One written letter brings hope to the hopeless

Ely wanted to help her mother.

She had seen her mother’s eyes grow more tired – and more worried – each night she came home from her two jobs; two jobs she worked to pay bills, feed her children, and return payment for a loan she received from an establishment that charged more interest than morally acceptable; a loan she had received to pay for a minivan that no longer worked.

For that reason, Ely sat down and wrote a letter to whom many an 11-year-old would write: Santa. She told Santa she was writing, not to ask anything for herself, but for him to get her mother a car because her mother’s vehicle broke down. “And she sometimes has a hard time getting to and from work,” she wrote. “And sometimes she cries.”

 

“When God lays something in your lap, you have to do something with it.”

 

She signed and folded the letter, placed it into an envelope postmarked “North Pole,” and sent it through the mail.

The letter never made it to the North Pole. It did, however, make it into the hands of a man who cared and who could help, as he had helped countless others in his lifetime through his love for Christ and desire to serve his community. It landed into the hands of Jerry Speight.

Jerry Speight’s life of service is a shining example of humanity at its best. His Hope Center of Greenville has directly helped hundreds of Hunt County residents through its various programs and projects. Its programs have restored broken homes – both figuratively and physically – helped residents complete their GEDs, and fostered valuable computer skills to those seeking better employment. On top of that, they have given away 450 desktop PCs to local families over the years.

Before Jerry opened the Hope Center 13 years ago with his wife, Brenda, he had lived a full life of service – enough for nearly anyone to retire with the peace of mind of having served well. But, he said, “‘Retirement age’ isn’t a part of my vocabulary.”

Jerry said his purpose is the same as all people: “To love the Lord, to serve him with all of our heart, and in doing so, we serve others.”

Watching how his parents served their community was “a big factor” in shaping his heart toward that goal. He was taught to look for the Lord’s purpose in any and all circumstances.

As Jerry looks back on his life, he says he sees how the Lord laid the groundwork all those years ago for the Hope Center and how he serves now. From being stationed in Eglin AFB, Florida, when he worked closely with the justice department to help disadvantaged youths during his service; to returning home to Hunt County to be close with his father in the ‘60s, when he attended Dallas Bible College and met Dr. Tony Evans and saw his Urban Alternative’s impact on inner-city Dallas; all the way to developing products with several Christian media ministries, such as Focus on the Family, nationwide; Jerry said he knows “God was getting me ready for what He had planned for me to serve.”

Jerry Speight and his wife, Brenda, opened the Hope Center of Greenville 13 years ago, with teh help from First Baptist Church of Greenville Paster Terry Blankenship and his friend Harold Curtis. (Laurie White King)

After his eventful career of service, Jerry knew he wanted to take his wealth of experience and bring it to Greenville.

And so he opened the Hope Center of Greenville, but not without a lot of help. They found a building, thanks to First Baptist Greenville Pastor Terry Blankenship, got 501(c)(3) nonprofit status set up through his friend Harold Curtis, and launched their first project that got their name out in the community, which came from an unlikely source: a fireman who saw a need and distributed a card with Jerry’s name on it.

Jerry sought ways to get their nonprofit out into the community, so he went to the fire department and handed out several of the Hope Center’s cards, asking the firemen to hand them to anyone they thought could use some help. The fire department happened to be doing a program where they installed free fire detectors in the poorer neighborhoods in Greenville.

One firefighter walked into the home of a woman, visibly sad, and began to listen to her story, which she told through tears. Her husband was recently diagnosed with cancer, and the city recently came to tell her they would soon evict her from the property because of a storage building in disrepair. To tear it down and replace it would cost $6,000, which she did not have.

So the firefighter pulled Jerry’s card from his breast pocket and handed her hope. She called, told him her story, and within a few weeks, Jerry put together a team, including one of his friends, Al Schafer, and emptied everything from the building, filling two, 30-yard dumpsters with junk in the process.

Jerry was about to leave, knowing they had done a good job, when he saw a little girl, the woman’s granddaughter, crying on the front porch. Jerry walked up and asked her what was the matter. She replied that she and her friends used to play in that building. Now they couldn’t.

“There’s briars and other sharp objects; don’t you get hurt?”

“Yes,” she said. “But it’s the only place we have to play.”

Jerry didn’t want to leave a project half-complete. With this new information, Jerry told the story to the local Lion’s Club. After he spoke, the members went searching for a playground, one that had a swing set, and most importantly, a slide – something she always wanted.

The little girl was kept inside while they installed the playground. Once complete, she stepped into the backyard and saw what they brought. Jerry remembers the look on her face, the look of sheer joy, the tears, the sounds of laughter she made when she swung on the swings and slid down the slide, again and again.

“It’s of those life-impacting pictures,” he said. “I’ll never forget it. All that happened through a fireman who was sensitive enough to say, ‘Here’s a card: maybe they can help.’”

That story, and many others over the years of his life, reveal Jerry’s character and life of service. That life of service continued when the letter from Ely Limon to Santa made its way into his hands last December.

“When God lays something in your lap, you have to do something with it,” he said.

So Jerry did what Jerry does: he found a way to help. He wrote Ely a short reply.

“Hello Ely, this is Jerry Speight. Please have your mother call me.”

She contacted him and agreed to meet early 2019.

Though Brenda was in the hospital recovering from a near fatal heart attack, and his daughter and granddaughter in town to visit, Jerry still took the time to meet with Claudia. Reading the letter and wanting to meet the Ely’s mother, so poignantly described in the letter, his daughter and granddaughter also decided to come along. They met at her work in Greenville, and she shared her story.

After 10 minutes of listening to her situation and her history, Jerry was convinced he was going to help.

Jerry called his friend, Jerry Allen, at A&J Auto Repair in Greenville, and asked if he had a working vehicle he could get for Claudia. He told Jerry he had an SUV that needed some work, but he could get it in good shape.

“He got that car ready,” Jerry said. “It was like new.”

So they found a time where they could meet Claudia and presented her with the keys and title to the vehicle she dearly needed.

Claudia happily received the SUV and drove it to and from work for several weeks, enjoying the freedom of not being burdened by continuously asking friends and coworkers for rides.

One day, however, when pulling into her driveway, she was hit from behind by a teenager. He didn’t see her; he was texting. Not knowing what to do, she called Jerry and asked if he could help her with the insurance claim and a search for another car.

While helping her with the claim, Jerry went looking for another vehicle for her to use. This time he contacted his friend Brian Gibson at Gibson automotive.

Jerry talked with his friend, Brian, and told him her story.

It happened that Brian had a Chevy Tahoe available. So while Jerry helped Claudia with the claim, the vehicle he picked out for her was being washed, detailed, and tuned up, getting ready to meet its new owner.

Claudia received the claim and Jerry met with her and gave her the keys and title to the Tahoe, which she continues to drive today.

Claudia will be sharing her story of how, through the Gospel, Jerry gave hope to her in a near hopeless situation, at this year’s Hope Center Banquet in October. She wants to share her story to those who come, and Jerry said he wants people to see the pictures, to hear the stories of lives changed, and to see the impact the Hope Center has made in Greenville; he wants people who give to see the faces of the people helped through their contribution to the Hope Center.

Jerry and Brenda have served Hunt County faithfully for decades, and despite Brenda’s two major heart attacks, and despite Jerry’s own health burdens from skin cancer and open heart surgery a decade ago, he said as long as the Lord continues to restore their health, they have no room in their hearts for retirement. Besides, he said, they wouldn’t know what to do with themselves if all they had to do was plan their next retirement trip.

“There is no place to stop, until the Lord takes us home,” he said. “I have no alternative but to keep serving.”


Source: Herald Banner