When Delia Mobley saw homeless people on the streets of Statesboro, her reaction was not to turn away and pretend the problem did not exist.
"The one we honor today is a unique person, very much a 'see a problem, fix a problem' kind of person," Joe McGlamery said, introducing the 2018 Citizen of the Year as recognized jointly by Statesboro's two Rotary Clubs.
"This individual had an early understanding that Statesboro had a homeless problem," he said. "Although some of her friends argued otherwise, our honoree did the homework and saw that we have a significant homeless population."
During the annual luncheon in the Forest Heights Country Club ballroom, the Rotary Club of Downtown Statesboro and Rotary Club of Statesboro salute a Bulloch County resident active in civic affairs. The honoree is not always a Rotarian, and the criteria state that he or she should be someone whose activities contribute "to the cultural, social and moral advancement of all citizens."
More than six years ago, Mobley started working through the mission committee at her church, First United Methodist, connecting with other volunteers who saw the problem and organizing a response. People from other churches joined the effort, and since 2011, Open Hearts Community Mission has assisted hundreds of homeless individuals, providing them temporary housing and life counseling and finding them jobs with local businesses.
For the first few years, volunteers put people up in motels. But Mobley always understood that simply housing the homeless on a temporary basis was not the answer, McGlamery said.
"Her vision was that this community needed a facility for providing short-term temporary housing, supervised job searches and a savings plan that would be the key to individuals eventually exiting the homeless shelter able to live on their own," he said.
In 2015, the Open Hearts Community Mission board, which Mobley chairs, hired the Rev. Jim Lewis, who was previously executive director of the Old Savannah City Mission and of a mission in Los Angeles, to be executive director of the new mission here. Meanwhile, efforts to build the facility moved forward. The homeless shelter, with room for up to 30 people, began receiving them last July, several months before a dedication ceremony was held in December.
Lewis gave a brief report on the shelter's work during Monday's special meeting. He spoke prior to the award presentation, and having him as guest speaker was also a way for the Rotary Clubs to ensure that Delia Mobley and her husband, Dr. Chip Mobley, attended without telling her she would be the honoree.
Since July 3, the mission has received 102 applicants, of whom 42 were accepted and 59 not accepted, Lewis said, with a slide showing these numbers. Many more people call, but the first question he asks is whether they are residents of Bulloch County, a requirement established by the board.
Of those enrolled, 17 percent are white females, 38 percent are black females, 19 percent are white males and 26 percent are black males. Youth under age 18 made up about 29 percent of those housed.
The men's dormitory and women's dormitory have room for 12 residents each, and currently six children are residents, Lewis said.
The adults are required to take steps toward moving themselves and their families back out on their own. They are expected to stay three to six months while accumulating enough money in a savings account to cover three months' living expenses, he said.
"We want to serve people who want to stand up and move forward in life," Lewis said.
He showed a video that included a quick visual tour. Speaking from the video, one of the shelter's first residents said she knew whose original idea the shelter was and how hard she worked to make it happen.
'A special place'
"There must be a special place in heaven for people like her," the shelter resident said.
That was before the award presentation.
"Thank you so much," Mobley said, after she came forward to accept the award. "This means a lot to me. It has been a privilege to do what I've been a part of. It hasn't been just me; it's been all the people who have supported me and the volunteers themselves."
The family of the late Lester Brannen gave the land where the mission was built. David Bobo provided "his expertise as a builder to build a homeless shelter with no debt," and Frank Hook "raised tremendous in-kind contributions through his fundraising skills," McGlamery said.
Many volunteers have also assisted with the Chocolate Run, the Open Hearts Community Mission's annual fundraiser.
Mobley had "strong support from her husband" and "even stronger support from her God" as she even gave up a job to pursue her volunteer work with the mission, McGlamery said.
An independent piano teacher and previously a special education teacher in the public schools, Mobley in 2000 launched a Kindermusic program. It was the Kindermusic she gave up for the Open Hearts work, but she still teaches piano lessons.
In 2015, Mobley received the Statesboro Herald Humanitarian of the Year award during the annual Deen Day Smith Service to Mankind Awards celebration. That award was largely in recognition of her work to that point with Open Hearts Community Mission.
Those earlier efforts, when Mobley would take food in the trunk of her car to homeless people staying in motels, helped volunteers grasp the extent of homelessness in Bulloch County, she said after Monday's meeting.
Sizing the challenge
"We don't have a tent city, we're not inundated by homelessness, but the need was here, and the facility that we have today was built according to the needs we have today and for what may come in the future," she said.
There were never more than 15 homeless people at a time put up in motels, and 19 has been the most at one time in the shelter so far, she said.
Mobley is also a sustaining member of the Statesboro Service League. She previously served on the boards of the Statesboro Council for the Arts, the Statesboro-Georgia Southern University Symphony and the Make-a-Wish Foundation.
Statesboro Rotary Club President Chuck Perry and Downtown Statesboro Rotary Club President Allen Muldrew welcomed members and guests to Monday's luncheon. McGlamery, regional vice president of Morris Multimedia and president of the Statesboro Herald, was invited by the award committee to make the presentation and is not an officer of either club.
Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.