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Ministry volunteer listens to stories of those in need
Harper also a deacon at First Baptist
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John Harper volunteers with the Gainesville Action Ministry. - photo by Tom Reed

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Monetary donations can be mailed to Action Ministries-Gainesville, P.O. Box 673. Contact 770 531 0144 or visit the webiste for volunteer and other donation opportunities.

The giving spirit

This holiday season, The Times each day spotlights a person or couple who give of themselves to help others in the community. Today, meet John Harper, a deacon and bailiff who works regularly with Action Ministries-Gainesville.

 

John Harper's got a good ear.

The 80-year-old Gainesville resident has spent the past 15 years working with Action Ministries-Gainesville, a ministry that seeks to listen to and help out those in need.

It's part of a statewide organization funded through grants and private donations, Harper said. There are about 20 local churches participating, including his.

People who are in need of financial assistance call to make an appointment to sit down with a volunteer and tell their story.

"The interview is like we're sort of visiting," Harper said. "We want to make them feel good. Some are embarrassed, some have never asked for help before."

Most of the clients in the ministry are behind on utility or rent payments because they are sick, out of work or just started a new job and haven't been paid yet.

"We try to help them financially to keep from being in that fix," Harper said, adding volunteers make suggestions to the clients to help them get back on their feet.

He said in 2011, the group spent about $40,000 assisting with these payments for clients who meet their qualifications.

Harper said many times clients are sent home with food and cleaning supplies too.

The ministry hosts events throughout the year, including a White Christmas gift-giving for children, sending holiday dinners home and having a graduation ceremony for those who go through financial literacy programs.

"It's a great feeling to see some of the people you've interviewed have jobs now and are working," he said.

"They feel like whether you helped me or not, that you're really compassionate and you care about them."

Harper got involved with Action Ministries after he started working with a similar group at his church.

"We were in a training class and the man who was head of Action Ministries then, Chuck Bancroft, talked, so I went and got training there for how they want us to interview people," he said.

Aside from volunteering with the ministry, Harper is in his second year as a deacon at First Baptist Church of Gainesville. He also works as a bailiff for Andrew Fuller, chief superior court judge in Hall County.

"The bailiff is primarily to assist the jurors in where to go and when to go," he said. "I've enjoyed it. You meet so many people and it's interesting. I like TV programs about jury things so it's really a live TV program when you get into the case itself."

Harper also enjoys gardening and being with his family, which grew considerably in the past several years.

He was born and raised in Decatur. He attended Presbyterian College in South Carolina on a football scholarship and then went into the military during the Korean War, where he was on active duty for 21 months. He was married to his high school sweetheart.

"I went to work for General Motors in 1955 when I got out of the Army and retired in 1991. We moved up here to Gainesville in 1981 to be on the lake," he said.

His wife of 41 years passed away when she was 60. Friends later set Harper up with a Gainesville native named Madge.

"We called it courting back then," Harper said. "Madge is four years younger than I. We got married; she has two sons and two daughters and I have a son and two daughters. There's seven married children, 19 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. We have big Christmases."

He tries to live by, and share with his clients and family, the ministry's motto verse from the book of Matthew: "When you've done it unto the least of these, you've done it unto me."

"Before they come in, our group prays for our clients so the emphasis is more on the ministry and trying to find things we can praise them for as opposed to the monetary," Harper said. "When they leave, you hope that you may have said something that can help, that they can hold on to."

 

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