For God, the Faithful One, is not unfair. How can he forget the beautiful work you have done for him? He remembers the love you demonstrate as you continually serve his beloved ones for the glory of his name. Hebrews 6:10 (TPT)

Until recently, we’ve been a bit closed-mouthed about our “Bruno Projects,” (you can learn more about “Bruno” in the tabbed section below) telling just enough to obtain assistance of a few community partners and for good reason: Because we felt strongly about protecting the dignity of those we were working to serve and because some of those we serve may be escaping abusive or otherwise dangerous environments, we were careful about how much of the project we shared publicly, and we still are.  However, after operating Bruno 1 for roughly a year before damage from a storm forced us to shut down temporarily while the building was repaired, we have spent our “down time” re-evaluating the program and now we’re ready to share a bit more about our vision for it and for the other Bruno Projects. While we will continue to protect the dignity and privacy of our guests to the bests of our ability, we are in need of additional financial support that exceeds the resources of our congregation.

BRUNO 1

Bruno 1 is just “Phase One” of a larger vision. There are three more Bruno projects that are waiting their turn:

Bruno 2: Obtaining alternative power sources for the sanctuary and the education wing that houses Bruno 1 which will make sure our guests don’t suffer during a power outage and allow us to open our sanctuary as an extreme weather shelter for those houseless individuals or families living in their cars who have their own transportation to reach the church as well as others in the local community who find themselves without power or adequate heating/air conditioning, thereby relieving some of the burden from the extreme weather shelters in Maryville.

Bruno 3: Working with our partner, A Place to Stay, we’ve identified a need for transitional housing that is longer term than our Bruno 1 program. Bruno 3 involves the installation of 4-6 “tiny home” type structures along the far side of our parking lot and the acquisition and installation of an outdoor accessible restroom, shower, and laundry facility, and picnic shelter for those living in the longterm housing (we won’t be able to install “indoor plumbing” in the shelters without installing a new septic system and field that would ultimately interfere with Bruno 4, and sewer is not available in our area).

Bruno 4: Bruno 4 is our long range goal and is actually the original vision that spawned Bruno 1-3. Bruno 4 will house unsheltered youth and young adults as well as provide any needed services and programs they need to learn to live independently.

 

How You Can Help Us Help the Least Among Us

That there is more that needs to be done is why we’re looking at ways we can fill the still existing gaps in services provided to the unsheltered/houseless here in Blount County, why we are partnering with A Place to Stay, and why we will continue to seek partnerships with individuals, other relevant organizations and with Blount County industries and businesses who feel the way we do: that it is our responsibility to uplift and serve the least among us in any way possible. We know what we have to work with and we know that there are still things needed to serve them.

If you’re an organization, business, or resident of Blount County who has a sincere interest in helping the unsheltered/houseless as opposed to just keeping them out of sight, out of mind … even if you’re somewhere else and looking for a way to help the unsheltered regardless of where … we invite you to partner with us in one or more of the following ways:

  • If you’d like to make a financial donation, you can:
    • Donate online through our Tithe.ly account. Tithe.ly is a secure service that processes your donation and protects your private information information. You can choose to make a one-time donation or to set up a recurring donation. If donating online, please designate your donation by selecting “Bruno Fund.” Tithe.ly will provide a receipt for you. Donations to Union Grove are tax deductible.
    • If you’re not comfortable making a donation online, you can mail a check or money order to the church. Make the check payable to Union Grove UMC, and write Bruno Fund on the memo line. The church will mail you a receipt for your donation.
  • Sponsorship opportunities are also available for those individuals, organizations, or businesses that would like to make a larger donation. For example, you could “sponsor” a room in Bruno 1 (the cost per room is the total re-opening/expansion cost estimate divided by the number of guest/volunteer rooms; approximately $16,500.00 per room). We would provide documentation of your sponsorship and, if you choose, would provide a “memorial” placard on the door of a room of your choosing in your honor.
  • Gifts-in-kind for the following are appreciated. We will provide necessary receipts/documentation for fair market value of same:
    • Mini-Split HVAC systems including installation (Bruno 1 and 3)
    • Internet Service (Bruno 1)
    • Smoke/Fire Alarm System (Bruno 1)
    • Security Camera System (Bruno 1)
    • Solar or generator based backup power source system
    • Excavation and Site Preparation services (including base materials) as needed per project (Bruno 1 patio and walkway, Bruno 3 cabin sites, restroom/shower room site, dining/cooking shelter site)
    • Labor to install cobblestone patio and walk-way (Bruno 1)
    • Materials, labor, and expertise to prepare community garden area for the next gardening season (Bruno 1)
    • Fencing and installation around back and side yard areas of Bruno 1
    • Electrical utility lines and installation for running power to cabins, outdoor restroom/shower facility, and dining/cooking shelter (underground lines preferred; lights only in dining shelter; Bruno 3)
    • “Cabin” structures (Bruno 3; 10×16 or 10×20 only)
    • Building and finishing materials as needed per project

We are not able to receive donations of second hand furnishings, etc., at this time due to the current construction to repair storm damage to our building. If you believe you have household items that would be of use, please contact Rev. Val.

Our needs are listed on the project tabs in this section with as much detail as we can provide. We look forward to meeting and working with you. You can contact our pastor, Rev. Val Ohle, through the Contact Us page, and she will be happy to set up a meeting with you and/or your board.

In early Christian history, Christian hospitality included maintaining a room for “the stranger” with a belief that the stranger would be Christ. Christian hospitality is the premise on which we’ve based our expansion plans. While we are not trying to create a luxury resort, our guests stay with us for up to three weeks at a time.

We estimate the cost to complete the following will be approximately $150,000.00 (or the equivalent in material and labor donations based on fair market values). We are hoping to obtain hotel/motel level furnishings (below) as they are more durable than standard household furnishings.

Through the expansion, Bruno 1 would go from housing up to 20 people to housing up to 50 people.1

Re-opening & expansion plans include:

  • Replacing both main level and lower level exterior doors to increase security and add “panic” bar egress
  • Security cameras inside and out
  • Installing smoke/fire detection system throughout
  • Upgrading breaker box to accomodate additional electrical load.
  • Updating light fixtures in all rooms.
  • Installing additional outlets in each guest room on the main level.
  • Combining the existing restrooms and pastor’s office (main level) into one room to contain a private shower room and two private toilet rooms (all ADA accessible), communal handwashing sink, communal utility sink, and a washer and dryer.
  • Upgrade to larger capacity hot water heater.
  • Insulate, add drywall, and paint lower level block walls.
  • Replace flooring on both levels.
  • Installing outlets in all guest rooms on the lower level (there are currently no outlets in the lower level rooms).
  • Installation of a new, more efficient HVAC system
  • Furnishing each guest room as follows (there are 9 rooms to furnish including the volunteer quarters):
    • 1 platform double bed (minimum sleeping furnishing)
    • 1 set of twin bunk beds (would like to have in each room)
    • 1 closet/wardrobe cabinet
    • 2 night stands
    • 1 “kitchenette” cabinet with storage space 
    • 1 apartment sized refrigerator
    • 1 small table and chair set for meals, studying, etc.
    • 1 easy chair
    • microwave
    • crockpot
    • coffee maker
    • microwave safe cookware and place settings for four
    • 1 large area rug
    • 1 keyless door lock
  • Using bricks removed from the building during storm repair to build a large patio behind building as well as a cobblestone walkway from the back to the front (area 1 on map above)
  • Building a pergola or other shade cover for patio area
  • Installing a fixed “permanent” cooking grill on patio for safe use by guests
  • Fencing around the back and side yards for child safety (the church backs up to and overlooks a wooded ravine)
  • A few pieces of playground equipment
  • Preparation of “community” garden area for use by guests and others in need (area 7 on map above)

1. While the rooms will be set up for a family of four, a family of six can be housed with the addition of luxury cots which we already own. The rooms average 200 square feet each.

As stated above, we need to obtain alternate or backup power sources for both the education wing where Bruno 1 is housed and for the sanctuary.  We have not obtained estimates on this. We are hoping to be able to use a solar panel array if the conditions on the property allow it. If not, we will look into propane-powered generators.

Shown in Area 2 on the map above, Bruno 3 provides housing for those who need longer than three weeks to transition to permanent housing, and would consist of 4-6 individual “tiny house” buildings containing the same furnishings as the Bruno 1 guest rooms (with the possible exception of a set of bunk beds dependent on interior square footage of the buildings). 

Because we will not be able to give each cabin its own bathroom or running water and cabin-housed guests will need to use the outside accessible facilities (area 4 on the map above), cabin guests would most likely be individuals, couples, or single parents with 1-2 teenage children. 

We anticipate our insurance will require the presence of a volunteer 24/7 to manage the mid-term transitional housing which puts Bruno 3 capacity at up to 16 people (one cabin would be designated the volunteers’ cabin). Cabin guests would also be placed on a month-to-month lease for a nominal amount. 

Anticipated needs:

  • Acquiring or building an outdoor accessible restroom/shower room/laundry facility (area 4 on map above; FEMA trailer, Construction Trailer, or conversion of an appropriate pre-built “shed” building).
  • Site prep for 4-6 cabin structures (including running underground power to each cabin site)
  • 4-6 10×16 up to 10×20 cabin structures on skids (must meet state codes for “tiny house” living)
  • Materials and labor for finishing structure interiors including wiring, lighting, and installation of mini-split system HVAC
  • Furnishings, etc. (see Bruno 1 for list)
  • Building a Dining/Cooking shelter (area 3 on map above) for use by cabin guests

Examples of cabin shed structures:

We envision the addition of a two-story “dormitory” wing to our existing fellowship hall (area 5 on the map above) as well as renovation of the fellowship hall to become the cafeteria, education space, and recreation area for Bruno 4 residents. We have not begun to estimate the cost for this project as we know, unless we are blessed with a significant gift from a generous benefactor, it is a few years in the future and would not begin until all other Bruno projects have been completed. Here’s what we do know:

  • Would require the involvement of an architect, general contractor, and interior designer
  • Would require a new septic system dedicated to the dormitory wing
  • Would require acquisition of additional land (area 8 on map above)
  • Would require a professional staff to manage and assist residents
  • Would require other professionals to develop and implement any necessary programs residents may need including educational, vocational, life skills, counseling, etc.

WHO’S BRUNO AND WHY NAME THE PROJECTS AFTER HIM?

Bruno is a character in the 2021 Disney movie, Encanto. Consisting of gossip and anecdotes about Mirabel Madrigal’s ostracized uncle, Bruno (whose gift of seeing the future has been associated with misfortune and has left him estranged from the rest of the family), the song, “We Don’t Talk About Bruno”, sees some of the family members and the townsfolk explain to Mirabel why they do not talk about Bruno. The song suggests that Bruno is villainous, but sheds the narrative styles of conventional Disney villain songs by listing other characters’ perspectives of the villain and having some characters hint that they sympathize with him. At risk of spoiling it for those who haven’t seen it, Bruno’s “predictions” are less about predicting than they are about raising awareness of problems and suggesting possible outcomes if things don’t change, very much like the messages delivered by the early Bible prophets.

When Union Grove began to gather in-person again following lifting of the COVID-19 safety measures, the congregation began to talk about community outreach and what needs they were aware of. Most of those discussions centered around the unsheltered population in Blount County. We’re a very small rural church with limited financial resources, but that didn’t stop the congregation from seeking solutions they could pull off with what they had on hand. Those brainstorming sessions led to forming a partnership with A Place to Stay to work toward finding transitional housing for  unsheltered/houseless people in Blount County.

A member of our congregation suggested referring to the work as our “Bruno Projects,” because “no one talks about Bruno.” It was such an appropriate name, we immediately adopted it for our mission work.

In the movie, Encanto, Bruno’s predictions cause a rift between him and his family to such a degree that he hides himself away in the walls of the house they all live in and, from that point on, is on the outside of the family looking in through cracks and holes in the walls – no longer a part of the family and, because they don’t talk about him, no longer remembered by the family. When he does finally reappear, the family’s first reaction is both fear and rejection.

Like Bruno, those who find themselves unsheltered/houseless also find themselves unwanted by the community. People that might once have been our neighbors are suddenly a burden, a scourge, a disgrace. Businesses don’t want them parking the cars that have become home in their parking lots, resting in the shade of their store front awnings, or being seen pushing whatever carts they’ve come up with along public sidewalks. They’re regularly discouraged from using public parks even during daylight hours and ordinances against their “camping” in wooded areas … ordinances that include destroying their tents and temporary shelters … are used to try to drive them away.

There are organizations that do what they can to help. Several Blount County churches provide temporary shelter in extreme weather when the outside temperatures reach dangerous highs or lows, regularly serve meals, stock blessing boxes with non-perishable groceries and other necessities, and run food, clothing, and hygiene pantries, but it’s hard to find ways to get the unsheltered/houseless off the streets, out of the parking lots, and into housing they can afford (the average rent in Tennessee is currently $1,382/month, the average rent in Blount County is $1,600/month). Efforts to create such shelters that house the unsheltered (Blount County doesn’t have any at this time) are often thwarted by nitpicking code enforcement designed to discourage the very creation of such shelters, or by neighborhood and business coalitions that agree something is needed but “we don’t want them in our backyards” to such a degree that the TN State legislature passed a bill that essentially criminalizes being unsheltered. Their reasoning is tied to stereotypes about the activities and habits of the unsheltered/houseless and property values.

Kudos to those churches and other groups that are doing what they’re doing. They are providing vital services to our neighbors and the least among us. While we applaud their work, we are a very small congregation that doesn’t have the financial or human resources to provide the meals or stock and run pantries. Because we are both small and a rural church and while we will be able to offer shelter during weather extremes, we would only be able to provide for the physical needs of those who can get to us during extreme weather.