Columbia’s Oliver Gospel Mission has been part of the Midlands community since 1888 when Rev. Robert Oliver, a Methodist minister, bought a lot at the corner of Taylor and Assembly Streets. He had a dream of serving people to meet their physical, relational, and spiritual needs through Christ-centered ministries. Today, this building continues to serve many needs of people experiencing homelessness.
But there’s more to the Oliver Gospel Mission than solely the downtown building and the services it provides there to homeless men. In recent years, the Oliver Gospel Mission’s programs have grown to include services to help women and children at Toby’s Place. Plus, the Oliver Gospel Mission’s staff has expanded to include a connections manager who is a social worker intake specialist who helps guide people through the evaluation and intake process.
Both of these service expansions are due to the generosity, support, and belief that Jim Hudson, a Columbia business leader and president of the Jim Hudson Automotive Group, has in the work of the Oliver Gospel Mission. Travis McNeal, Oliver Gospel’s executive director, says Jim has been involved for more than 20 years as a board member and strong financial supporter.
Josh Waters, director of public relations and marketing for the Jim Hudson Automotive Group, says the company is founded on the three pillars of employees, customers, and the community. These beliefs drive everything the company does.
“So many car dealers just don’t live here,” Josh says. “Mr. Jim wants to live, worship, and be of service here in the Midlands. Oliver Gospel has always been a top priority of his to help get homeless people back on track and to be good citizens.”
Jim served on the board for more than 20 years. He has now stepped back to be a board member emeritus with Josh taking his place to represent the company.
Travis tells of a conversation in a board meeting about seven years ago about the need for a space that would serve the area’s homeless population of women and children. Jim owned a piece of land in northeast Columbia in the Forest Acres area that he offered to donate as a women’s shelter. He partnered with the Cassells family, whose son Toby tragically died, to bring the idea to life.
“Toby’s Place isn’t an overnight battered women’s shelter,” says Travis. “Our programming is long-term. We know ladies going through traumatic situations can take months of rehabilitation and change their whole mindset and retrain their minds and actions. Oliver Gospel approaches its work from a Christian, biblical foundation. We believe that by a person having a relationship with God that those biblical principles will lead to life change.”
Part of the success of Toby’s Place is the result of the Jim Hudson Connections Center that’s also funded by the Jim Hudson Automotive Group. Jim’s generosity has funded the Center over a five-year period to provide staffing for a single point of contact who can have the first conversations with people who may be candidates to enter the long-term program.
Travis says there are also many times that someone’s issues don’t fit within the programs that the Oliver Gospel Mission provides. “Part of the connections manager’s role is also reaching out and having conversations with others in the community to find help. We have many more relationships now than we’ve ever had before with at least 60 agencies in the Columbia area like Transitions, the local library, the Department of Mental Health, and MIRCI.”
The Jim Hudson Automotive Group celebrated 40 years in business in 2020 and employs about 850 people in its nine dealerships in Columbia and Augusta. The company owns Lexus, Infiniti, and Acura dealerships in Augusta along with Lexus, Buick, GMC, Audi, Cadillac, and Chevrolet in Columbia; Toyota in Irmo; and Ford in Lexington.