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Amy White (’90): A reason to give thanks

Alumna offers hope by serving her community

By Kerry M. King ('85) Wake Forest Magazine
Amy Bannister White ('90); Serving her community (photo courtesy Corey Lowenstein, The News and Observer)
Amy Bannister White ('90); Serving her community (photo courtesy Corey Lowenstein, The News and Observer)

When 250 families in central North Carolina gather for Thanksgiving dinner this week, they’ll have more to be thankful for because of the efforts of Amy Bannister White (’90) to serve her community.

White is the founder of Community of Hope Ministries, a faith-based organization in her hometown of Garner, N.C., that provides a food pantry, after-school programs, transitional housing and a host of other services to people in need.

Every Thanksgiving, Community of Hope partners with Garner-based Butterball to give turkeys to 250 needy families. Many of those families depend on Community of Hope’s food pantry to help put food on their table throughout the year.

“I know that if our friends who come to our food pantry did not have this, there would not be a Thanksgiving turkey on their table,” says White, who was recently named “Tar Heel of the Week” by The (Raleigh, N.C.) News and Observer for her work in the community. “I have had so many blessings in my life. I have never had to worry about ‘am I going to have breakfast’ or ‘am I going to have Thanksgiving dinner.’ Seeing their appreciation and gratitude is totally priceless. They would never have to utter a word of thanks, it’s written all over their faces.”

White was on the front lines of education for years as a teacher and school board member before finding her true calling: meeting the needs of children outside the classroom. She started Community of Hope in 2004 with an after-school enrichment program to help children improve their reading and math skills. After seeing that many of those children come from families that are struggling to survive, she realized that she needed to do more to meet the needs of their families to help the children.

“I didn’t set out to start a food pantry and summer programs,” says White, whose official title is director of development for Community of Hope Ministries. “But living the lives of those families through working with their children, it became evident that we could do more, there was no other choice but to do more. God has provided resources and partnerships at every step.”

Community of Hope now touches hundreds of lives in Garner. The after-school program led to a summer camp, Camp Courage, for disadvantaged children. The food pantry serves about 3,000 families on a regular basis and has distributed enough food to provide more than 120,000 meals this year. Transitional housing is offered to families who need a temporary place to stay. The Carpenter’s Hand program provides home repairs for senior citizens, widows and the disabled. A benevolence ministry offers financial counseling and short-term help to those facing job losses or medical expenses.

White never planned to start a community ministry. After graduating with a degree in history, she taught world history and economics at North Forsyth High School in Winston-Salem. She and her husband, Kyle (’88, MAEd ’94) – who was then operations director in the Wake Forest athletic department – moved to Amy’s hometown of Garner in 1995 to raise their two sons, Tyler, now a freshman at Clemson University, and Bryson, a high school sophomore. (Kyle White, a commercial real estate broker and developer, is the son of Alan (’62) and Norma McKinney (’62) White.)

With two young sons in school and alarmed that schools in Garner weren’t getting what she thought was their fair share of funding, she ran for the Wake County Board of Education in 2001. She served for four years with fellow Deacons Katherine Watson Quigg (’71) and Patty Reed Head (’68, P ’92, ’98) before deciding she could have a greater impact on children by serving in a different way.

With other supporters, she applied for a grant from the 21st Century Community Learning Centers, a federal program aimed at helping elementary school children struggling in reading and math. “It was a perfect fit for beyond the classroom for what the community could do to help kids who weren’t achieving,” she says.

Her first grant application wasn’t funded, but she tried again, and the second time, backed by Wake County Human Services, she received about $100,000 a year for four years to start the after-school program. After the grant money ran out, Community of Hope not only survived but also thrived, adding new programs with funding from churches, businesses and individuals. Community of Hope operates out of offices and classrooms at White’s church, First Baptist Church of Garner.

“It is my calling. I’m a ‘dot connector,’” White says modestly. “The biggest blessing in my life is being able to connect the resources, time and money with so many in our community who need those resources.”