helping those looking for job listings or employment opportunities, as the unemployed and homeless in our community are greatly in need. Just this summer, the community center had to direct numerous homeless individuals or women from abusive homes to surrounding shelters, soup kitchens, clothes closets and other resources. I listened to their situations and their stories have left an impact on my life.
While at the community center, I was also able to meet the youth currently participating in Road 678, a program to support at-risk middle school children who come from broken homes or dangerous backgrounds. Though I was unable to formally mentor these kids, I was able to spend time with them. Often these programs are the only thing standing between a child and a detention center.
I also observed Cathy Corona, a staff member at the community center, prepare an abundance of Gifts in Kind each month. This is a service where essential care items such as soap and toiletries are given to qualifying local senior citizens throughout town.
The WCC is just as much a resource as those places as the other organizations I volunteer for, such as the soup kitchen, Helping Hands, and nursing homes. The center supports itself through the consignors and resale store customers, and they use these funds to provide a space to businesses, non-profit efforts, and general meetings about how to improve Woodruff.
When my senior year was cut short, the WCC rallied the community to make sure that the Woodruff High School Class of 2020 seniors felt celebrated. I saw donations, volunteers, and supporters come together on Facebook and in-person to deliver congratulations gifts to graduates. During our senior parade, they even sold balloons to show support for us.
My observance of these situations has left me with a new understanding of Woodruff. It has taught me the power of community and the importance of local homeless shelters and other such resources. My summer downtown revealed to me a lot of the areas of our town where we as a whole can be more impactful if we work together.
One of my greatest joys throughout the summer was volunteering at Helping Hands Ministries of Woodruff. I have been volunteering here off and on for about two years now, helping their clothes closet coordinator, Laura Bruner, sort through and organize clothing donations. When working alongside other volunteers, I am overjoyed to know that these organizations are helping the parts of our community that are less fortunate and suffering in these unprecedented times.
For more than a year, I have been trying to save money to attend my dream school, Anderson University. Saving for school meant that I had to forgo having a car. I live about a mile from downtown Woodruff and would sometimes walk to or from work if I had to. Because I saw so often the less fortunate sides of Woodruff and although I knew I was saving for good reasons, I felt like relying on others for rides was an imposition on their time and effort. However, I learned that anytime I needed a ride I was not being burdensome and everyone was happy to help without expecting anything in return. After I realized this, I knew that the lack of transportation wouldn’t hinder my ability to work and volunteer.
My summer downtown has shown me that every business has a story behind it, and every person in those businesses is hardworking and persevering. I believe that if you were to look just a little closer at Woodruff’s shop owners, baristas, and the employees downtown, you would not only see determination but the spirit of Woodruff itself.