High Road

Greenville’s United Ministries works tirelessly to help others help themselves

There’s wisdom in that old adage, “Give a man a fish and he will eat today; but teach a man to fish and he will eat for a lifetime.” That philosophy lies at the core of United Ministries’ mission to serve and empower those on the transformative journey to self-sufficiency. “Our vision,” states board member Katherine Smoak Davis, “is a community working together to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to thrive in Greenville.”

Photograph by Will Crooks

“We call it empowerment,” explains Reverend Tony McDade, UM’s executive director. “It means equity of opportunity. Empowerment says that people have within themselves the reservoir to draw on, but sometimes they need additional help.” That might mean helping a single mom obtain her GED and start a higher-paying job so she can support her family, providing financial assistance to an elderly man to pay his utility bills, or giving a homeless person a place to take a shower and wash his or her clothes. “Services are customized to each individual,” Smoak Davis adds.

On the cusp of their 50th anniversary in 2020, United Ministries—with its staff of 30 employees and a cadre of 1,500 volunteers—helps as many as 6,000 people a year change their lives through a holistic approach of providing crisis assistance, and giving them access to adult education, employment programs, housing, and financial counseling. “As people come in, we want to help them envision a future that is different and better than their past,” McDade says.

An ordained minister and Furman alum, Tony McDade came to United Ministries by way of Greenville Area Interfaith Hospitality Network (GAIHN), which he headed for 13 years before GAIHN merged with UM in 2016. His role as executive director is to ensure the organization’s programs are on point, as well as be its public face, but McDade is quick to credit his staff. “My colleagues and our volunteers exemplify the community spirit of Greenville, which is a unique blend of generosity and hospitality.”

“At IBERIABANK, we feel strongly about supporting our local community and are proud to be the 2019 Community Spirit Award sponsor. We congratulate United Ministries for this well-deserved award and their dedication to ensuring everyone has the opportunity to thrive in Greenville.”

—Sam Erwin, Carolinas regional president, IBERIABANK


They couldn’t do this work without their partnerships with other area nonprofits, such as Triune Mercy Center, Habitat for Humanity, Miracle Hill Ministries, and more. “I use the equation that one plus one equals three,” notes McDade. “With each agency bringing its best to the conversation, the engagement and the results will be more than we could have done individually.”

“Officially in United Ministries’s Place of Hope [day shelter] they are dealing with a lot of the same people we are,” reports Reverend Deb Richardson-Moore, pastor and director of Triune Mercy Center, a nondenominational church that ministers to the homeless. “Tony and I helped found the Greenville Homeless Alliance two years ago. [The Alliance] chose United Ministries as our backbone agency because they can convene people in Greenville in a way nobody else can.”

Receiving the Community Spirit Award shines a light on the work United Ministries does.

“We’re deeply honored to receive this award, especially in the context of so many other worthy agencies here in Greenville,” McDade shares. “It is a tribute to the devotion of our volunteers and the dedication of our staff.”

Their reward? According to McDade, it’s “seeing the extraordinary generosity and hospitality of the entire community, and the incredible resiliency of people who are struggling with poverty but who aspire to the same thing everybody else aspires to: having a life of meaning.”