Is there any nobler mission than changing the quality of life for someone in need? During last year’s pandemic and shelter-in order, that mission became the plan of five local men, and they set about doing just that.
Bob Massey, Reid Conklin, Shannon Osborne, Steve Petrie, and Tom Kelly had already shared many years of community service together as members of Rotary International, specifically the Rotary Club of Greene and Putnam Counties. During their times of helping others through Rotary, they encountered some people with significant needs that expanded outside the scope of the Rotary Club’s budget, so they organized the nonprofit “Men of Lake Oconee” to meet those needs.
“Bob Massey reached out to us and said ‘we’ve been talking about this for a long time, so let’s do something,’” Conklin said. “So, we organized to address those big needs by providing assistance to qualified individuals and families with specific, verified, one-time needs.
“We want to do something to change someone’s qualify of life,” Conklin continued his explanation. “These needs take big labor, big dollars, and a lot of time. We are trying to help people who have nowhere to turn.”
The five men began in July 2020, obtained the organization’s 501(c)3 status, and got on their phones and computers and started reaching out to friends. Their membership has now grown to 150 men and they have helped numerous individuals and families. They primarily help low-income senior citizens, military veterans, abused women, people with mobility issues, and others of Greene and Putnam Counties.
They helped a blind veteran whose home had so much water damage that the bathroom and kitchen had completely collapsed. MLO obtained a contractor who completely rebuilt the kitchen and bathroom. “He used to have a porta potty sitting outside his house and that’s all he had, but now he has a bathroom and kitchen and he gets along fine,” Conklin said.
They are currently helping a man who is the sole provider for his parents and handicapped brother, and the family’s kitchen caught on fire, so MLO is having their kitchen rebuilt.
Another fortunate recipient is the family of a sixth-grade child who was wheelchair bound. The child and mother live in a mobile home, and the child’s brothers had to carry him/her up and down the steps every day so she/he could get on the school bus to go to school, Conklin said. So, MLO partnered with First United Methodist Church of Greensboro, “and they have some pretty good craftsmen, so we paid for the materials and they provided the labor and we built them a wheelchair ramp,” Conklin said.
A woman who became a quadriplegic after a car accident had to move in with her mother so her mother could care for her, but that home was not handicap accessible so she couldn’t get in the bathroom. MLO renovated the bathroom, added a tub that was wheelchair accessible and made the door wider, so now that woman is able to take a bath.
And the quality-of-life changes continue.
After becoming involved in their service, the Men of Lake Oconee learned that a lot of families only have one vehicle, and if that vehicle “dies,” the people can’t get to their job. “So, we’ve become aware of two or three situations like that, whose primary vehicle is on the blink and we get it repaired or if it can’t be repaired, we find them another one to replace that one,” Conklin said. He told of a mother with two children for whom they recently purchased a 2007 Buick SUV. “It was only several thousand dollars, but for her, it was life changing because she had no way to get to work or to the store,” he added.
Men of Lake Oconee’s newest program is called “Beds for Kidz.” They learned through the school systems that a lot of children sleep on the floor or couch or share a bed with multiple family members. So, MLO partnered with the construction pathway students at Greene County High School, and purchased materials and blueprints for beds, and the students build beds for the children. “We delivered two beds to a home where the mom had three children, ages 10, 7, and 5, and all three were sleeping in one double bed every night,” Conklin described. “And several more beds will be delivered in the next few weeks.”
“No other charitable organization is addressing these things,” he said, noting the group has already identified 20 more similar projects to work on.
Any man interested in joining and helping others should contact Bob Massey via email at bob@ foundationrs.com or call 706-816- 9820.
Men of Lake Oconee holds only four meetings per year. Dues are $400 annually. “They can be involved as little or as much as they want to be,” Conklin explained. “It’s the older, retired guys leading the organization who do most of the work. And one hundred percent of donations go directly to projects.”
Story by Lynn Hobbs & photos contributed by MLO
Published in the May-June 2021 issue of Lakelife Magazine