Jill Burcham has spent the last nine years building P.U.S.H. Ministries, an organization in Galax that today helps nearly 800 people per month put food on tables, learn life skills, transition from prison and climb out of addiction. This year, in an attempt to further help her fellow residents, she ended up helping herself too.
Burcham, the pastor at P.U.S.H., changed directions in life at age 50 and went to seminary in Georgia. By the time she had made her way home to Galax and started her ministry, the city had fallen on hard times.
“Galax was a furniture town, and several years ago the furniture factories virtually shut down and took their business overseas,” she said recently. “Galax today has an unemployment rate of somewhere between 21 and 28 percent … the housing market here is tough, there are very little livable apartments available right now.”
The local housing problem was one P.U.S.H. hadn’t addressed until Burcham began looking into opportunities she’d heard about with USDA Rural Development. She connected with Jeanie Barbrow in the USDA Rural Development Wytheville office and the two identified some available opportunities for addressing needs in Galax and the surrounding counties, but not without careful, detailed consideration.
“I tried it myself first, I didn’t want to recommend something I wasn’t sure of,” Burcham said. “I’d been living in an apartment and thought I was too old to get a house,” but USDA Rural Development approved her for its Section 502 Direct Loan Program in July 2015 and she was in a new home by October.
“Now there is no fear, there is a peace because – especially when you rent in rural areas – you deal with mold, you deal with roaches, you deal with bats,” she said. “In this area a lot of the landlords don’t have the money to repair what needs to be repaired. There is a security in knowing that you can control your own destiny.”
With that control comes responsibility, and Burcham points to the homeownership education that accompanies USDA Rural Development loans as having been a great tool for her personally in homeownership and also in allowing her to coach and guide her clients at P.U.S.H.
“That’s one of the reasons I can recommend the process,” she said. “They educate you, and education is empowerment. And going through Rural Development was a pleasant experience because everybody was so encouraging, saying things like, ‘We’re going to find your forever home,’ and making sure I understood.”
Burcham’s experience led her to send four clients to USDA Rural Development in the four months after she completed the process herself, and she said she looks forward to linking many more P.U.S.H. clients with available housing programs soon.
Those clients at first might be skeptical that they can own their own home, but their guide knows otherwise.