For Brame, every problem has a solution

Sherye S. Green
Special to The Black Mountain News

From her first day on the job at Swannanoa Valley Christian Ministry, Renae Brame was committed to helping clients find “practical answers for overpowering difficult life situations,” she said. Such answers can always be found, she believes.

The nonprofit ministry, headquartered in Black Mountain, has since 1975 helped thousands of Valley residents with basic and emergency needs. Providing food, clothing, shelter, GED training and financial assistance to qualifying clients, it also helps them tackle some of life’s most challenging problems. When Brame retires on May 31, she will have led the organization for 14 years.

Under her leadership last year, the food bank each month served an average of 401 households and the clothing ministry helped an average of 473 residents. Last winter, the homeless shelter averaged 8-12 people on cold nights between Nov. 1-March 31. The GED people helps local people earn the equivalent of their high school diploma.

When Brame arrived in 2002 - the year Beacon Manufacturing closed in Swannanoa - the ministry provided 2,819 client services. In 2015 SVCM provided 18,194 client services.

Brame’s “rare combination of a caring heart and a practical mind” made sure the ministry’s strategies and programs were always aligned with the its mission, said Florence Shelor, a past board president and ministry volunteer.

In her many years leading the organization, Brame has been committed to inspiring clients “in a way that will stir them to renewed efforts to help themselves,” Shelor said. Brame’s “compassion and firmness provided guidance when I needed to know how to respond to clients’ perceived needs,” Shelor said.

“Brame’s tender heart and compassion for people have blessed and encouraged me so much,” said staff member Pam Malchow. Her boss was never one to sit in an office and direct others to accomplish the work, Malchow said. Rather, Brame led by example. “The heart of our ministry is seen in our wonderful director and leader,” Malchow said.

With a small staff, the ministry relies on volunteers, many of whom have been hugely impressed by Brame.

“Boy, were our eyes opened,” said Gerry Galbreath, who has served as a volunteer regularly for the past seven years. When they first met Brame, she and her husband were impressed with her spunk and positive attitude. “This little 5-foot-nothing (woman), not even weighing 100 pounds when wet, was a stick of dynamite. Her heart was at least three times her weight.”

Raising money and rounding up materials for the ministry are ongoing tasks. But partnerships cultivated by Brame with Swannanoa Valley people, businesses, churches and organizations have increased the level of assistance clients have received. Brame said she hopes partners will continue working with and supporting the ministry. “That is the greatest gift you can give,” she said.

Donations of money, food and clothing may have limits, but the encouragement and positive reinforcement that clients received during Brame’s leadership were boundless. As news of her retirement spread this spring, several clients came forward to say what a positive difference the ministry and Brame had on their lives. The testimonials, collected by ministry supporters and close friends, indicate the positive affect Brame has had on their lives. Many of the stories were presented at Brame’s retirement party May 24.

“The help you have provided has sometimes meant that we were not homeless and that we had food,” one client told her. Another client said, “If it was not for this place, I would not be able to feed my kids.” A third client recounted, “Your help has ensured that the families in this community are warm, fed and safe.”

Client Meshon Powell said, “she saved us from being hungry.”

“What a joy it has been to work with others for a common cause to help those living in situations of hardship, and doing so with the love of Christ,” Brame said.