Gadson is first winner of Palmetto CAP’s McFarland-Tecklenburg-Washington Human Service Award
By Jessica Brodie
JOHNS ISLAND—Linda Gadson, director of the United Methodist ministry Rural Mission, was honored this fall for her more than 45 years of work to rid poverty from the Lowcountry.
Gadson was the first winner of the McFarland-Tecklenburg-Washington Human Service Award, presented Oct. 19 at Palmetto Community Action Partnership’s 2017 Community Action Leadership luncheon.
Dubbed “the Mother Teresa of the Sea Islands,” Gadson came to Rural Mission in 1972 and has made it her life’s work to assist the rural poor who depend on the mission for help.
“It means a lot to me because as I look back on the years, 45 years, and to see what all the Lord has done for me and the lives that He allowed me to touch, it makes me feel that He has called me and I’ve answered,” Gadson told the Advocate about the award. “I just feel really, really good that He has called me and He has used me.”
More than 200 community and business leaders participated in the inaugural fundraiser that honored Gadson, as well as paid tribute to Palmetto CAP’s pioneering founders: Judge Arthur C. McFarland, Mayor John J. Tecklenburg and the Rev. McKinley Washington Jr. These founders are responsible for bringing programs to the Charleston community decades ago that continue to fight poverty today.
The service award was created in their honor and will be given annually to recognize a person or organization that contributes to the reduction of poverty in the Lowcountry and advances the importance of equipping citizens most in need with the tools and potential to become self-sufficient.
Rural Mission was chartered in 1969 as an interdenominational nonprofit to address spiritual, social, educational, medical and housing needs of rural residents of the Sea Islands outside Charleston. For many years it focused heavily on the families of migrant farmers, though over the years, migrant farming has diminished in Johns Island as more new developments have come to the community. However, there are still many people in need in the area, both on Johns Island and beyond.
“From the time I graduated from the College of Charleston in 1972, I was driven to ministry at Rural Mission, and I have not regretted my calling,” Gadson said. “It has been 45 years as of Feb. 1, 2017. Only God!”
In addition to housing, food, family services and crisis assistance, Rural Mission also has an active Prayer Warriors group that meets every Tuesday. Started in 1986 and then called Sunshine of Prayers, the Prayer Warriors pray for the ministry, its people and its friends. All week long, Gadson fills small yellow notepads in her looping cursive: prayers specifically requested by friends of Rural Mission or laid on her heart by the Lord above. On Tuesdays, she turns those notepads over to the Prayer Warriors, who come together in a powerful spiritual bond to bring them before Jesus.
Sometimes, people needing prayer will gather with the Warriors, sitting in the center of the circle as they lay on hands or anoint with oil.
Recently, Rural Mission built a full-scale chapel on its grounds, a project Gadson is calling the mission’s new anchor. It is part of a larger new vision for Rural Mission as a spiritual renewal center. Work teams would still journey to Johns Island to work with the rural poor in the area, building homes and doing needed repairs, but they and church teams would also come for other reasons: retreat and renewal.
Dr. Mary Thornley, president of Trident Technical College, led the selection committee that named Gadson the first-ever recipient. Corporate partner Regions Bank was also honored at the luncheon for its work in financial literacy.
Nearly 50 years ago, Palmetto CAP began providing self-sufficiency services to economically disadvantaged citizens of the Lowcountry with the belief that everyone deserves the right to access economic opportunity. Today, Palmetto CAP continues to provide basic needs assistance and self-empowerment programming while giving voice to people living in poverty.
Brenda J. Lauderback, board chair of the Denny’s Corporation and former president of the Nine West Retail Group, served as keynote speaker, addressing how businesses can partner with the community to fight poverty.
For more information about Rural Mission, visit www.ruralmission.org.