Service and faith: How one former soldier is fighting poverty

Nov. 23—ASHLAND — If there are two words to describe Mike Maynard, it would be service and faith.

His office is packed with papers and goods.

Although Maynard served in Army posts all around the world, from the Middle East to Europe to the Far East, it's always been Maynard's dream has been to serve his fellow man at an urban ministry.

Back in the mid-1980s, Maynard was a fresh graduate out of high school when he came up with his church youth group to deliver a kid's kitchen set to the newly built Hillcrest Bruce Mission building.

Starting out in the basement of a Methodist church, the current site of the mission was built around 1985. It's there that Maynard found a calling — he started volunteering.

"I said, 'Oh man, this is it.' I started coming up here to help with an after-school program, picking up kids in the van, dropping them off, getting them snacks," Maynard said. "I realized this is what I wanted to do, so I knew I needed a bachelor's degree."

While still volunteering at the mission, Maynard attended college for two years before finding himself running a vacuum cleaner business in Portsmouth.

It was a rough grind, but he enjoyed it — anyone who has met Mike Maynard can immediately tell he knows no stranger. He can talk to anybody and anyone.

But Maynard said he was having trouble managing the store — that's when he found an Army recruiter who told him Uncle Sam could teach him those skills.

"I thought, 'OK, I can go in for a few years, get out and go back to business.' Next thing I knew, it was 26 years later," he said.

Joining in 1989, Maynard became an operator on shoulder-fired rockets. The way he put it, Maynard was shown a video of a guy driving along in a Jeep, getting out and shooting down a helicopter.

"I said, 'I want to do that.' So that's what I found myself doing," he said.

After that, Maynard served in Desert Storm before coming back to the Ashland serve as a recruiter. Just when he'd get ready to get out, another assignment would come down his way and Maynard said he felt like staying in.

But in the mid-2000s, while serving at an ROTC post in Chicago, Maynard said his daughter was murdered. Then his son witnessed a relative's overdose — that son spiraled out into drugs as well, Maynard said.

"I think I fell into a lot of workaholism, because if I keep myself busy, I don't think about it," Maynard said. "I don't think I've ever really stopped to process it all."

Maynard's skills at the mission — connecting with those at the margins of society — developed throughout his military career, particularly when he served as military advisor to the Iraqi security forces during the troop surge of the late 2000s, early 2010s.

"I think in the Army, we're taught there's only one way to do things and that's the right way," he said. "When you're dealing with other cultures, you learn people aren't doing it wrong, they're just different.

"Take, for example, men holding hands," Maynard added. "In the Middle East, it's very common, but in the U.S. Army it's not."

Along the same vein, Maynard said folks living in poverty aren't bad or wrong; they're just from a different culture.

"They do things very differently, they have different norms and different vocabularies. It's all very different. It's cultural. So we started really treating it as that. It's not that people in poverty make wrong decisions or bad decisions or do the wrong thing, that it's really they're doing things in the context of their culture. The models that they've seen and how they were raised, they're doing things from a different world," Maynard said.

After finishing a tour in Japan, Maynard said he took retirement and wound up back here.

"I had no intentions on working, I wasn't going to set the alarm," he said. "And I did that for about a year. Just catching up with family. When you're in the Army, you miss a lot being away."

Maynard found himself volunteering, first at the McConnell House, then at the mission. Then he got coaxed into teaching JROTC at Ashland.

"I really enjoyed it, the kids were great," Maynard said. "But it was different than dealing with adults."

Then the executive director slot opened up at Hillcrest Bruce about five years ago and Maynard went for it.

With all his experiences around the world, Maynard said he tries to do whatever it takes for folks to get out of poverty.

"If I can get somebody a job, but I haven't helped change that poverty mindset, they're not going to last," he said. "It takes about three years for somebody to get out of that mindset and get into a middle-class culture."

Maynard's eyes light up when he talks about the success stories at the mission — no victory goes unnoticed.

One young lady is currently a nurse, another woman has just entered treatment, after years of Maynard working with her and eventually exercising some tough love by cutting her off.

There's no such thing as a typical day for the Maynard — although he's mainly there to do administrative work, he finds folks popping into his office throughout the day, each with a new set of problems and a different set of solutions.

One day the freezer might break and Maynard has to act as a repairman. Another day, he might be clearing out a space for a retired nurse to come in to meet with folks.

While the mission will help anyone in need, Maynard said he and the leadership team are guided by God to continue along.

"We ask God for guidance, faith plays a huge role in what we do," he said. "That's why I'm not worried about money or funding. I've found God provides when we need it."

Maynard said area churches, Methodist or otherwise, local businesses and other organizations continue to support the ministry.

In the future, Maynard said he hopes to expand the mission, getting better parking, a gym and more room for various programming.

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