Seated in her executive director’s office at Good Samaritan Ministries Leesa Stephens was happy to talk about virtually any topic a visitor could bring up.
    Engaging and upbeat, the 59-year-old Bangs woman has been executive director at Good Samaritan Ministries — also known as GSM — since August 2016.
     Stephens doesn’t go out of her way to talk about what she termed a “huge distraction” involving GMS which, she believes, was sensationalized in the media.
    But if asked, she will talk about the issue: county commissioners, when preparing  the county’s 2017-’18 budget, decided the county’s annual contribution to GSM for this year’s budget will be $4,800. That’s a $9,200 reduction from last year’s amount of $14,000.
    That’s a fraction of GSM’s total budget, but that money goes to a single category GSM refers to as direct aid. Money in direct aid is used to help needy people with rent and utilities, Stephens said. In 2017, GSM’s direct aid budget amounted to $20,000.
    GSM probably won’t know until next summer how many people will be affected by the reduction to its direct aid budget, she said.

‘We want to talk about the good things’
    Stephens — whose work history includes Bangs High School teacher, small business owner, rancher and freelance journalist — would rather talk about the good that’s happening at GSM, and its ongoing projects, as the nonprofit organization carries out its mission to help the needy.
    “We want to talk about the good things — the other things that are going on,” Stephens said of GSM. “ … We’re workers. We just want to roll up our sleeves and we want to go to work, and what we do is, we help … all of this has been, to me, a huge distraction from what we’re really about, and that’s helping people.”
    From January to September of this year, Stephens said, GSM helped 289 families who were facing eviction stay in their homes. Those families included 291 children.
    “We work with clients who have eviction notices and we require they pay a portion of that cost. No cash goes to clients.
    “At the end of the day, these are kids … these are real people. These are not numbers on a spread sheet.”
    GSM, which marks its 24th anniversary this month, has had just two executive directors including Stephens, who was hired after longtime director Angelia Bostick retired.

A dream
    Stephens and her husband, Mike, own the Subway restaurant in Bangs and also run cattle. They have two grown sons.
    In the winter and spring of 2016, Stephens was completing her 29th year in education at Bangs High School, where she was publications advisor and taught history and economics.
    Stephens didn’t think much about a notice in the bulletin at her church, First Baptist in Bangs, that GSM was seeking a new executive director. She was happy in her job at Bangs High School and preparing for the next school year.
    In February, Stephens had a brief dream that amounted to nothing more than the logo and name of the organization — Good Samaritan Ministries, “very bold across my vision,” Stephens said.
    “I immediately woke up and thought ‘hmm, I could do that.’”
    The dream left her with “a niggling since that maybe this was something I should pursue,” Stephens said.
    But Stephens did nothing in response until she saw the announcement for the second time in the church bulletin. “You know, God,” Stephens prayed, “this seems a little bit more than coincidental. I’m going to throw my hat in the ring.”
    Stephens, who hadn’t made a resume in 30 years, got one together with reference letters and applied for the job. In June 2016, she was interviewed for the job and hired.

‘We just want to roll up our sleeves’
    GSM marks its 24th anniversary this month. Its mission is to “proclaim the Gospel in both word and deed to all people in need in Brown County, Texas,” GSM’s website states. The organization, at 305 Clark in downtown Brownwood, has numerous programs and projects including a food pantry.
    GSM relies on a staff of 13 — most of them part-time — and volunteers.
    “We’re workers,” Stephens said. “We just want to roll up our sleeves and go to work, and what we want to do is help.
    There were plenty of topics Stephens wanted to talk about, including:
    • Deer project —brings hunters, processors and donors together to provide lean protein to GSM clients. Participating hunters take their legally harvested and tagged deer to a participating processor. At a rate of $1.30 a pound, processors will then grind the meat into two-pound chub packs ready to be picked up and put in the freezers of GSM. One deer provides about 100 servings of lean, healthy protein.
    Monetary donations help cover the operational costs which include the processing. Every $100 donation provides approximately 500 meals.
    “We picked up a new processor last week which is really good for us, because we already had the four processors we’ve been working with,” Stephen said. “This guy just really kind of approaches us. It’s Full Draw Processing in Rising Star. … we’re excited when we feel like God brings something to us totally unexpected. Our goal this year is 15,000 pounds of deer meet.”
    • Tackle Hunger Month, which is October.  GSM has asked businesses, churches and schools to collect a specific item for Christmas boxes that will distributed in December.
    “That’s the kind of stuff I want to talk about,” Stephens said. “It’s just like the two words — budget cuts — are this dark umbrella, or dark cloud is probably a better analogy, that’s hanging over our heads, when in reality, we don’t even talk about it any more. We just moved on.
    “In 24 years, this place has kept its doors open by the grace of Gd and the generosity of Brown County. We’re not cavalier. We’re moving on in a sense of faith … we just believe that if the county’s going to be out of the equation, not providing as much, it’ll come from somewhere else.”

Church plans fundraiser for GSM
    North Lake Community Church will have a fundraiser from 10 a.m. t0 2 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 4, outside the two Walmart entrances to benefit Good Samaritan Ministries.
     Church members have made small, intricacy woven ribbon crosses, about 2 inches tall, pastor Ron Keener said. Anyone who makes a donation will receive one of the crosses.

‘The next big story’
     The story of the reduction to the direct aid budget was reported in the media “in a sensationalized way,” Stephens said. “We shouldn’t be surprised. I heard something the other day, that we are the generation of the exclamation point. We live from explanation point to exclamation point. That’s kind of how we live our lives, waiting on the next big story.    
    “We’ve come to gravitate toward the sensational, and rather than focus on all of the good things that are happening at Good Samaritan and all of the programs we have available to help people. What I mean by distraction is that when I’m out in the community, I want to be talking to people about the community food drive. Let’s all pull together. Let’s collect these items for the Christmas boxes.
    “ Or I want to talk to people about the Deer Project. The distraction has come because somebody is always wanting to talk about what happened with the county, and people always want to come back to that because that’s the more sensational thing. It’s not exciting to hear that last month w were able to help eight people that had been displaced by the hurricane. People kind of go ‘oh, that’s nice.’”
    The bigger picture, Stephens said, is that GSM will continue “to help people as long as we have the funds available.