About this series
This is a series of stories spotlighting area residents who have contributed to the betterment of Northeast Georgia through their community works.
Good News at Noon shelter
Address: 979 Davis St., Gainesville
Phone number: 770-503-1366
“I made a commitment to God,” Ramirez said. “A lot of people don’t know what commitment means — they know the word, but they don’t know the meaning of it. When I made a commitment to this ministry and to God, I meant that I would be here whether it was raining or snowing, cold or hot, it doesn’t matter. Unless I’m so sick I can’t get up — otherwise I’m here.”
The unassuming 51-year-old has a kind face, which he pairs with jeans and a T-shirt advertising another local ministry as he makes his morning rounds at the Good News shelter, greeting many of the shelter’s visitors by name. Ramirez has a unique means of helping the homeless who find their way to the shelter, many of whom struggle with addiction, alcoholism and cyclical poverty. All of these circumstances were once part of Ramirez’s life, until he found Christ.
“I feel like I fell into a big trash can when I was doing my drugs and drinking,” the former gang member said. “I felt like I was asking for help, ‘Please somebody help me, help me get out of here, I’m sick and tired of this.’
Ramirez believes many people heard his cries from help, but didn’t want to lend a hand. No matter what, he credits Christ for his transformation and everything else he has done with his life.
“They looked into the trash can and said ‘Oh, I feel bad for him, but it’s gross, I need to pull my hands out of there,’” he said. “Then I feel like Jesus Christ came out and heard my screaming, and he put his hands down and he got me out of there. That’s why I’m so grateful. That’s why I reach my hands to these guys, these children.”
In good hands
Ramirez, who came to Gainesville from Mexico as a 12-year-old boy in 1975, was working at a chicken plant and living in his car when he met Gene Beckstein, the founder of Good News at Noon ministry.
“I was impressed with the way (Ramirez) came to Good News at Noon (and) served food to the people,” Beckstein said. “He was homeless then, he was living out of his car at that time, but I was impressed with him. I got him a bed in the homeless shelter at Good News at Noon, and he’s been very strong ever since.”
Just as Beckstein helped Ramirez turn his life over to Christ, Ramirez now helps others. Beckstein, who still makes daily trips to the ministry he founded, sees every day the effect Ramirez has on the people at Good News at Noon. With Ramirez at the helm, Beckstein is confident the ministry he started is in good hands.
“Thomas comes in and shakes my hand, kisses my forehead, and I know everything is all right,” the 91-year-old said.
Ramirez has a hand in every aspect of Good News at Noon’s shelter ministry, from helping with the after-school program to distributing food to the homeless individuals who find their way to the shelter. But quite often the most helpful thing Ramirez can do for a homeless person, he says, is just listen.
“I made a commitment to serve God as long as he allowed me to live, working with anyone who comes here, whether they need mental, physical, spiritual help, clothes,” Ramirez said. “Sometimes they need somebody who can talk. I say ‘Yeah, I got two ears. I’ll listen to you.’”
Ramirez grew up in a small town about 50 miles from Mexico City called Puebla. He has vivid memories of the poverty he experienced and how his fellow students treated him.
“When I was going to school, kids were making fun of me,” Ramirez said, noting he always wore sandals because his family couldn’t afford shoes.
Ramirez remembers his mother and grandmother making clothes out of flour sacks. But one of the worst experiences was being placed in the back of his classroom, in a room of 40 other students, because he didn’t have a gift for his teacher.
“The teacher always would sit me way in the back, because I didn’t have anything to offer him,” Ramirez said. “Some kids from the town had shoes, they had nice clothes, so they’d put them in the front because they could bring him a sandwich, an orange, a banana. I could not do that because I was hungry myself.”
Ramirez sees much of his childhood experience reflected in the children who come to the Good News at Noon shelter. And while he teaches them about Christ, Ramirez says much of his job is about showing compassion, too. It’s an aspect of his job he sees extending far into the future.
“I try to treat (the children) right, because whatever you teach a child, he’s going to remember,” Ramirez said. “It’s good for our country, because these are the children (who) are going to run the country one day. If we don’t teach them the right things, how do we expect them to do the right things when they get old?”
Ramirez can tell countless stories of children he has seen come through Good News at Noon and turn their lives around. Whether it be turning from destructive habits, anger or family trouble.
One recent occurrence was when two young men approached him as he worked with children outside the shelter. The two “big old guys” told Ramirez they had come to visit their families.
“I’m thinking, ‘What does this have to do with me?’” he said.
The young men informed Ramirez they were once caught breaking windows on his van at the shelter. Instead of getting them in trouble, Ramirez simply told the boys they needed to change. As adults, they recalled the advice Ramirez gave them: to join the Army or Marines and stop fighting around Gainesville.
“They said ‘We followed your advice. We’re in the Marines now, and we’ve come back to say Thank you for speaking to us,’” Ramirez said. “They did something with their lives.”
Not every challenge Ramirez encounters at Good News at Noon is as harmless as a few broken windows.
Last year, one young woman’s interactions with others grabbed Ramirez’s attention and not for the right reasons.
Some of the children said the girl was “going to slice a couple of kids,” the father of three girls and one boy said, recalling the conversation. “Kids say a lot of stuff, so I said ‘OK, I’ll talk to her tomorrow.’”
When the girl arrived the next day she was carrying a pocketbook. Ramirez requested to speak with her in his office, and asked to see the contents of her pocketbook. A butcher knife and duct tape were inside.
“She was very angry with her family, with herself,” Ramirez said. “I told her I cannot be your daddy, but can I be your friend? Can I be your godfather?”
Instead of reporting her to the authorities, Ramirez offered to take the girl out for a burger or to the park with him and his daughters.
“The girl turned her life around. Now she is doing good,” he said. “The hatred is gone. And all she needed is somebody to talk to her.”
To attend to all shelter residents, Ramirez, his wife and their three daughters and a newly adopted son live close to Good News. It allows Ramirez to be available to help anyone who might show up in need.
His oldest daughter attends college in South Carolina. Another daughter is about to start college, but she has not decided on where. His youngest daughter attends Gainesville Middle School, while his son, Ralley, just started kindergarten at Chicopee Woods Elementary School.
Ralley was a blessing to the Gainesville man, who always wanted a son.
Ramirez and his wife decided to adopt the child after a couple brought him into Good News at Noon when Ralley was only 4 months old.
“His mom and dad weren’t able to take care of him,” Ramirez said. “I said ‘Lord, I would like to have a son. I would like to have a son, Lord.’ And God sent me a son. A beautiful son.”
Ramirez’s family is a big part of what drives him to continue doing what he does.
“God has blessed me tremendously,” he said. “I’m so grateful. I want to share my blessings in my job with other people by helping them, showing them that regardless of whatever you’re going through, it’s going to be OK.”
Whatever the circumstance, Ramirez is emphatic in his belief that only Christ can help people out of the worst circumstances.
“Whether you believe it or not, just put your trust in the Lord Jesus Christ,” he said. “It works. I know it works. It’s our only hope in this world.”
Ramirez sees the work he does for Christ — helping, caring for and listening to so many individuals who might be overlooked — not only as pivotal to his commitment to God, but as something that will extend far into the future.
“What you put in the ground is what’s going to come up,” he said. “I try to plant good seeds, because when the harvest comes, it’s going to be good fruit.”