News

July 24, 2022

A HeartBeat Story *

CLAYTON, GA – “Here it comes!” the excited group called out as they watched the new Kubota garden tractor and attachments roll into the driveway of Victory Home.

The tractor’s arrival marked the culmination of a fast and furious community fundraising drive led by St. James Episcopal Church in Clayton.

The Rev. Doris Graf-Smith, Priest-in-Charge of St. James, blessed the group, and the new tractor. It was another big achievement in the books for the small North Georgia parish.

Neil King, Sales Manager, Jim Short Tractor & Equipment, Alto, GA, (center) hands keys to Mark Beach, Director, Victory Home as the Rev. Doris Graff-Smith reacts. Photo: Kathy Booker


Many of St. James parishioners are part-timers, second homers, and summer residents of the lakeside Blue-Ridge-Mountains community two hours north of Atlanta. The average Sunday finds fewer than 75 in its pews. But the numbers don’t reflect St. James’ 60-year history of outsized service.

The latest project grew from an idea of parishioner Kathy Booker, a longtime volunteer at Victory Home. She heard from residents that they wanted to have a garden for fresh vegetables they could cook and eat. They didn’t have the necessary tools and equipment, but Booker couldn’t shake the idea of what could happen if only…

Booker’s relationship with Victory Home dates from 2013, just after she accepted a request from then St. James Rector, The Rev. Steve Hall, to serve as parish nurse. Soon after completing training as a faith community nurse, she heard that Victory Home in Tallulah Falls also needed someone with her skills. She has since served as a volunteer at both St. James and Victory Home, which operates a six-month, faith-based substance abuse recovery program for men.

Victory Home’s small garden will be expanded using the tractor bought with proceeds from the St. James Episcopal Church community wide fundraiser. Photo: Kathy Booker


Booker took her idea for providing a tractor for Victory Home to the Rev. Graf-Smith, and parishioners Peggy Melton, who is Outreach Committee Chair, Communications Chair Ginny Heckel, and a few other parishioners.

They quickly took to the idea.

The fundraising appeal would be framed as supporting the recovery of the men at Victory Home. The men would learn new skills working in the garden while reaping the benefits of being outdoors. The garden that a tractor would make possible could impact lives for years to come.

But they knew they would have to answer practical questions. What kind of tractor? How much would it cost? So, the committee met with a local tractor dealer who helped them decide what was needed, what was available given supply line issues resulting from COVID, and how much it would cost.

The group ended up setting the fundraising goal at $24,000, but there was one small catch. To buy the tractor and attachments for that price, it had to be purchased in one months’ time. $24,000 in a month? Really? Yes, $24,000 in 30 days!

Neil King, Sales Manager, Jim Short Tractor & Equipment, Alto, GA, (right) explains operating procedures for the new tractor received by Victory Home. Photo: Kathy Booker


So, with no time to waste a “We are planting seeds. Growing hope. Harvesting a future.” page with links to donate online was added to the parish website to tell the Victory Home and tractor stories. Booker began presenting the idea at Sunday services and to community groups.

The fund got a kick-start from a challenge gift and soon individual contributions were coming in. Then, special grants arrived from the Lake Burton Civic Association and Lake Rabun Association. Help also was provided by members of the local master gardener group, and the UGA Extension Service agents for Rabun and Habersham Counties.

On the eve of the one-month funding deadline, New Orleans Chef Leon LeMoine, a part-time St. James parishioner, donated, cooked, and oversaw a flock of delighted helpers at a sold-out 100-plate Jambalaya dinner.

Neil King, Sales Manager, Jim Short Tractor & Equipment, Alto, GA, (right) explains operating procedures for the new tractor received by Victory Home. Photo: Kathy Booker


It seemed that God’s blessings were literally coming from everywhere!

The following Sunday, Booker had a message for St. James and Victory Home. “Praise the Lord! The goal was not only met but it was also exceeded.” There was enough to buy a package that included the tractor, tiller, front loader, bush hog, quick hitch, and box blade with the $27,337.43 raised.

The members of the little group are grateful to their friends and the wider community for the outpouring of support but say they also discovered a deeper message. It was the seeds planted by longstanding relationships that took root and flourished.

Learn more about Victory Home.

Learn more about St. James, Clayton.

HeartBeat Stories amplify the ways the love shown by people of the Diocese of Atlanta is improving their communities – and sometimes – the world. To suggest a HeartBeat story, send your idea along with a way to contact you, to communications@episcopalatlanta.org.