Integrated Community Ministries and Heritage Learning Center support local community and surrounding area
Photo by Eugenia Jones
Barbara Coffey Duncan is assisted by Krystie Marcum and many volunteers in managing the Heritage Learning Center on Rattlesnake Ridge.
By Eugenia Jones
Barbara Coffey Duncan always knew she would somehow be involved with mission work; however, she never realized her calling would be to travel just a few yards away from her home adjacent to the beloved place where she grew up as a child. Today, the fruition of her missionary work reveals itself in the forms of the nonprofit Integrated Community Ministries (ICM), established by Barbara and her husband, Hilton, in 1999 and the Heritage Learning Center on Rattlesnake Ridge in western, rural McCreary County, KY.
Barbara’s calling began simply enough. After her grandmother’s death, Barbara wanted to do something nice as a way to thank all those in the community who had been so kind during her grandmother’s illness and passing. Deciding to have a community party at the West McCreary County Fire Department on Rattlesnake Ridge and inviting everyone to attend, Barbara said she had found the perfect way to thank all her neighbors and friends. As news about the party spread, Barbara was asked if she could help distribute some free clothing to those in need at the party. Barbara happily agreed to help.
She didn’t realize how much the clothing would mean for many of those attending the party.
“I was surprised when a lady came up after the party and asked if I was going to do the clothing give away again,” Barbara recalled. “She told me how much the availability of the clothing at the party helped her children. I decided I could, at least, begin a weekly clothing outreach for those in need.”
It wasn’t long before Barbara began to see others within the community who had definite needs. A turning point came when she and a friend delivered a gently used bed to a family with five children. At the time of the delivery, the children were sleeping on the floor.
“When we delivered the bed, the mom was bathing the children in a wash tub,” Barbara recalled sadly. “I had never seen that before. There were seven people living in the house, and they had no running water.”
Wanting to help the family, Barbara reached out to others who might assist. It wasn’t long before new rooms (including a laundry room) were added to the family’s tiny home and running water installed.
“After that, people who needed help started coming to us,” Barbara said noting that Integrated Community Ministries has, over the years, provided assistance to hundreds of homes.
“Once I knew the poverty was here at home, I had to do something,” Barbara explained. “Helping has been born out of trying to do the right thing. It is a great passion of mine to help-especially the young and the elderly.”
Barbara’s love for the people of her community stems from childhood.
“I grew up here,” she shared noting the influence of her grandparents, Gurstle/Clovie Dobbs and Homer/Ada Coffey. “I had a wonderful life growing up here with my grandparents. After Hilton and I married, we lived in other states for a time, but I wanted to come back here. I wanted my children to grow up having what I had as a child.”
Barbara’s love for and connection with the people of the area is evident in the portraits she has sketched over the years-sketches of neighbors and friends.
“I sketch mostly at night because the faces I see during the day stay on my mind at night,” Barbara said pointing to one of many portraits-a little girl from Clark Hollow-adorning the walls of the Heritage Learning Center. “The eyes of the people seem to draw me to them. These portraits help to remind me of my purpose.”
The Heritage Learning Center stands as evidence of Barbara’s desire to help those in her community.
“We focus primarily on four areas-food, shelter, clothing, and education,” she stated. “I started out thinking education was the primary purpose, but I quickly learned the importance of satisfying the other needs. It’s hard to learn when you don’t have food, shelter, or clothing.”
Currently, the Center provides a food pantry for those in need of food. A thrift store is open to all in the community and surrounding area providing clothing, hygiene products, some home improvement materials, small appliances, and furniture for a nominal fee to help defray cost. (Most clothing averages less than twenty-five cents per piece.) Books from the library are free, and computers with free internet are available for visitors to use at the Center. The Center has two bunk rooms capable of sleeping up to forty-eight individuals. The Center also houses restrooms, showers, and a kitchen area. A community park, with a baseball field, shelter, grills, restrooms, and playground, is also part of the Center and is located just down the road from the main building.
The Center is a thriving hub for the community. Numerous free activities sponsored by the Center include a monthly craft night, after school programs for children, summer sports camps, and free family fun nights.
The Ministry and Center also sponsor a Children’s Christmas Program, a long term program providing a new outfit (with everything from new underwear to shoes) and two or three gifts at Christmas to approximately 350 children per year. The same children (birth to age 14) are sponsored each year until they age out or drop out of the program.
Many children have benefited from the Children’s Christmas Program. Barbara, a proponent of supporting the arts, points with happiness to musician Heidi Douglas Greer who, as a teenager, was the recipient of a “real” guitar through the program. Greer, who has opened for such notables as Dailey and Vincent, John Anderson, and Ronnie Milsap, shares her memories of receiving the guitar on the Integrated Community Ministries website.
“It was beautiful, and to me it was the best guitar I had ever played. I was young and full of inspiration and to have a guitar like that made me feel kind of invincible,” Greer said. “It’s truly humbling to look back on that. It was definitely an act of kindness that I want to pass on to others.”
In addition to the Christmas program, Integrated Community Ministries is currently blessed to offer children in the Stearns zip code area the opportunity to be part of Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library. The program is a gifting program that provides free, high quality books to enrolled children. Participating children receive free books in the mail each month from birth until five years of age. The Ministry’s participation in the program was made possible by a donor who has past and current ties with ICM.
With a heavy emphasis on youth, the Center sponsors a youth group that meets and does volunteer work. Known as Structure, the youth have attended Bigstuff Youth Retreats in Florida and performed their own mission work in an inner city Hispanic community.
“We like to catch children early so we can teach them social skills and provide experiences that will enable them to leave here and go on to college,” Barbara said explaining that many children in the community have never been outside of the community or local area.
The Ministry and Center depend primarily on volunteers and donations to survive. Although they have received some grants, private donations are their biggest source of funding. Several members of Stearns First Baptist Church (where Hilton Duncan is pastor) volunteer to help out with the Center and its programs.
Both Barbara and Hilton downplay their role in the ministry noting it is all about God and showing His love to those in need.
More information can be found at http://ky-icm.org/ or at the Integrated Community Ministry Facebook page.