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CAR TALK: MUM volunteer driver Marilyn Fullmer, right, talks with Tracy Williams.
Photo by Larry McCormack/Genesis
CAR TALK: MUM volunteer driver Marilyn Fullmer, right, talks with Tracy Williams.

Driving Miss Tracy

Hope Award | South Region winner changes lives one ride at a time

Issue: "The one and the many," Sept. 20, 2014

In our nine years of offering the Hope Award we’ve particularly looked for replicable projects: Simple but effective programs that folks without rocket science backgrounds or wheelbarrows of cash can create in their own neighborhoods. 

Last year, our South Region winner was the Beltline Bike Shop in Atlanta, where kids learn to fix bikes, connect hard work with rewards, and interact with adults who are good role models. This year our South winner is Maury United Ministries (MUMs) of Maury County, Tenn., an hour’s drive south of Nashville, which focuses on one simple but crucial endeavor: giving rides to people without transportation, and in the process building relationships.

Executive director Randy Nichols, a now-retired mechanical designer, has run MUMs for 17 years: part time for seven, full time for the last 10. He now coordinates 5,000 trips per year, connecting 25 volunteers with car-less neighbors who need rides to work, job training, a doctor’s office, GED classes, or day care. The goal, Nichols says, is to “show the love of Christ while providing for transportation needs—and we cannot help but share the gospel message with our passengers as the need arises.” 

Randy Nichols
Photo by Larry McCormack/Genesis
Randy Nichols
Nichols showed me around Maury County, three-fifths urban and two-fifths rural, with a population of 80,000 humans, along with 23 cattle for every 100 acres of farmland. The county leads Tennessee in beef production and has had its share of racial animosity: In 1946 Thurgood Marshall, who would later become the first black Supreme Court justice, defended an African-American naval veteran involved in a fight that led to a Maury County race riot.

The MUMs idea grew out of Nichols’ Bible-reading and self-appraisal: “I really believe where it says God gives some to be apostles and prophets, and equips others for works of service. … I’m not a great speaker and I’m not charismatic, so I looked for something I could do.” He recalls, “I started praying and the Lord showed me if you want to just exist as a poor person, you can get housing through government assistance, food stamps, so you can exist. But if you want to do better, if you start looking for work, you’ll run into a transportation issue.”

Nichols then tackled the problem of recruiting volunteer drivers: “I asked for a day a month, a half day, and I would coordinate and fill in. … At first we just gave six or seven rides a week. Next thing you know people start hearing about it.” The ministry grew: “We let the churches know, the social service organizations know. Didn’t put up a big old billboard because people would think we’re a taxi service. … We had drivers from all denominations, different churches.” Nichols looked for drivers with the “discernment to avoid facilitating the behavior that caused trouble in the first place—victim mentality, entitlement mentality. We wanted to position ourselves to mentor those genuinely seeking to know and serve God.”

Given Maury County’s racial history, it’s not inconsequential that on the afternoon I visited the first pickup by one of Nichols’ most faithful drivers, Marilyn Fullmer, a white retired nurse, was of Tracy, an African-American woman. Eight years ago Fullmer heard Nichols speak about MUMs at her church, Zion Presbyterian, and thought, “That’s something I could probably do.” She’s seen progress in some of the women she’s transported: “I remember taking Tracy job hunting for week after week after week. … Then, instead of taking her job hunting, we’re taking her for a job.”

As she drove her blue Taurus, Fullmer reflected on the riders she has driven: “The most satisfying experience was a young couple that Randy counseled a lot. She was very bright. He was a whiz at the computer. They had some real messes to clean up. They began going to church, became believers, and got married.” Others have not been diligent: “I might knock on a door and not get an answer. If that happens more than a couple of times, Randy will say we just can’t give the ride anymore.”

Fullmer says she has “friends who think I’m crazy for doing this, [but] I haven’t found any real reason to be afraid.” She doesn’t expect quick changes, so she’s seldom disappointed: “I tell myself and my husband tells me often: You can’t do it for them. … You can help. You can provide opportunity—but the Spirit of God has to do the work and they have to listen.” She’s learned a lot over the years: “Sometimes we get attached and decide to help with more than the ride. We have to be careful and go in with eyes open. It’s a fine line: You’re trying to help them because God doesn’t shut the door on us when we come back again.”

Vote for the winner of the 2014 Hope Award for Effective Compassion.

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