There are many reasons to support a former Baptist preacher who cares for all kinds of people.
"I've been reading up on Blue Ridge Hope," a donor said last week. "It looks like Travis will just talk to anybody."
And he will listen to anybody.
Rev. Travis Smith is the executive director of Blue Ridge Hope, which just turned six years old over the Independence Day Holiday and is celebrating two years as a nonprofit organization.
The organization is nonprofit so Travis can talk to and listen to anybody regardless of their ability to pay.
"We were able to provide 422 hours of free services during the past year," Smith said as he celebrates completing another year.
A Facebook appeal and a private birthday appeal have netted needed support for the young organization that has served thousands in its six-year history.
Smith, his wife, Allyson, and a small part-time staff do counseling in areas of grief, family relations, and dealing with a number of life crisis situations.
But why do it for free in a nonprofit setting? A number of local therapists and counselors have been clear that their practices are set up to serve people who can pay or have insurance that will pay. What Blue Ridge Hope does serves all comers, but especially people who are under the stress of poverty.
Located on Main Street in Rutherfordton, the organization has appointments available with Smith during the day and Amy Cochran at night. Both are experienced counselors with many years to their credit. Appointments can be made by calling 828-202-3075 or through the group's website at blueridgehope.org.
The website has recently been upgraded by Addie Harris, an intern from UNC-Asheville with top drawer photos from local photographer and videographer R.J. Aiken. Allyson Smith is also available for nutritional information and life coaching. And Kristen Austin, a physician's assistant is now onboard to help with home healthcare.
Smith told the following story to stress the importance of the work: "Jerry is a man in his 50's who had suffered the death of his wife to cancer 12 months before he came to my office. Jerry had not coped well with his wife's passing and one of the ways he had not coped well was deciding to date and marry again within the 12 months. Jerry said, 'Well I'm here because my wife says I ain't over my other wife and we are having big problems.' We talked a while and he described the problems as he saw them.
"One of the problems Jerry revealed had nothing to do with his current wife or even his grief over the loss of his former spouse. He revealed that he had also been diagnosed with cancer and was out of work and no insurance coverage. Imagine. You have suffered the death of your spouse of 25 years. You have remarried and now this marriage may dissolve due to stressors. Also, imagine that you have now been diagnosed with the same type of cancer that led to the death of your first wife, and you are out of work and have no insurance to afford counseling?
"You see the good news was that with at least one of those stressors Blue Ridge Hope had a solution. I was able to look at Jerry and say your lack of insurance is not an issue at Blue Ridge Hope. I was able to explain to Jerry that he is not alone in this and I am here to help him walk through this. I stated, 'I don't know what is going to happen Jerry, but I promise you won't be left without a compassionate ear and a guide to walk alongside you because you don't have insurance.' It is rewarding to sit across from someone and see that for the first time in a long time they have a flame of hope. They found a place that contains more hope than what is found just in the name."
Reach out to Blue Ridge Hope if you think a compassionate ear would be helpful. Also remember that many donors are giving at this time of year to celebrate the group's birthday. Those gifts make what they do possible.