Finding joy in serving others


Published: Thursday, February 1, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 31, 2007 at 3:28 p.m.
A teacher who works at a southeast Gainesville school likes to spread her angelic wings as she touches the lives of residents throughout the community.
When Bonnie Means, 44, a second-grade teacher at Compassionate Outreach Ministries Christian Academy, is not teaching school, you can find her, along with other members of Compassionate, feeding the hungry and ministering to the sick.
She has been serving food at the St. Francis House for one year, and she says it is something she was led to do.
"It was something that was placed in my heart," said Means, the mother of 22-year-old Kenyona Henderson and 19-year-old Roderick Henderson.
"When I was younger, my children and I were almost homeless," she said. "My first son and I used to live in and out of my car. I know what it feels like to be in their situation. I've been feeding people for a while. It's just something I always wanted to do."
Means, a 1980 graduate of Buchholz High School, said she looks at it as if it could have been her who is homeless, and in need.
"It could have been me living on the streets with no food and no clothes," she said. "I witness to them and tell them it may look like it is dark right now, but sunshine is on the way. You don't have to be like this always."
Means, who has a child development associate's degree from Santa Fe Community College, and who has been teaching for 23 years, said she dreams of having a big dinner downtown, with barbers and hairstylists on hand to help the homeless feel better about themselves. She went on to say she is touched by the number of children who are homeless.
"I'm hoping that God will bless me with the money to help teach the homeless how to become self-sufficient," Means said. "I'm excited about this year. I think God is going to do some really wonderful things."
Means said she was shocked at how many people are really homeless once she "got out there and got involved. I don't like to see people out there, especially women and children."
Means also visits a local nursing home once a month with other members of Compassionate, ministering to residents and generally just trying to lift their spirits.
"I got involved with convalescent homes in 2004 when my old pastor, the late Isaac Gillispie of Jones Temple Church of God in Christ, got placed in one," said Means. "We were close, and I took care of him. Pastor Gillispie was like a father to me.
"I went to the nursing home everyday. I wouldn't let him eat the nursing home food. I purchased food for him. Cedar River and Red Lobster. Things like that. It's been a blessing going to the nursing home. Getting to know the residents is awesome."
Means said some people don't have families to come see them, and like the homeless, she would like to see the elderly receive more help.
"This is what God wants us to do," she said.
Kim Barton, a fellow member of Compassionate, said Means goes out of her way often to help people.
"She is such a sweet person, and she does a lot," Barton said. "There are a lot of other people who do a lot of good things as well, but Bonnie is always giving of herself."
One resident at the nursing home said he is grateful Means and the others take the time to come to the nursing home.
"I know her well, and I think she is doing good," said Joe Leverett, 82. "It is a nice thing. We really need it."
Just last Saturday, Means and other members of Compassionate showed up at the nursing home with gift bags containing socks for the men and roses for the women.
They sang several songs, prayed and Means preached about the love of God.
"The word today is love," she began. "God wants us to love one another. No matter what you do, don't let nobody steal the love that God has for you."
She told the residents that just as God loves them, he wants them to love him, too.
"Let our hearts show the love of Jesus not only in our good times, but in bad times, too," Means said. "We have to show love at all times. There is no big I and little you."
Means said her mother, Mattie DeBose, died when she was only 14, but during the little time she had with her mother, she saw her mother help a lot of people.
"My mother used to take in strangers and feed and clothe them, and help them become better people," she said. "I saw her treat total strangers just like they were her own children. I guess that is why I love to feed people. I just like seeing people eating and having fun."
She said she always wanted to be able to take care of her parents, but wasn't afforded that opportunity.
"This ministry has pulled a lot of things out of me," she said. "This ministry has really inspired me to go forth and do the things that God has placed in my heart."

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