“If you have learned how to disagree without being disagreeable, then you have discovered the secret of getting along – whether it be business, family relations, or life itself.”
– Bernard Meltzer
Last week, I was a mess.
In case you missed it, I wrote a blog late one night called In Hate I Trust. That night was a rough one. After participating in a peaceful protest against a waste of taxpayer funds in our small mountain community in North Carolina (read the local newspaper article here), I became the target of much vitriol from many locals who disagreed with my stance. Because our protest was tied into religion, the “you’re going to hell” folks came out in full force. One of whom even targeted my child with her “God-fearing” bitterness and hatred.
The night I wrote that blog, I thought I was done. I thought I would never speak out about anything ever again because I would only be misunderstood and condemned, and my children would be the ones to suffer the consequences.
But. As it always does, morning came.
And in the days to come, for a multitude of reasons, my heart was healed.
First, after a teary apology to my daughter the next morning for what had happened, I was greeted with a blank stare and a simple, “Why are you sorry? You didn’t do it.” Oh, the simplicity of a child. She saw right through my misplaced self-contempt and redirected it to where it belonged – onto the person who had wronged her. “What did I ever do to her?” was her question. And what a good one it was.
With my daughter’s blessing, and a newfound determination, I got back up on that horse and continued fighting.
And thus, Agreeable Disagreers was born. Let me explain.
A few days before the peaceful photography protest mentioned above, a conversation was started on my Facebook account over the $2500 in taxpayer funds used to place “In God We Trust” in big golden letters on our local courthouse. When I posted a picture of the letters going up and expressed my controversial disagreement with such, a multitude of viewpoints started rolling in. One of which came from Teresa Kimberlin Martin, a faith-filled Christian who grew up in Ashe County with my husband. Teresa’s comment was, “Private contributions paid for this. No public funds were used. Why is it an issue?.”
And there was the crux of the problem.
Private contributions did not, in fact, pay for these letters. Without a vote or say from the county’s citizens (many of whom are not of the Christian faith, as shocking as that may be), the five county commissioners decided to allow taxpayer funds to cover this expense. (Read this story in more full detail here.) Once the Facebook conversation led to this fact, after snippy comments back and forth, suddenly Teresa had a thought:
“Ok. So I have an idea. Melissa, you and I differ on most things political. Well, all things political and religious. Since…the county has decided to pay for the letters, why don’t we have a fundraiser and split the funds to homeless shelters, food banks and any other program that needs funding?…We may not share the same views on all things, but we DO share the same views on helping others. Your thoughts?? And I am serious about this. Why not use our differences to solve some really serious issues??”
And with that, an idea was born.
What could have continued like any other Facebook argument between people who don’t see eye-to-eye, suddenly, with one change of attitude and heart, blossomed into a compromise. And not only a compromise, but a mission.
No, I do not think “In God We Trust” needs to be on a courthouse building that serves a Christian and non-Christian public. Yes, Teresa, thinks those letters do belong on that building. We disagree, that much is obvious. But what we both do agree on is this: in a poor county like ours, a county that has captured both of our hearts for different reasons (hers because it was where she came from, mine because it’s where I finally found a place to call home), $2500 could have very well been spent in a more logical manner.
After a few conversations back and forth between the two of us, we decided to put this idea in motion. I suggested the name Agreeable Disagreers. Teresa contacted the local bank to get our account set up. I went by and signed for it, ordered checks, etc.
And a fundraiser was born.
At first, I was skeptical. I knew that others would see this as an “anti-religion” fundraiser. In fact, I’ve heard those very words. But that’s not what we are at all. Actually, we’re quite the opposite. We’re pro-religion: all of them, including the lack thereof. Our foundation is based on inclusiveness. Our co-founder is a faith-filled Christian in every sense of the word. We are anything but anti-religion. Our goal is to help others, without any prerequisite of a particular political or religious affiliation. In other words, we don’t care. We welcome all, and we want to help all.
Because of our controversial start, and this misconception associated with our mission, I wondered if we’d receive any donations at all. Our goal was originally just to raise the $2500 in funds and distribute them back into our community. We didn’t know how long that would take (still don’t) and hadn’t give much thought to what would come after that.
My, how much can change in just a few weeks.
As of today, May 6, 2016, Agreeable Disagreers has taken in $1,520. We are only $980 short of our original goal. One member, Kizil McCay, volunteered her services to create our fabulous logo. Another member, Loni Miller, offered her screen-printing services and set us up a website, offering t-shirts and bumper stickers supporting the cause (all profits going directly into the fundraiser – click on the photo to the left be taken directly to her site). One member donated a whopping $300, and another offered a donation match of $500, which was met within three days! People are hearing us. They know what we stand for, and they believe in us.
Six donations have been distributed from the fund so far. Two to local charities (the homeless coalition and the food bank), one to a local fundraiser celebrating diversity among our county’s middleschoolers (click here to read about that and support them if you can!), and three to local individuals suggested to us who had fallen on temporary hard times and needed a helping hand.
We have started something beautiful, and we are not ready to quit anytime soon.
We have developed a board of four members who meet periodically to discuss distributions and future plans. Some of these future plans include volunteer work. (AD member Cassondra Greer has submitted an application for an Adopt-a-Highway in our name and the local food bank has provided us with a list of times and locations for opportunities for group volunteer efforts). We are all agreed that this fundraiser will not stop once that $2500 has been met. We are going to keep going. We are going to keep funds and helping hands available to spread into our community when needs arise.
If you’d like to learn more about Agreeable Disagreers, visit our Facebook page by clicking here. Donation information is found there if you’d like to donate, and volunteer opportunities will be posted as they become available. Also, most importantly, if you know someone in our local area who needs our help, whether it be monetarily or through volunteer services, please let us know! Just post in the group that you’d like to be contacted by a member and we’ll gladly get in touch with you asap.
I am proud of what we’re doing here. I’m proud of the helping hands that have stepped up, and the hearts that see beyond the differences that could divide us. It’s such a tough time in our country right now. Differences are glaring more than ever. We are all screaming to be heard. I’m not preaching here, I’m guilty of it too. It’s the climate that this country is in right now, and it’s sad. It’s truly sad.
But maybe there’s a little hope. Right here, in little bitty Ashe County, North Carolina – there are a group of disagreers who are putting their differences to work.
It’s amazing what happens when we take the time to actually hear one another.
“There are those in need who really don’t care which side of the aisle you sit on,
they would just like a seat at the table.”
– Agreeable Disagreers co-founder, Teresa Kimberlin Martin