Silent Heroes show care for their communities
As the calendar approached the holiday and giving season, Wiregrass Electric Cooperative (WEC) and WTVY News 4 partnered to honor 3 local residents for their community contributions.
The partnership recently named Judy Reiter of Samson, Paige Pope of Ashford High School, and J.P. Kelley of Rehobeth as Silent Heroes of the Wiregrass honorees for July, August, and September, respectively. Reiter plays a major role in an addiction recovery ministry, Pope leads students on several community improvement projects, and Kelley ensures his city stays beautiful by taking care of a large cemetery.
No matter how they work to better their communities, the recipients display a love for the Wiregrass and deserve to be honored, says WEC Chief Operating Officer, Brad Kimbro.
“Challenges manifest in a variety of ways in each of our communities,” he says. “While one person can’t fix everything, he or she can do something to better one situation. That’s the goal of our partnership with WTVY — to highlight where people can serve and improve their neighbors and communities.”
Cooking & Caring
Reiter retired in 2020 after serving as a certified public accountant for many years, but she always felt her true calling was somewhere else. “My heart loves cooking,” she says. “We had a restaurant and catering business for about 12 years.”
When her church, First United Methodist Church of Samson, teamed with other area churches to launch a Celebrate Recovery chapter, Reiter knew exactly how she could support the counseling ministry. She ensures that a large, homecooked meal is ready at 6 p.m. on the Thursdays the chapter meets.
“It’s a family program. The children can come with their parents if their parents want to bring them,” she says. “We provide something for the children and adults to eat and a program for the children to do.”
Reiter says the ministry fits perfectly with her life goal of exemplifying the teachings of Jesus Christ.
“The way he’s leading me to do that is by loving people and helping them in any way that I can,” she says. “It’s just a love of helping people that drew us into it.”
Creating Community-Minded Students
She may not be an instructor by title, but Pope, a school nurse, teaches Ashford High School students valuable life lessons through a faith-based club called First Priority.
“I’m trying to get the kids to understand that they have to give back to their community. They have to be an example to other students, to their friends,” she says. “It’s not about just sitting back, seeing a need and not filling it. When they see a need, they need to come up with a plan and get out there and put it in action.”
The Ashford chapter of First Priority accomplishes this through several projects. The primary effort is a food bank that helps feed students in need and their families.
“We help several students and their families that don’t have enough food — especially for fall break, Thanksgiving, Christmas, spring break, and before we get out for summer,” Pope says.
Additionally, the club has tackled projects like painting bathrooms, installing a wheelchair ramp at a home, and painting a town mural.
Keeping the City Clean
Years ago, a large cemetery at the intersection of Campbellton Highway and Hadden Road fell into disrepair. Since this intersection is near Alabama Highway 605, a popular bypass around Dothan, thousands of cars were driving by the developing eyesore daily.
Kelley decided to take action.
“There were a whole lot of people fussing about the cemetery,” he says. “I said, ‘Rather than fuss about it, let’s do something about it.’ We led the way to try to keep up with it.”
The project had several challenges, including determining ownership and responsibility. The cemetery is so old that a courthouse fire in the early 1900s destroyed any record of ownership, Kelley says.
Although the cemetery is near Rehobeth Baptist Church, the church does not own the property. Nor is the cemetery on municipal property. Performing any work there on behalf of either entity would create liability issues.
Eventually, Kelley and others created The Rehobeth Cemetery Inc. to obtain ownership of the property and manage it. He now uses the group, which has a board, to raise funds for the upkeep of the cemetery. If it is needed, he takes care of the cemetery with lawn equipment himself.
The Silent Heroes designation includes a $1,000 contribution from WEC’s Operation Round Up Charitable Foundation. The honorees selflessly plan to utilize the funds to continue work with their projects.
“It’s going to help the food bank at the school tremendously,” Pope says. “That will furnish families with a Thanksgiving meal and a Christmas meal.”
“This will go into the account to help take care of the cemetery, whether that’s with a new lawnmower or weed eater,” Kelley adds.
The recipients acknowledge the Silent Heroes program provides more than just charitable contributions to the Wiregrass. It serves as an inspiration.
“It’s a way for people to know what’s going on in the community,” Kelley says. “There’s a big community, from Florala to the Chattahoochee River. It’s really neat, because we all get to learn what’s going on in our communities.”