Inaugural community service award honors contribution of couples

People honored at community award galas tend to have name recognition. They are often prominent figures in town. They are usually on the “who’s who” lists.

 

Steve and Linda Cutliffe are not your typical community award winners. But that is precisely what makes them ideal recipients of the inaugural George & Dorothy Walton Award, a recognition honoring local couples who make subtle but substantial impacts on community service in the Augusta area.

The Evans couple, who have been heavily involved in charitable work in downtown Augusta for more than a decade through their church, Mosaic United Methodist Church, and Action Ministries, a local nonprofit, were presented the award Thursday evening at the Old Government House.

The award, named for Declaration of Independence signer George Walton and his wife, Dorothy, who helped shape Augusta during its early years, is sponsored by financial advisory firm AP Wealth Management and The Augusta Fund LP, an affiliated private equity fund.

AP Wealth Managing Partner Gene McManus conceived of the award more than a year and a half ago after seeing a couple he knew volunteering at an aid station during the IRONMAN 70.3 Augusta, an event in which he was competing.

“They didn’t have anybody in the race,” McManus recalled. “There was no reason for them to be there on a Sunday morning – they just wanted to help out. I knew of a few other things they were involved in that nobody else would know about. So I started thinking that people like this ought to be recognized, because we don’t give awards to couples.”

The firm put together an award committee and sent nomination forms to more than 120 nonprofit charities in the region. One nomination stood out above all others.

“Steve and Linda Cutcliffe are the shining example of what it means to serve others with dignity and respect,” Shari Fulmer of Action Ministries said in her nomination. “They embody humility while they promote Christian character.”

The Cutcliffes moved to Augusta in 2003 when Steve’s job transferred him from Washington, D.C., to Fort Gordon. When notified by the selection committee, they initially turned down the honor until they realized the firm would donate $5,000 in their name to the nonprofit of their choice.

“We’re still uncomfortable with it,” Steve said with a smile. “But we’ll be able to deal with that.”

Linda said the services they provide at the Maxwell House on Greene Street involve many volunteers.

“We don’t do what we do by ourselves just because we’ve been given the ‘leader’ title,” she said, referring to partners such as Christ Community Health, Barney’s Pharmacy and The Master’s Transport Minsitry. “We couldn’t do it without the help that we have.”

The programs the couple volunteer to run include a food pantry, a meal and devotional service, prescription medication assistance and a less than year-old initiative called Pathways, which enables low-income residents to buy low-cost toiletries, light bulbs and other necessities they can’t purchase with food stamps. The project allows proceeds to be reinvested into acquiring more low-cost items and offset the cost of other services they provide. More important, it gives residents a sense of dignity and a desire to provide for themselves. Steve calls the concept “capacity building.”

“We’re creating relationships, not just giving them a handout,” he said. “The goal is to be able to speak spiritually into their lives, to share the hope that we have.”

Capacity building is at the heart of everything the Cutcliffes do. Inspired by books such as John Bailey’s Journey to a Better Way and When Helping Hurts by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert, the couple constantly seek to help those in need without encouraging a constant state of neediness.

Steve said he realized how good intentions can cause harm when he visited Haiti three years after the devastating 2010 earthquake. He noticed abandoned relief projects and local industries that had been supplanted by charity that eventually dried up.

“They had a rice industry that employed Haitians, and we destroyed it,” he said. “We didn’t mean to, but when America and the rest of the world responded by providing free rice, you can’t compete with free.”

The couple last year were founding members of the Interfaith Networking Group, a consortium of area churches that meet regularly to discuss and coordinate outreach and service projects, as well as identify any gaps in community needs.

The Cutcliffes said they envision expanding the downtown ministry beyond Maxwell House’s confines, but they don’t refer to the ministry as “their” ministry.

“People don’t need Steve and Linda Cutcliffe,” Linda said. “They need God, and hopefully that’s who we’re pointing them to. We say our ultimate goal is community building, but really, it’s pointing them to the one that created them and loves them the most.”

 

Reach Damon Cline at (706) 823-3352 or damon.cline@augustachronicle.com.

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