Aiken is a community that cares. Individuals and organizations manned by those individuals are everywhere, equipped and waiting to step in and help. Whether a handout or a hand up is needed, Aiken is ready. And yet many people who need help remain unknown and in need.

Why is that so?

Becky spent the first 15 years of her life with her mom. It wasn't a happy relationship, but it worked. Then Becky moved to Aiken to take care of her ailing and addicted father, who was surviving on his Social Security check.

About a year after Becky arrived, their house burned down. They couldn't go back to her mother and had no real friends at that time, so Becky and her father were homeless, usually sleeping in a car. After about six months of this pitiful existence, Becky tried to commit suicide. As she puts it, “I couldn't even succeed in killing myself.” While in the hospital she made the decision that she didn't have to live like this.

Becky found an old trailer on Highway 421, and, with the financial help of the Red Cross and ACTS, she and her father were able to move in. Our Lady of the Valley Catholic Church helped with the bills and provided some food. VOICE of the Valley also assisted them.

A local businessman helped her out by giving her a part-time job, and she went back to finish high school. One of the school counselors made sure they didn't go hungry and even provided some Christmas gifts.

She graduated from high school with honors, is now married, has a lovely daughter and is a successful businesswoman.

Becky says it was her pride and a fear of being embarrassed that prevented her from seeking help at first. When she finally admitted she needed help, she found agencies and individuals ready and willing to step in, not to put her down but to lift her up.

Sherry is another woman who needed help. She arrived in Aiken homeless with a 2-year-old son. Her immediate need was shelter, and the Salvation Army stepped in and accepted her and her child.

She needed a job and enrolled in the Jobs for Life program sponsored by Christ Central Ministry Aiken and subsequently found employment.

Sherry's goal is to be a teacher. She found a one-bedroom apartment, secured the necessary deposits for utilities, placed her son in day care at a discount price where she is employed and is planning to enroll in Aiken Tech to complete her early childhood degree.

Mary was homeless, staying “from place to place.” She got a job at a fast-food restaurant in Aiken but was having trouble getting rides to work. She contacted Christ Central, and they provided transportation for her.

Then Mary found out about My Father's House, which provides housing for homeless mothers. They connected her to the Salvation Army, who helped her find a better job and assisted her further with transportation. Mary started Jobs for Life with Christ Central, is receiving assistance to get her GED and plans to go school to get her Certified Nursing Assistant license.

Here is Abby's story: “My name is Abby, I am 3 years old. My uncle told me I was special, and then he hurt me. He told me not to tell. I did tell. He went to jail. Mommy is sad. I got sad, too. I came to Children's Place, and I can now run and laugh. Mommy found people she could talk to.”

Jane, a young woman from a single-parent home, arrived on the doorsteps of Life Choices Pregnancy Care Center for her second pregnancy. She came every week to take her prenatal classes. Although she knew she was perpetuating her family's lifestyle, Jane did not open up for help. All this changed on the day she went into the hospital to give birth. The pain of being alone and giving birth was more than she could handle by herself. Jane reached out, and the emotional walls came down.

This was just the beginning of the changes. With the help of Life Choices Pregnancy Care Center, Jane made the decision to make a new life for herself and her little family. She also broke away from a destructive relationship. For the first time in a long time, Jane feels as if things are finally turning. She knows there are still difficult days ahead, but she is determined to deal with each obstacle from a place of strength rather than weakness. Life could be different.

Asking for help

As the saying goes, “People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care.”

The Bible provides added emphasis: “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.”

Aiken has many organizations and individuals that care for others. We all know people who are having difficulty and are not seeking help. Maybe we are in that position ourselves. But often people who need help don't speak up. Here are some thoughts on why and what we can do about it.

Many people don't realize they are hurting and that things could be better. My sister once had dog who seemed healthy but the dog's running pattern was awkward, not like other dogs. She took him to the vet, and, after examining him, the vet said the dog had been born with flat sockets at the leg joints – not the normal ball and socket. So whenever he ran he was in pain. The dog obviously didn't know any better, and yet his life was definitely affected. Sometimes we are like that. We are hurting and don't realize we could do something to stop the pain.

This is where you and I can exercise our individual care. We can show others there is a better way. We have to do it in love, however, and it requires involvement on our part – time, effort, perhaps expense and often suffering.

The primary reason we don't seek help is endemic to mankind in general. In the beginning man and woman had open fellowship with God – until they messed up. Then God went looking for them and they hid from him – because they were afraid.

All of us “mess up,” So we are afraid. We don't want to be vulnerable and get hurt again. People with marital problems seek help from a counselor because they don't want their pastor or close friends to know. They are afraid and hide.

Maybe the fear is expressed in the form of embarrassment. Our pride gets in the way. We may be willing to help others but reluctant to even admit we need help ourselves, let alone accept it.

Or the fear could be one of rejection. Rejection is one of the most painful emotions to deal with. If we become aware of people around us who are hurting, they don't need judgment. Once again, they need love, unconditional love. God won't reject them, and we shouldn't either.

Ideally we wouldn't mess up and hence wouldn't be afraid to seek help. But here is the paradox. If we didn't mess up, we wouldn't need help in the first place, but since we all mess up, we all need help, and we are afraid.

Thomas Merton once said “The whole idea of compassion is based on a keen awareness of the interdependence of all these living beings, which are all part of one another, and all involved in one another.”

And Jesus once said “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.”

We were created for relationship and reality teaches us that we all need others. We need that connection with others at many levels, whether it is friends, coworkers, family members or intimate companions. We also need others when we are hurting, whether it is a marriage in trouble, substance addiction, financial problems, joblessness or simply friendship. We must not let fear of embarrassment or rejection, or maybe our pride, keep us in bondage. We can be set free. Help is available. It's our choice.

Roger Rollins is the executive director of the Family and Marriage Coalition of Aiken, Inc. He also writes a weekly column that appears on Sundays in the Aiken Standard.