More than 700 community members, passionate about helping the homeless in Bulloch County, are signed up and prepared to take part in the Fourth Annual Chocolate Run.
The run is the major fundraiser to benefit the homeless shelter being built by the Open Hearts Community Mission and is set for 9 a.m. Saturday at the RAC Pavilion on Georgia Southern University's campus.
Delia Mobley, chairwoman of the board of directors for Open Hearts, said last year's Chocolate Run raised $32,000 for the shelter. Registration remains open online and will be available on the day of the event. And, yes, there will be plenty of chocolate.
While participants lace up their shoes to walk or run, the future site they support waits patiently for the foundation to be poured. Progress continues for Open Hearts Community Mission on Martin Luther King Drive, but head contractor David Bobo and fellow construction workers - all volunteering their time - are at the mercy of the weather.
Recent rainfall has hindered the foundation pouring; however, the Rev. Jim Lewis, the newly hired executive director for the facility, remains undeterred.
"It's all in God's timing," Lewis said. "I'm reminded of Romans 8:28 from the Bible: 'And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.' "
Lewis has accomplished much since being hired in November, like researching and writing programs and policies, constructing job descriptions, organizing schedules and recruiting volunteers. He said he is constantly thinking ahead, trying to imagine the flow of the facility.
"Admissions (to the facility) will depend so much on that. You've got to have structure with that, just like the structure of the actual building," he said.
The 30-bed homeless shelter has a definitive purpose, as outlined on its website: "to feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, restore the downtrodden and share the Gospel of Jesus Christ."
"The emphasis is excellence," Lewis said. "We're not just 'three hots and a cot.' We have high standards - a five-star mission.
"We believe every person is worthy of respect and dignity. If you treat them the way they are, you condemn them to stay that way. We want to take off the label of 'homeless' and put on a label of 'hope.' "
Lewis shared with great fervor that one size does not fit all when deciding the needs of a homeless community. Some individuals have greater needs and difficulties, while some just need help getting back on their feet.
"Open Hearts will help those we serve anchor into the future and move beyond the past - a life-recovery endeavor," he said.
With 44 years of ministry in the United States and other countries and previous leadership of two major city missions, Lewis brings much experience and a huge dose of faith to the shelter project. At 70 years of age, he said he is passionate about finishing his life with excellence, and he plans to do that here, with Open Hearts Community Mission homeless shelter. He referenced the story of Jesus' first miracle in the Bible and said, "God saves the best for last."
Lewis believes the Statesboro and Bulloch County communities are unique in how they've come together to support the shelter, in their focus, purpose and fundraising.
"The community has been so generous with donations and support - churches, individuals, civic groups," she said. "Because of the generous community, when the building is completed, it will be debt free."
Year-to-year operating costs, however, will be costly, and events like the Chocolate Run will help offset some of those costs. To support the Open Hearts Community Mission, register for the Chocolate Run at www.thesweetestrace.com.