After months of planning and research, a new organization in Mount Airy has opened its doors to serve as a caring and sharing network dedicated to helping local people in need.
Mount Airy NET, a nonprofit ecumenical agency, began operating last week at Calvary United Methodist Church at 403 S. Main St. in Mount Airy. The office will be open from 9 a.m. to noon on Tuesdays and Fridays or by appointment.
The organization's goal is to involve local clubs, civic groups, various levels of government, volunteers, and area churches to provide "food, clothing, shelter and other day-to-day essentials," said Mount Airy NET director Gail Costello.
"It's our aim to provide . . . support and emergency assistance."
She said the group wants to do more than provide a quick fix in emergencies.
"We also see ourselves as trying to help clients work out long-term solutions to their problems."
Organizers of Mount Airy NET see the next several weeks as a period of adjustment.
"We've been told that the summer months are a good time to start an operation because you can slowly get up to speed and be productive for the demands of fall and winter," said Mrs. Costello.
Mrs. Costello said she was invited to a meeting of the Mount Airy Ministerium late last summer to discuss developing a permanent program to serve local people that would be similar to the now-defunct Mount Airy Community Outreach Network.
The ministerium wanted to centralize disbursements of food and other assistance because resources are scarce and centralization is more equitable, Mrs. Costello said.
She said the NET efforts will be coordinated with St. James Thrift Shop and the Mount Airy Food Pantry at Calvary.
The Mount Airy NET name was chosen by the ministerium because it incorporated the concepts of a "safety net" for the needy, a network, and a Christian fisherman's net, said Mrs. Costello.
"The concept was . . . named in one afternoon," said Mrs. Costello, "[but] it took nine months to give birth."
A volunteer steering committee formed to guide Mount Airy NET through its initial stages hired Mrs. Costello to investigate what kinds of services the agency should develop. Mrs. Costello, who has a master's degree in business administration from the University of Maryland, researched similar organizations in Frederick and Carroll counties and elsewhere, and got to know people.
The committee members included the Rev. Robert Hertzog, the Rev. Basil Day Jr., Carol Blackburn, Diane Gittings, Sue Patrick and the Rev. Carol Yocum.
"Father Hertzog has been a driving force behind this," Mrs. Costello said.
Father Hertzog now is the NET board president, and Mr. Day is vice president.
The organization received nonprofit status after Christmas.
"Local attorney Charles Smith did all the legal [work] at no charge," said Mrs. Costello. Accountant Steve Siers also helped the organization, she said.
During the planning stage, job descriptions and a volunteer booklet were developed. Mrs. Costello also spoke to local churches and community organizations to make them aware of Mount Airy NET and to garner support.
Six area residents have joined the NET team as volunteers, said Mrs. Costello. As the agency grows, others will be needed to do clerical work, serve as liaison to supporting churches and groups, provide housing repairs or assistance and help with fund-raising.
Donna Barry, Laverna White, Shirley Bennett and Jean Colburn, serving as crisis intervention volunteers, will have direct contact with clients to ensure that they are linked to the most appropriate resources. They will staff the office that will be open two days each week.
Becky Karras and Al Farrell as communication volunteers will produce a quarterly newsletter, take photographs, and keep computer records on offers of assistance, resources, and volunteer lists and hours.
The agency already has helped several clients, including a fire victim who needed clothing to go to work, a man who needed a tank of gasoline for his car and a couple who needed medical care for their children.
"It's finally nice to see . . . the result of what we've been doing for the last nine to 10 months," said Mrs. Costello. "That's exciting."
Working with Mount Airy NET has been a very positive experience, she said.
Mrs. Costello, who worked as a manager at Safeway stores in Prince George's and Montgomery counties, remembers being frustrated that there was so little help available for people.
"I worked in several areas where there was a lot of need -- we had fellows who lived in the Dumpsters" and looked to her for assistance, she said. "Ten years later, I'm in a position to help."
The biggest challenge facing Mount Airy NET is fund-raising, Mrs. Costello said. The group receives financial support from the Ministerium and Calvary United Methodist Church.
Fund-raisers planned for the fall include a Mount Airy Rotary Club softball tournament Sept. 11 and an event with the Jazzercise Center in Mount Airy. An open house for Mount Airy NET is being planned for mid-September.
For more information, call the Mount Airy NET office at (301) 829-0472.