It’s a typical hot, humid August day outside the Shaffer Enrichment Center at Douglass Boulevard Christian Church. Inside, about a dozen people are working on art projects, reading, or just sitting and enjoying the air-conditioning.

Dorothy Byarley completes her watercolor of a black bird gliding across a blue sky over a beach. You can tell she’s proud of her work. “I’ve got a whole album full of paintings. I just want to save them in some manner,” she explains.

Gladdis Officer patiently sits at a nearby table, quietly reading a romance novel on her e-reader. “Oh, I love to read,” she says. “I’ve had this Kindle for about three years now, and I like this because you can get a lot of books on there; and I’ve got so many books.”

But all activities come to an end as the entire room gathers for a lunch of pasta, cooked zucchini and a bit of cake. For some, it’s a nutritious meal they may otherwise not receive if they didn’t visit the center. For most, it’s a time of fellowship and pleasant conversation.

In addition to weekly art classes, the enrichment center, run by Highlands Community Ministries, offers seniors computer classes, cooking lessons, field trips, bunco and bingo, as well as tai chi and zumba.

“Everybody is really nice. They’re awesome, and they’re really good with us old folks,” Officer says with a laugh.

Highlands Community Ministries has been taking care of people, old and young, for more than four decades. It all started in 1969 when Stan Esterle wanted to provide children in the Highlands with a place to go while both parents worked — a new phenomenon for that time.

But Esterle’s plans didn’t end there. He spent the next 40 years building Louisville’s first-ever community ministries into an organization that provides low-income housing and day services for senior citizens, children’s day care, home-delivered meals, and non-competitive youth sports programs. They also provide financial and nutritional emergency services for families in crisis.

By the time Esterle retired in 2011, he and the 24 church congregations that make up HCM had built a program used as a model by other community ministries across Louisville, all of whom have a simple goal: Help those in need.   

“Without Highlands Community Ministries, we wouldn’t have had a Christmas several times,” says one Highlands resident who has benefited from HCM’s Individual and Family Assistance Program. “It was a small Christmas, but that was fine with us.”  

As a single mom with a son and special-needs daughter, the resident, who wished not to give her name, says that HCM has been a life-saver many times over the past 20 years. “If you’re low on groceries or you need to pay a bill, it unleashes the cash that will hold you over a bit. They’re just an extremely invaluable resource for this community.”

To remain invaluable, HCM continually looks toward the future. After Esterle’s retirement, the board unanimously voted to hire Troy Burden to fill some big shoes.

HCM board member Charlotte Peterson admits Burden had a hard act to follow, but is quick to add that he is doing “an incredible job.”

Dr. Maureen Norris, president of HCM’s board of directors, agrees. “Stan is very well respected and did a phenomenal job and left us in great shape,” she says. “His legacy is extremely positive and he just took care of a wonderful organization and handed it off to Troy so that it can continue to grow and to do good works.”

Under Burden’s leadership, HCM is working to expand its services. That expansion includes a move into the Woodbourne House, an 1830s mansion that sits next to Douglass Boulevard Christian Church. Once the renovation and construction is complete, the building will offer low-income senior housing funded by New Directions Housing. The Shaffer Enrichment Center, currently located in the basement of the church, will move its social services and activities there as well.

“It’s going to be beautiful,” says Mary Lynn Masterson, director of HCM Senior Services. “The atmosphere and decorations will make it really pretty. We’ll be going from a social hall/classroom setting to more of a home setting. What a wonderful experience for the clients.”

HCM’s younger clients at Eastern Star Day Care Center are already enjoying the completion of a $60,000 renovation project. The improvements included new paint, windows and interior renovations.