About 20 volunteers help at Project Life each day. Charmain   Z. Brackett/Augusta Good News
About 20 volunteers help at Project Life each day. Charmain Z. Brackett/Augusta Good News

Project Life marks five years on Gordon Highway

In the shadow of the defunct Regency Mall runs a once vibrant corridor of Gordon Highway, bustling with car dealerships, retail, grocery stores and banks.

As the years passed, businesses shut down, and buildings were abandoned.

Five years ago, Project Life moved into a corner of a former shopping center with a vision to help those in need and bring life back into once abandoned spaces.

“Our whole goal is to bring up this whole area,” said Amy Maxwell, Project Life executive director.

A mural is on the side of a former Acura dealership that is now Project Life. Charmain Z. Brackett/Augusta Good News

Formerly known as Helping People Start Over or HPSO, an outreach of New Life Church, Project Life began in 1997. It was still called HPSO when it moved into the property in February 2019. And it had different leadership although Maxwell helped out. At the time, she headed the children’s ministry at New Life.

Three days a week, Project Life provides clothing and food to those who need it. They try to stick to those items. On rare occasions, they have other goods, but those pass through rapidly.

“Everything is free at no expense to the community,” said Erik Sowder, operations manager.  “It’s all volunteer based. We have 20 to 30 volunteers on a daily basis.”

The store portion of the operation, where people pick out clothing and get food, moved in August 2023 from the shopping center to a neighboring building that was once an Acura dealership.

People can return once a month to shop for clothing in the space that one recent visitor likened to an upscale mall store, said Sowder.

 And that’s exactly what Maxwell had in mind.

 “I said, ’Let’s give people an experience,’” she said. “That’s when the Gap in Augusta Mall went out of business. That’s where so much stuff came from. We bought it for pennies on what they wanted. And when they found out what we were doing, they got in on it.”

 As time passed, HPSO changed its name as well as its leadership. Maxwell moved out of the church and into the outreach.

“It was in the store that I fell in love with the people,” said Maxwell, who has developed relationships with shoppers over the years.  “They come up telling me their next greatest victory (such as) ‘ I got a job.’ I want to help see them succeed.”

Even though the retail portion has moved out of the shopping center, there are plans for the useable portions of the structure.

Some of the buildings must be demolished, Maxwell said. Their roofs and foundations are beyond repair and nature has taken over. One large space is used as storage, and another portion will house a commercial kitchen and meeting space, which they hope to have operational by Thanksgiving.

Building it out and adding fixtures shouldn’t take long, Sowder said, but they will need to get the proper permits and licenses.

 Details are still being worked out, but it would be a place where families could go to have a nice meal and as with the shopping side, the experience would be key, Maxwell said.

 It could also help generate income to fund the organization. Food truck operators or small business owners could prepare food in the space. There are multiple possibilities for its use, she said.

As for the demolished space, plans are also being worked out. Maxwell said it will have a greenspace/park, but in the future, part could be developed into an urban garden.

Project Life is open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Thursday. In 2023, more than 7,000 people were served, receiving more than 203,500 pieces of clothing and 250,000 pounds of food. More families are added each week, said Sowder.

Maxwell said they can give away 2,000 pieces of clothing in four hours.

While individuals donate clothing to the non-profit, Project Life has partnerships with businesses that donate food and clothing as well. The biggest need is always men’s and school-aged children’s clothing.

The agency has partnerships with other non-profits as well. Representatives from organizations such as Golden Harvest Food Bank and the Department of Public Health often set up and provide information about services.

Maxwell said they like to be able to connect people with the other resources in the community.

 “Project Life is so much more,” she said.

Charmain Z. Brackett, the publisher of Augusta Good News and Inspiring: Women of Augusta, has covered Augusta’s news for 35 years. Reach her at charmain@augustagoodnews.com. Sign up for the newsletter here.

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2 responses to “Project Life marks five years on Gordon Highway”

  1. Dorothy Hurst says:

    How do I donate clothes?