Gainesville-based Helping Hands Foreign Missions is rebounding from the unexpected death of its enthusiastic leader, Richard Kowalske, in August.
"We are doing really well," said Stan Bell, Helping Hands' secretary-treasurer, who was named interim CEO and chairman of the organization's board of directors after Kowalske's passing.
"We've had a lot of volunteers ... and some new full-time staff members come on board and fill some holes. It's been a blessing to see the little team that God had in place come together and pick the ball up and run with it."
Kowalske, the organization's co-founder, died of malaria Aug. 14 after returning from a mission trip to Uganda, where Helping Hands is developing its "Village of Eden" project.
Several days later, hundreds of people packed Riverbend Baptist Church in Gainesville for an emotional memorial service featuring eulogies from his children.
Before setting up Helping Hands in 2003 with his wife, Brenda, the 58-year-old had worked as a chiropractor for some 25 years.
"We do miss Richard a bunch," said Bell, who led Christian praise songs at the memorial service. "There were so many things he brought to the table that we probably will never reproduce - his passion for the ministry, his enthusiasm and zeal. And he was a huge fundraiser."
Today, however, "I know we are stronger organizationally because we are depending on folks to do the work," Bell said. "We have a clear vision and ... we are very determined to see that through to the end. We look forward to whatever the next project might be."
The Village of Eden project calls for the purchase of 500 acres and construction of an orphanage to house 2,000 children. Christian widows and widowers "who are having a hard time surviving" will serve as houseparents.
The plan is "to give those kids who don't ever feel love or respect ... a family atmosphere," Bell said.
Helping Hands is still raising money for the effort.
"We are well on the way and actively looking for property," Bell said. "... We think we might be in the position to buy land in the coming year, which would be a huge step."