Renae Brame to retire from needs ministry

Robert Rufa
Special to The Black Mountain News

Renae Brame, director of the Swannanoa Valley Christian Ministry for 14 years, has announced that she will retire effective May 31.

“I’ve been having a conversation with God about my retirement for months now,” Brame told the ministry’s board of directors Jan. 4. “I’ve gone back and forth in my mind whether or not the time is right. While it’s very hard for me to step away from a position that I feel is God’s calling, I believe he is telling me to be brave. It’s time for me to enter the next phase of my life and to take better care of my heart and body.”

Former board president Florence Shelor spoke fondly of Brame Jan. 6. “It’s a cliché to say that someone will be hard to replace,” she said, “but Renae has set a very high standard for the director of this ministry. She has the rare combination of a caring heart and a practical mind.”

Brame became director Jan. 2, 2002 and has led the ministry to many new milestones. Among the most significant is the expansion in 2007 of the ministry offices, which she accomplished by leading the Expanding for Greater Service Capital Campaign. The campaign raised more than $900,000 to purchase the Opportunity House; it renovated the original offices and funded construction of a 5,000-square-foot addition to the original building. Ground was broken in winter 2007; staff and volunteers moved into the new offices in August 2008 - almost two months ahead of schedule.

Since its acquisition and renovation, the Opportunity House has been home to GED classes that Brame helped establish in 2008, and more recently English as a second language classes. To date 64 people have graduated from the ministry’s GED program, and with education among Brame’s priorities, the ministry has assisted about 100 students with scholarships.

One of the ministry’s proudest moments was the opening of the homeless shelter in 2010, which Brame and Bill Walker spearheaded following the deaths of four homeless men in Black Mountain the previous winter.

During Brame’s tenure, the number of contributing churches and board representatives serving on the ministry's board of directors has increased significantly, as has the ministry’s annual income. Annual contributions have increased from $97,924 in 2001 to $777,256 in 2015 — but so has the demand for client services, which has climbed from 1,800 calls for service in 2001 to more than 18,000 in 2014. Meanwhile, there has been significant growth in the ministry endowment funds, from less than $100,000 in 2001 to over $1 million as of January 1, 2016.

“We now typically withdraw 5 percent of the endowment earnings for the fuel fund, to help with client heating needs,” said board vice president Burnace Roberts, who also chairs the Endowment Committee.

Keeping up with the needs of clients - everything from helping people stay warm in winter to keeping the pantry shelves filled - has been an ongoing challenge for Brame. To help the elderly, she coordinates annual mission teams that are sent each summer to area homes to assist with chores, minor cleaning and handyman repairs. Working with the Buncombe County Health and Human Services, the ministry now has a “community service navigator” who connects clients to services not provided by the ministry in Buncombe County and in the community.

“Renae seems to have become the ministry’s ‘guiding light,’” said Walker, the past board president who worked with Brame on the homeless shelter and the annual Walk for Hunger Relief project. “She has helped to define the ministry’s vision and guide the programs that minister to the people who are going through very difficult life challenges.

“Renae’s deep concern for people in need creates an atmosphere of compassion in the ministry that becomes the model for the other staff and volunteers to follow. But she does nothing without God’s guidance — she always seeks his direction for her life and for the ministry.”