A Place That Changed Lives: USB at 140
By Susan J. Meister
A beautiful Louisiana spring day, coupled with a spotless campus and warm Cajun hospitality, welcomed visitors and guests to the UMCOR Sager Brown Campus in Baldwin, La., to celebrate 140 years of ministry on April 21.
Many former students and residents of Sager Brown Home and Godman School shared fond memories of their time on campus. Alva Charatain showed friends a photo from the 9-10th grade prom, held in 1950. "When you went to Sager Brown, you were somebody," Charatain emphasized. James Armelin remembered teacher Miss Allen, "who just opened my mind up."
"I couldn't wait to get to school," said Douglas Green. "We were just one big family." That sentiment was echoed by Kim Notto-Lockley. "I started crying when I came today," she said. "I wish there was still a school here."
Campus impact widespread
Other former staff and volunteers described how their time at UMCOR Sager Brown changed their lives. Rev. Susan Pugh, a native of Franklin, says that she went into the ministry because of her service on the staff formed after Hurricane Andrew. "God put me and Sarah Schoeffler back together," she said. "We saw miracle after miracle." Pugh currently serves as a local pastor at Lake Arthur UMC.
Acadiana District Superintendent Rev. Roger Latham began his pastoral career in 1974 at Trinity UMC, the church near campus. In addition to pastoral and administrative duties at the school, he had a close personal relationship to Sager Brown. "My wife was a matron in the girls' dorm before we married," he smiled.
During the opening ceremony, Marc Maxi, who heads UMCOR's field office unit, thanked staff and volunteers on behalf of beneficiaries all over the world. Tom Hazelwood, domestic disaster response executive for UMCOR, said he is continually amazed at how many people tell him they have been to Baldwin. "There is such a culture of hospitality here," he said. "Your wonderful work is a testament to the community, volunteers and staff."
The UMCOR Sager Brown Depot receives, verifies, packages, stores and ships relief supplies throughout the world. In 2006, nearly $8 million dollars worth of goods and materials were shipped and nearly one hundred community projects helped improve housing in the area.
Campus reopened in 1992
The receiving and shipping of relief supplies is the most recent use of the Sager Brown campus, which began in 1867 to serve African-American children orphaned by the Civil War. Since the early 1900s the Women's Division owned and operated the Sager Brown Home and Godman School.
The school closed in 1978. When Hurricane Andrew hit southern Louisiana in 1992, the Women's Division leased the property to UMCOR so the humanitarian agency could operate a relief ministry from the Sager Brown campus. In 1994, construction began on the depot, which opened in 1996.
Sarah Schoeffler vividly remembered the day 15 years ago when Louisiana Bishop William Oden called her to ask if she would help direct the reopening of the Sager Brown campus. She fondly recalled the help of the community, and countless volunteers.
Staff and volunteers provide hospitalityTwenty volunteers from First UMC, Oak Harbor, Washington, came into Baldwin a few days early to help UMCOR Sager Brown staff host the anniversary celebration.
"I'm especially glad that a lot of people from the local community go to see what we do," said Kathy Kraiza, executive director. Ms. Kraiza hopes that local media coverage of the event will continue to foster a positive relationship between the campus and the greater Baldwin area.
The 140th celebration continues throughout 2007. Volunteers and staff can submit short essays on "What UMCOR Sager Brown Means to Me" and find a greeting card to include with shipments to the depot, all online at www.umcor.org . Gifts to support the ministry of relief supplies can be designated to UMCOR Advance #901440, and mailed to UMCOR, PO Box 9068, New York, NY 10087.
Susan Meister is UMCOR Gulf Coast communications consultant.