Vicky Partin retiring as Chattahoochee Valley Episcopal Ministry director

Thousands of people in the Columbus area have been helped in numerous ways because of what Barbara Thompson Danner told Vicky Partin more than 30 years ago.

Danner told Partin she should quit her job.

Partin did, leaving a position at the American Lung Association. That departure led to the founding in 1980 of the Chattahoochee Valley Episcopal Ministry.

At the end of this year, Lay Missioner Partin will retire as the CVEM director.

The Columbus woman will be honored Dec. 7 at a jazz benefit at St. Thomas Episcopal Church on Hilton Avenue with music by Snakebite 6. Admission to the 4 p.m. event is $20 and tickets will be available at the door or can be purchased at www.cvemjubilee.org.

Committed to promoting social justice, the CVEM is a ministry of the Chattahoochee Valley Convocation, the Diocese of Atlanta and is a Jubilee Ministry Center of the Episcopal Church.

CVEM, sponsored by eight area Episcopal churches and several community partners, and Partin are responsible for the beginning of the food bank that is now known as Feeding the Valley and for also bringing a local chapter of Habitat for Humanity to Columbus. It has co-founded several local nonprofit organizations.

Its Direct Service program provides the needy with assistance for rent, mortgage and medical expenses. Another program, Shedding Our Secrets, offers support to victims of incest.

Infusion is a servant leadership program aimed at high school students from diverse backgrounds, and the Thompson-Pound Art Program, a summer art program for children of different religious and cultural backgrounds, focuses on teaching tolerance and appreciation for those differences.

Partin, a 69-year-old former high school counselor, recently talked about being "called" to the lay ministry.

Partin said Danner told her that she had this deep feeling that would not go away and it was that Partin should leave her job for full-time outreach. She told Partin to "pray about it."

Partin was on her way to a workshop in Florida to learn how to do bike treks across Georgia for the lung association when she thought about what Danner said.

"I wasn't out of Phenix City when the tears started rolling," she said. "I cried for miles just like I cried the Sunday when I was 11 and walked down the aisle at Minor Hill Baptist Church and accepted Christ as my personal savior. I knew I was called and I knew I would do it."

Her husband, John, added his encouragement.

"You'll be good at it," he told her.

Her pastor, Charlie Roper, told her he was not surprised by her decision, having watched her passion on the vestry.

At the time, Partin chaired the outreach ministry at St. Thomas where Danner was a member,

"Vicky is fearless and smart. From the beginning, she has not been afraid to confront or to work with anybody. I knew that if we turned her loose, she would do wonderful things," said Danner, the CVEM co-founder who now lives in Buford, Ga. "If you made a line of people whose life she has touched, well, it would be a very, very long line. What Vicky has done is certainly amazing."

In 1981, Partin was commissioned at a Diocesan Council as a lay missioner by Bishop Bennett Sims.

"I see my role as missioner to empower people to find their best place to serve," she said.

At the start, she told people she wanted to open food pantries around town and help people with utilities. She was told folks would not get involved. She would never get enough money.

Partin believed differently.

"My strongest spiritual gift is faith," she said. "If we are going to do good work for the Lord, we will have what we need to accomplish the work."

In her early days, she looked for ways to help others. Helping a high school student who was an alcoholic and had an alcoholic grandmother, she found treatment for him at Fort Benning and let him sleep in her home.

"That helped me know I needed to trust people who would come to me for help," she said.

One of the first projects begun by Partin was the revitalization of the Beallwood neighborhood in Columbus. She went door-to-door talking to people in the community and helped set up programs to allow the residents to build up their community and rid it of poverty and drug addicts.

Partin and CVEM continue to work with Beallwood Area Neighborhood Development Inc.

Through the years, Partin has corresponded with and visited prisoners, many on death row, including Stocking Strangler Carlton Gary.

"My task as a Christian is to reach out to all of God's people," she said. "That's what I believe. From the Christian viewpoint, we should help people understand the grace and forgiveness of God."

Agnes Shelton, CVEM's board president, called Partin a woman of immense faith and energy.

"It is Vicky's strong faith that has guided this ministry," she said. "Vicky believes in building relationships and in empowering people rather than toxic charity."

Partin said she has worked with a lot of people who have made her job easier. She expects a good leader will be selected as her successor and the transition will be smooth.

"I never really thought much about retirement," she said. "I am making the transition into a new life. I am trusting the same Lord who brought me into this work to guide me on my next adventures."

Partin is planning to be a mentor with the B.R.I.D.G.E. program, which prepares high school dropouts to pass the GED, and also become more involved with Circles of Columbus at the Open Door Community House, which serves people working to get out of poverty. She and her husband own Chatt Glide Tours, which gives tours of Columbus on Segways.

"I grew up on a farm in southern Tennessee and still get up at 5 a.m.," she said. "Work is in my genes."