We are excited to introduce you to Jessica Grote, The Cooperative Ministry’s Director of Financial Sustainability Programs. This University of South Carolina graduate double majored in Finance and Accounting.
“I chose The Cooperative Ministry because I wanted to work for an organization that is improving our community,” Grote says.
In addition to overseeing The Cooperative Ministry’s successful Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program, and Financial Sustainability classes, she will manage all client-related aspects of the Autos for Opportunities program.
Executive Director Beth Irick says, “We are thrilled to have Jessica as part of our team. Her knowledge, enthusiasm and heart for helping others will impact our programs and the clients we serve.
Grote’s number one goal?
“My number one goal is to PREPARE people for emergencies- so that when crisis happens they will feel mentally prepared and financially stable enough to handle the situation,” Grote says.
Grote has a passion for helping hard-working people become more self-sufficient. In addition to her day job, Jessica serves on the Board of Advisors as the Treasurer of Hannah House. She also teaches a financial sustainability class at Hanna House.
“I have seen 257 clients in 16 days.”
Bill Taber has been on the job as The Cooperative Ministry’s Crisis Assistance Manager for a little over a month.
“In that time the gamut has run from home fires, to flood victims, to people who because of a medical crisis are not able to pay bills. ” Taber says, “These are people who are working.”
He admits there are moments when he’s absolutely overwhelmed. Taber says the needs he is seeing are beyond what any one organization can handle.
“Which is the great thing about The Cooperative Ministry, ” Taber says. It’s a group of people, a group of faith- based organizations trying desperately to make a difference in Columbia,” Taber says.
Before coming to The Cooperative Ministry Taber spent 32 years in ministry.
“My prior career has helped me understand people; being able to give them a moment of grace in a time when grace is far from what they are experiencing,” Taber says.
“I think the perception is that the people we serve don’t have jobs and that they are not trying to work,” Taber says. “What we are finding is they really are the working poor. They are trying very hard and with one emergency that comes up, they get tilted over into a crisis situation. “
While the challenge seems enormous at times, Taber is excited about his mission.
“There is an overwhelming need in a population that is greatly underserved.”
You and your family are new to the area. Can you tell us where you are from, why you moved to Columbia and how you are finding your new home in SC?
My family and I moved from Philadelphia to Lexington on New Year’s Eve 2014, so we’ve been here for a little over a year and we love it! My husband Joe and I have three children – ages three, five and eight – and we all settled into our new home quickly. We relocated here for my job with Aflac in Columbia and are happy to call SC home now. In the past year we’ve quickly gotten involved in the community, made some new, lifelong friends and are active with Lexington youth sports!
How did you hear about The Cooperative Ministry and why did you consider joining the TCM board?
I was introduced to The Cooperative Ministry through one of my coworkers at Aflac. I immediately connected with the mission of TCM: Working Hard for the Working Poor. There are so many people in our community who work hard every day and are only one financial hardship away from being hungry… or even homeless. I am honored to be part of the board of this organization so that I can support programs for families in the Midlands navigate through challenging times and become stronger as a result of it.
You moved just in time to experience the historic flooding in SC. Would you share your impressions of that time and your thoughts on how the community handled the disaster?
I was humbled to see so many of my neighbors and colleagues caring for each other in spectacular ways and really, that was just a microcosm of how the entire community was reacting to the event. The outpouring of donations and support from everyone to everyone was something I’m proud to have been a part of. As tragedies often do, this event showcased the positivity, the love and the generosity of South Carolinians.
Do you like grits and sweet tea? Say Y’all?
We wasted no time getting ingrained into the southern culture! We love all of the local spots for traditional southern food, we regularly enjoy cookouts with our neighbors, we are officially Gamecocks fans and love weekends out on Lake Murray. I don’t think I’ve fully put the apostrophe in “you all” yet, but my children have! On the flip side, we’ve introduced authentic Philly cheesesteaks to our new friends and I think they are hooked. There is a blending of the taste buds at our house!
garbage bag.” My heart sunk when I realized these poor children had to keep their belongings in trash bags. I vowed to never have another child suffer that indignity again, so I made it my mission to provide every child in foster care with one suit case to call their own.” Smith says.
“This is a real blessing … I felt like God was going to (provide).”
Jessica’s smile warmed the chilly morning she visited The Cooperative Ministry to pick up the car she received through Autos for Opportunities.
Jessica says she can feel a shift in her life. This single mother from Lexington is the first Autos for Opportunities recipient of the New Year.
She has held a steady job at a Midlands restaurant chain for years. Often walking to work 8 miles round trip, Jessica feared for her life as she hugged the shoulder of the road in the darkness of night.
Her life took another harrowing turn when Jessica says she became the victim of domestic violence. In an attempt to protect her baby daughter, Jessica moved in with her family, but the home was deemed unsafe to raise a child. With nowhere else to go, Jessica found respite in a women’s shelter in Lexington.
“It hasn’t been easy,” Jessica says, but getting a car through Autos for Opportunities has increased her drive to pursue a long-term goal.
“I really want to go to school and become a nursing assistant. I want a better life for my daughter,” Jessica says.
Jessica’s story garnered a lot of attention from the local media.
“We’re so pleased with the media coverage of this important story,” says Cooperative Ministry Executive Director Beth Irick. “We hope when people see how donating their old car can completely change a life, they will consider donating to Autos for Opportunities.”
The Cooperative Ministry is currently experiencing a shortage of vehicles. Right now, over 30 hardworking people like Jessica are on the Autos for Opportunities waiting list.
Autos for Opportunities applicants have to be employed and they have to be able to afford the costs associated with owning a vehicle.
In a study of upward mobility, transportation was listed as crucial for families trying to escape poverty.
“Autos for Opportunities can be life-changing,” Irick says. “We’ve seen it first hand.”
For more information on how you can donate a car and receive a tax deduction call 803-799-3853.