By Carrie Dillard
LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. —
Come-Unity Cooperative Care, as it stands today, was just a dream when Dottie Lavigne and Sister Grace Hackett first started collecting clothing and food for the needy at St. William Catholic Church more than 35 years ago.
“They were frustrated by how little money was available to help the county’s needy families,” wrote Susan Mitchell in a tribute article to Lavigne’s mission entitled “Bringing Together a Come-Unity.”
Tuesday, current Come-Unity Cooperative Care director Linda Gilreath and members of the board of directors dedicated the CCC storage building in memory of Lavigne who passed away in December 2011 at age 79.
“Many of the programs she started (then) are still going at St. William,” said Vickie Nicholson, who served on the board for six years during Lavigne’s tenure at CCC.
The Giving Tree at St. William is in its 32nd year. Last year, 413 children received new toys and clothing at Christmas because of this program.
It was just one of many services that were started by Lavigne and Hackett as they sought to provide for families that were just trying to make their paycheck last the whole month long.
“She would’ve went without herself before she let someone else go without,” Nicholson said. “She knew all the people by name, knew their story. She took time to learn all that.”
CCC today has grown a lot from the Come-Unity Thrift Shop on the first floor of the St. William parish hall. The ministry moved from the church to its current location on South Dixie Street in 1991. No longer just a project of the Catholic Church, the ministry became a beacon of the community, supported by many church denominations.
Chad Jackson, long-time friend and supporter of CCC, said the storage building was a fitting location for the dedication.
“She’d want it where the stuff comes in,” he said.
The first year of the Giving Tree, they only had the resources to give away gently used toys, Nicholson said.
“Dottie said ‘next year those kids will have new toys,’” Nicholson continued, “and they did. She wanted more for the people, and it would always come.”
Lavigne’s daughter, Debbie Green, said her mother wouldn’t have wanted the recognition when she was alive.
“She was never one who wanted recognition. She just loved doing things for people and for Laurel County,” Green said.
Lavigne, formerly from Rhode Island, moved to Laurel County in 1976 to be near her grandsons – Matthew and Jason. It wasn’t long afterward that her mission was born.
Lavigne served as director of CCC for more than 25 years and retired in 2005.
“Even after she retired, she wanted to be involved,” said Sister Marge Manning.
Bro. Terry Lester, pastor at First Baptist Church in London and CCC board member, who led the dedication service Tuesday, said Lavigne had a “wonderful servant’s heart.”
“When I met her, I was a young pastor. Under Dottie’s leadership, we saw this ministry grow into what it is today. She gave to those who are the least of these and impacted more lives than any of us will ever know.
“I believe she is still among us in the spirit. She believed this was God’s ministry. And we have been blessed also with people who have come after Dottie, like Linda Gilreath (current director), who continues to serve in that same spirit.”