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Macon County Chaplains Program hosts holiday dinner

By Kristin Fox

First responders are the heroes of our community. Every day, Macon County first responders go above and beyond to keep our community safe, help out those in need and protect us from harm. Often in their day-to-day work, they deal with awful situations.

To help officers deal with the situations they encounter in the line of duty, a team of dedicated chaplains are available to support them. For the last three years, a team of three chaplains– Bonnie Peggs, Danny Antoine and E. Davis Hooper, have committed themselves to helping our first responders.

The chaplain program provides professional pastoral services to those in need. The purpose of the chaplain program is to provide first responders and their families with an outlet during stressful or difficult situations in their professional or personal lives. All chaplain services offered to first responders are voluntary and confidential.

Peggs began her service as a chaplain at Angel Hospital in 1999, then serving for the Franklin Police Department in 2010. Antoine and Davis have served as chaplains for the FPD since 2020. The three chaplains have worked tirelessly to expand the program to serve more first responders. In addition to the Franklin Police Department, the chaplaincy program now serves first responders with the Franklin Fire Department, Macon County Sheriff’s Office, Macon County Emergency Medical Services, Macon County 911 and the North Carolina State Highway Patrol.

One way the chaplaincy program supports local first responders is to recognize quarterly outstanding first responders with one chosen as the First Responder of the Year. This year, NC StateTrooper Michael Gerra was selected as the 2023 First Responder of the Year. The decision to select Gerra as the First Responder of the Year was unanimous with all three chaplains picking Gerra for the recognition without even talking to one another.

“The chaplain program means a lot to us first responders,” said Gerra. “The program changes a lot of our lives without us even knowing it. It means a lot with what we deal with every day, knowing that if you can’t talk to a friend or family member you still have them. They are only a phone call away; you can call them and they pick right up or if they don’t they get right back to you.”

“The program is a big part of our lives day in day out with what we deal with,” he added. “It fulfills an important need.”

“In the last few years, the chaplain program has been the best it has ever been,” said Gerra. “These three are staying on top of it and making sure to keep the chaplain program alive. They do what they need to do at times asserting themselves to be there for us.”

“Personally, I don’t think about it a lot and often times keep things bottled up inside, but when you sit back and reflect on things, the chaplain program does help us get through situations better,” he added. “The chaplains help to get it out of us and make us come out of our shell. Not only for me, but I have seen that in other people.”

The quarterly fire responders selected for 2023 included: Franklin Fire Department — Mark Stanfield, Joe Templeton and Pete Haithcock; Macon County Sheriff’s Office — Anissa Steele, Daniel Crane, Matt Breedlove and Ruben Esquivel;  Macon County 911 — Paige Southard, Wayne Pendergrass and Heather Conner; Macon County Emergency Medical Services — Dalton Drinnon, Chandler Ellenburg, Lora Beegle and Brianna Buchanan; Franklin Police Department — Garrett Hovis and Eli Kirkland; and North Carolina State Highway Patrol State Michael Gerra.

The chaplaincy program recently hosted a Christmas dinner for Franklin area first responders at the Discover Church. During the dinner, the chaplains recognized Gerra and the other nominees as well as all first responders who work in Franklin. Macon County Sheriff Brent Holbrooks, Franklin Police Chief Devin Holland and Franklin Fire Department Chief Ben Ormond attended the dinner and spoke to their fellow first responders.

Door prizes were given out to first responders, made possible by donations from the local community. For the last three years, Discover Church has partnered with the chaplain program and has been a huge donor for the chaplaincy program. Reverend Ben Windle with Discover Church opened the dinner with a blessing.

Other programs the chaplains offer first responders are the annual Christmas and New Year’s morning breakfasts, ride-alongs and debriefings.

In addition to two other chaplains in the area, the trio of Beggs, Antoine and Hooper is trained in critical incidence debriefing. According to Beggs, they are working to get more chaplains certified for this important work.

In April, the chaplain program will sponsor Shield a Badge at Discover Church. The chaplains will bless first responders’ badges and pair them with a person in the community who commits to praying for them every day. Community members are given first responders’ names and badge numbers. Plans are to include all 220 Franklin area first responders as well as expand to include first responders who work in Otto and Highlands.

“Our first responders do all those things that are awful, and there are too many things that are awful,” said Beggs. “The three of us are honored and privileged to be able to be chaplains for our first responders. We are available for them if they need to talk to somebody. We’re always here for them, and anything they share with us is one hundred percent confidential.”

“We want all first responders to know that they can call on any of us,” she added. “We are happy to be part of helping our first responders during those awful moments, because let’s face it, the things they do day in and day out can weigh heavy on their hearts.”

“We get to see those who go above and beyond the normal above and beyond,” said Beggs. “We want to take the weight off their hearts; that is really our job is to make their hearts lighter, to make their spirits swell and to fill them with some joy and gladness.”

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