Godstock provides fun, help for local families

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 1, 2009

By Noelle Edwards and Hugh Fisher
CHINA GROVE ó In its 15th year, Godstock continues to make a difference in families’ lives.
This year’s festival comes as summer ends, but it’s far from short on summer fun.
Neither, thankfully, is it short on people willing to give a helping hand to those who need it.
Held at the South Rowan YMCA, this year’s Godstock comes earlier than past years’ festivals to capitalize on warm weather, at a time when families are still at home and not as busy, John Bouk, the organization’s founder, said.
Families enjoyed grilled hamburgers, fresh-squeezed orangeade and ice cream.
Kids bounced on inflatable playsets and played in the water at the Y’s splash pad.
And it’s not over yet. The festival continues today with a worship service at 11 a.m., with more food, music and fun into the afternoon.
A 3 p.m. raffle will give away a number of prize packages, with items including a radio-controlled car, restaurant gift certificates, a flat screen TV and two tickets to the Carolina Panthers home game against Miami.
Bouk said he was pleased with the turnout. “We’re doing better than we hoped,” he said.
Hundreds helped
Godstock ó both an event and a growing charity ó raises money for families with seriously ill children.Donations go toward nonmedical bills such as the mortgage and utilities.
Bouk said families find Godstock through hospital social workers. A number of organizations provide aid to families in such situations, and Bouk said they must exhaust their other options before coming to Godstock.
“What’s being missed is what we step in and cover,” he said.
He said often a family will go from two incomes to one as a parent quits work to take care of the child.
And, very often, the families who come to Godstock for help are from single-parent homes, he said.
He said Godstock helps parents focus on their child instead of on past-due bills.
The amount of aid needed can vary.
“There are some families, we pay their power bill and never hear from them again,” Bouk said.
Others have many needs and may require help for months to keep the family afloat.
Godstock started in 1994 as a get-together for young people at Grace Lutheran Church.
Bouk organized a cookout in 1994 to help students get to know each other before school started back.
His pastor told him about a child who was about to undergo a bone marrow transplant and asked if the event could do double duty as a fundraiser.
Did it ever. Bouk walked away with $5,000 to give the family, which was matched by other donors.
When word got out, one person after another approached him about children they knew in similar situations.In 1996, Bouk ran with the Olympic torch. Ralph Ketner, founder of Food Lion, approached him with $25,000 and said, “Turn it into something.”
So he did. The charity has grown through annual events and donations.
And more families than ever are in need. Bouk now gets calls from at least two or three new people a day.
He said he wouldn’t even know how to count how many kids Godstock has helped over all 16 years.
He and the board members used to wear T-shirts to the festival with the name of every child the organization had helped.
“We can’t do that anymore,” he said.
In addition to helping kids, Godstock events also help the American Red Cross. The annual blood drive at Godstock falls this year during a time of especially urgent need.
Shirley Davis, the Red Cross supervisor running Saturday’s blood drive, had set a goal of 25 units for the event.
As of 2 p.m., they had met that goal with an hour and a half to go.
The Red Cross works with Godstock at events more than once a year, Davis said.
Still growing
But the group’s growth hasn’t come without challenges.
The “God” part of Godstock’s name gives the organization some trouble in fundraising.
Bouk said a lot of corporations won’t get involved because of the religious aspect. He said a large company in Charlotte pulled out recently because it didn’t want to offend its employees.
The economy has also played a role. Charitable donations are down across the board.
But Bouk said he’s never had to turn a family away.
He takes hope in the fact that he’s still operating, while a lot of organizations have shut their doors completely.
He is the organization’s only employee.
“I go out and do the begging,” he said.
Board members pitch in to help staff events. “It’s not your typical board by any stretch,” Bouk said.
Volunteers who’ve been working the festival for years say they love the chance to make a difference.
“It’s a way to give back to your community,” Jeff Ritchie said. He’s been volunteering with others from Grace Lutheran since the outreach began in 1994.
He’s modest about his role. “I come out and help do some of the cooking,” Ritchie said. But he said he’s not surprised at how big the organization has become.
And Godstock is still growing. In addition to golf tournaments, triathlons and duathlons, Tilley Harley-Davidson is hosting a rally at their Salisbury dealership in October.
The festival will feature a poker run and live music, among other events. Proceeds will benefit Godstock.
Bouk hopes to hold a poker run on horseback around Thanksgiving.
He’s always looking for new ways to make money since no single event makes a lot.
But those donations make a lot of difference.
Members of one family Godstock has helped were on hand to enjoy themselves.
Stephen Gilmore, now 12, was diagnosed with a brain tumor at age 3.
“When he was first diagnosed, I was like, I don’t know what to do,” said his mother, Wendy Baskins.
Godstock raised money for Stephen and another child, she said, helping her at a time when she was expecting her daughter.
“It’s just a wonderful organization,” Baskins said, as Stephen played in the water nearby.
She has volunteered with Godstock since and said she was glad to see the strong turnout.
“Especially in this economic time, when families are having trouble supporting themselves, just to see people out here contributing and supporting it is great.”