South Florida homeless mission leverages loan to create hope

FORT LAUDERDALE — Patricia Holloway couldn’t believe “homelessness” was happening to her. Things were tight, but she and her husband, Albert, had jobs, they were on a waiting list for public housing assistance, and their four children, ages 2-15, were doing well.

Then Albert hurt his back and the rent went up. Suddenly, Holloway’s income wasn’t enough, and the family was evicted from their home. They were on the street, living out of their car.

“This was at the end of 2016,” Holloway said. “We slept in our car while I continued to work.”

After five months, the family found some hope — at Hope South Florida.

“They helped get us off the street and into a hotel,” Holloway said. “After a while, they gave us a voucher and helped move us into an apartment. Our caseworker, Martha, really went to bat for my family.”

Holloway says she wishes people understood nobody wants to be homeless. “It’s not a disease; it’s a circumstance,” she said. “It’s always bothered me to see people on the streets. But it’s not noticed enough. We’re the greatest country in the world; it shouldn’t be like that.”

Hope South Florida couldn’t agree more and has made plans to do even more.

Loan helps ministry expand

In late 2016, Hope South Florida purchased the former St. Andrew’s United Methodist Church campus in Fort Lauderdale, utilizing a $500,000 loan from the Florida United Methodist Foundation.

The property, valued at more than $3 million, is slated for a $1 million-plus renovation designed to consolidate the agency’s fragmented infrastructure, while facilitating growth and efficiency in its mission.

Volunteers serve meals to guests during Hope South Florida’s weekly community meal at St. Christopher’s Episcopal Church in Ft. Lauderdale, one of the agency’s seven meal sites, Monday, June 12, 2017. (FUMF Photo/Daniel Lateulade)

The purchase is already making a difference, says Dr. Ted Greer, Hope’s CEO.

“We had 27 employees scattered in three locations,” Greer said. “This allows our team to come together. The new location will be the hub where triage will occur.”

With donors ready to pledge to a capital campaign, renovations are set to begin. Hope plans to occupy the derelict second floor within a year.

“The community was crying out for a leader in homeless ministry, and we stepped up,” Greer said. “But we’re not working in isolation.”

Developing productive partnerships — with churches, foundations, individual donors, corporations and government agencies — has been job one for Greer since he was hired as CEO in May 2016.

The former Assemblies of God pastor said stories like Patricia Holloway’s drew him out of the pulpit into direct services, eventually becoming both an advocate and a voice for the homeless.

“In 2013 I moved out of the church to help the poor,” Greer said. “There’s nothing I’d rather do.”

Hope South Florida was already strong, established, dedicated and innovative, but the mission needed a more calibrated approach to development, he said. With new funding to the tune of $900,000 and a growth in church partnerships from 45 to 72, Greer is optimistic about what the agency can accomplish.

Reason to hope

Hope’s ministry niche is families, mothers with children and veterans. In 2016 the organization helped 150 households recover from homelessness.

“That still leaves an average of 10 families on the street every night, down from 15,” Greer said. “But we’re discussing a new pilot program that should make a significant dent.”

When the initiative gets off the ground, it will be a partnership between Hope, the sheriff’s department and a local hotel chain. It’s the kind of cooperation that’s critical for long-term success.

“We could get families off the street immediately,” Greer said. “Then, our team would assess the following day.”

Steve Werthman, Hope’s vice president of operations, has been working with shelter initiatives since the 1980s. “South Florida is the tightest housing market in the nation,” he said.

Volunteers and guests enjoy music and fellowship before Hope South Florida’s weekly community meal at St. Christopher’s Episcopal Church in Ft. Lauderdale, one of the agency’s seven meal sites, Monday, June 12, 2017. (FUMF Photo/Daniel Lateulade)

Exacerbating the issue are rising rents without incomes to match. “The superintendent of schools said some of his teachers can’t afford to live here,” Greer adds.

“Our secret ingredient is the engagement of churches of all denominations, combined with our expertise,” Werthman said. “We’re creating a true church network; it’s a force-multiplier.”

And like Greer, it’s the stories that get Werthman out of bed in the morning. “It’s challenging work, but you live for the success stories, seeing people make positive choices, breaking the patterns,” he said. “We try to reconnect families to healthy support networks. And we’re seeing good outcomes. With our rapid rehousing model, 80 percent remain housed.”

Those networks are vital, but so are education, training and preventive measures for the families, Werthman says.

“You can’t want more for your client than they want for themselves,” he said. “If you do, then who has the problem?”

With the new building and plans for the future, Greer is confident the agency can provide the services and motivation families need.

“My hope is based on our rich history of support across the board,” he said. “Having this property helps us to leverage that support. God is moving barriers away.

“In 33 years I’ve never seen the community stepping up this way. Churches are embracing the homeless and saying we want to help, we want to open our doors. I’ve never seen anything like that.”

* Maul is freelance writer based in Wake Forest, North Carolina.

Scholarship recipients have mission-minded focus

Rafel Fortier has just graduated from high school, and he’s one of those rare students who knows exactly what he wants to do.

Fortier will attend Florida State University and major in digital media production, specializing in documentary and public affairs media. He also wants to minor in international affairs. It’s a sharp focus with an altruistic and culturally relevant goal.

Rafel C. Fortier, Trinity United Methodist Church, Tallahassee

“I want to use filmmaking to contribute honest and raw journalism to social media platforms,” Fortier said in an essay he submitted with his application for the Florida United Methodist Foundation’s Sinclair Scholarship program. “I want to use it to bring awareness to the social issues and conflicts people are facing across the globe, but also highlight the beauty and diversity of the human race.”

That’s not the only lofty goal he hopes to achieve. “I want to start a nonprofit organization to support children in conflict zones around the world and bring the arts to unlikely places,” he said.

Fortier isn’t alone in his desire to do meaningful work. The member at Trinity United Methodist Church in Tallahassee is one of four students who received a Sinclair Scholarship this year for their academic achievement, but also their active involvement in their churches, communities and schools. All of them want to help others in whatever career path they choose.

High hopes for next generations

The scholarships are funded through a trust established by Aleen and Carson Sinclair, longtime members of John Wesley United Methodist Church in Tallahassee. The Sinclairs established the awards because they wanted to nurture young people and their potential as church leaders. Each year, four or five scholarships are given to high school seniors bound for a Florida or United Methodist college or university.

The foundation manages the trust and chooses the recipients, awarding between $2,000 and $3,000 to each student the first year. The amount is renewable for up to three years as long as the recipients are making progress toward a bachelor’s degree and continuing to be active in a faith community.

To be considered, students must have a good academic track record and demonstrated potential to succeed in college. They must also be members of a United Methodist church for a year prior to applying for the scholarship. And in addition to school transcripts, applicants must provide recommendations from pastors and youth leaders and an essay describing their church, school and community involvement, as well as future goals.

The scholarship committee reviews that information to decide which students will progress to in-person interviews, which determine the final recipients.

Foundation board member Sherry Houston served on the selection committee and said choosing from among so many impressive applicants was difficult.

“There was such a diverse group of young people,” said Houston, executive director at Ronald McDonald House Charities of North Central Florida. “It was a really tough job. These are young people who are well-rounded, kind, who endeavor to make a difference in the world.”

Mary-Louise Parkkila, Conway United Methodist Church, Orlando

One of those young people is Mary-Louise Parkkila, a member at Conway United Methodist Church in Orlando.

Parkkila will attend Atlantic Palm Beach University this fall, and although she hasn’t decided on a major, she’s positive her future includes working with people in need. She says the scholarship gives her a boost in that direction.

“Since it has lowered the cost of my education, I am one step closer to my goal of working with those Christ has put in my path through the nonprofit organizations I hope to work with in the future,” she said.

And Parkkila is no stranger to work. At 15, she was hired to work in her church’s nursery. She also led the church’s contemporary praise band for a year during the search for a permanent director.

Serving outside the church is equally important to Parkkila. After getting approval from church leaders, she coordinated a hotdog dinner for a nearby mobile home community earlier this year.

“This was the day people from my church realized there was so much to be done in our local community,” Parkkila said in her scholarship essay. “We all realized you don’t have to go overseas to do what God has called us to do when there is so much to be done in our own backyard.”

Motivated by faith

Robbie Sistrunk, First United Methodist Church, Williston

High school valedictorian Robert Sistrunk will attend college practically in his backyard at the University of Florida.

During his time there, the Williston resident and scholarship recipient said he will strive to live up to his family’s strong Methodist heritage. A member at First United Methodist Church, Sistrunk says he has fond memories of his grandfather telling him about his family’s role in smuggling Methodist circuit riders into Florida when it was a Spanish territory.

“I look forward to using this time in my life to explore different campus ministries, while still maintaining an active role in my home church,” he said.

Sistrunk hasn’t selected a major yet, but says his faith will guide that decision. “If we keep the Lord at the forefront of our decision-making process, we cannot fail,” he said.

Houston says it was clear failure is the furthest thing from the minds of this year’s recipients and reviewing the applicants has increased her optimism about this generation.

“There is so much promise in these young people,” Houston said. “They really are incredible. They are going to do great things. They are going to give back to their communities in such tremendous ways. It was an honor to give back to them to say we care about what you’re doing.”

Michael Wade Cuda, First United Methodist Church, Winter Park

Michael Cuda is excited about what he’ll be doing — playing baseball at Stetson University while pursuing a degree in sports management.

He’ll also find time for the mission work he started doing when he was a child. The member of First United Methodist Church in Winter Park went on a mission trip to the Dominican Republic when he was 8 years old, helping a team build houses and provide supplies to local children. Later, he worked on a project to provide clean drinking water to Costa Rican residents.

While those opportunities abroad were rewarding, Cuda says they don’t compete with the thrill of fulfilling a need in an impoverished Orlando community just 10 minutes from his home.

The Soul in the Streets mission coordinated teams to repair church buildings, organize camps and tutor children. Cuda participated for three years and said the projects helped foster deeper relationships with residents.

His international experiences taught him the value of helping and serving others, he says, but his Soul in the Streets work helped him understand the importance of establishing relationships with those less fortunate.

“I have realized the difference between dropping off supplies or money and investing time and resources to find collaborative solutions to issues throughout the community,” Cuda said in his application essay.

He plans to continue investing time and building relationships by pursuing mission opportunities and volunteering with youth groups during breaks at home.

Parkkila is equally excited about continuing her mission work, which has included starting an outreach mission team at her church. The team planned and partnered with six local agencies in a project to serve residents. Church members ages 2 to 92 spent a week feeding the homeless, baking cookies for first responders and providing a variety of services.

Parkkila believes her mission work and faith will only grow while at school.

“Faith is the core of who I am,” she said. “To me, faith has always been trusting in God’s timing and presence when I cannot see past the foggy patches in life. Through faith, I am able to rise up over the challenges I face and hold my ground. Through faith I have learned to choose the way of the cross, not the way of the crowd.”

Related stories

Scholarship recipients are driven, thankful
Sinclair Scholarship recipients offer hope for the future
Scholarship helps make dream of college a reality

* Buchholz is a freelance writer based in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma.

Re-learning to say ‘thank you’

I have a confession to make. I am inordinately fond of webinars and seminars that reinforce my pre-existing beliefs and practices. A recent webinar for nonprofit leaders on the importance of saying “thank you” did just that.

You’d think saying “thank you” would come naturally to the church, but you might be surprised at the pushback I get when I remind churches of the importance of saying those two words. The resistance seems to stem from a misunderstanding of the contemporary giving process. More than once I’ve heard people say, “Why should we have to say thank you for something you’re supposed to do anyway?”

I even had one individual challenge me on the subject of thanking, asking, “Is that Biblical?” I am seldom at a loss for words, but in that instance, I was. I should have reminded him of the Apostle Paul’s typical salutations in his many letters: “I have not stopped giving thanks for you.” (Ephesians 1:16 NIV)

Tom Wilkinson

Tom Wilkinson

The attitudes I’ve encountered are representative of the institutional model of church stewardship widely used in the mid-20th century, when people gave to the church because, well, it was the church. But that doesn’t work anymore.

Baby Boomers, Gen-Xers and Millenials operate on a very different charitable playing field than their parents and grandparents, and church leaders and members must realize the church no longer inhabits a preferred status among donors. The church exists in a competitive environment, and the secular competition is eating our collective lunch. That competition doesn’t come from the Presbyterian or Baptist church down the street. It’s the sophisticated development offices of the Red Cross, the American Cancer Society, Hospice, the National Geographic Society and (fill in the blank) University.

“Giving USA,” the almanac of charitable giving in the United States, reports that the broad category of “religion” receives the largest market share of charitable gifts in our country, roughly a third of the more than $300 billion given in 2016. That’s the good news. The bad news is that our market share in 1985 was around 50 percent. So yes, we are in a competitive market, and we’re losing.

Consider a personal example. I give $1,000 a year to my alma mater, Purdue University in Indiana, earmarked for the theater department. That relatively modest gift earns me membership on the President’s Council, and I get invited to any number of special events, athletic activities, concerts, you name it. I get a personal, handwritten note from the chair of the theater department and a mention in the playbill for every production. I get thanked or “touched” at least once every two weeks. Pretty good return on such a modest gift.

In many of our local churches, donors are barely acknowledged. They might get an email from the financial secretary around pledge time asking them to confirm their pledge, and somewhere in that missive is a “thank you,” but you’d have to look pretty hard to find it. Donors will then get quarterly or annual statements from the church — which look for all the world like credit card bills — acknowledging their gifts. Again, a “thank you” may be buried somewhere in them.

So what do the University of Florida, Florida State, University of Central Florida, Rollins College and all the rest know what we don’t? It’s simple: saying thank you pays dividends.

Here are some simple, easy things every local church can do:

Revamp the offertory/offering time in worship to say thanks for the gifts members and friends have made. Connect those gifts with tangible success stories about what has been accomplished because of those gifts.

If you’re the pastor, set aside a few minutes every week to write a handwritten thank-you note to anyone who has made a gift to your church, regardless of the amount. In the course of the year, you’ll have thanked everybody.

Add a personal note to the giving statements you send to donors just to say thanks.

Create a planned giving program to encourage people to make legacy gifts to the church from their estate plan. The foundation can help you do that.

And simply remember what your mom and dad taught you. Smile, and say please and thank you.

For more ideas, check out Network for Good’s donor thank-you guide.

* Wilkinson is the foundation’s vice president of church relations and new business.

How we give: removing the barriers

When I was growing up, there were predominantly two ways people paid for things: cash or check. Credit cards weren’t widely used, and those that were available were unique to a store or gas station. The first “universal” credit card I can remember was the BankAmericard, later renamed Visa.

Many people, especially those who had lived through the depression, viewed credit cards as a quick way to get into debt, a terrible situation. I remember my father paying bills by check and balancing the checkbook every month with the cancelled checks mailed back to us by the bank. And with no ATMs, people got their cash by writing a check for more than the amount of their groceries or going to the bank and getting money from a teller. People carried their checkbooks everywhere.

While that’s no longer the norm, many churches still conduct their financial business as if it is, accepting only checks and a small amount of cash. When I served a local church, it was common to hear people say they wrote one check every month — to pay their church pledge.

Rev. Mark Becker

According to the Blackbaud Institute Charitable Giving Report for 2016, about 7.2 percent of overall fundraising revenue was raised online. Of those gifts, 17 percent were made using a mobile device, a 21 percent increase over 2015, and 10 percent were more than $1,000. The report also noted total charitable giving increased 1 percent in 2016. Because of this, organizations without an effective way to accept contributions electronically probably lost gifts during that year.

It’s a lesson for churches. Those that don’t provide diverse ways for people to give might lose gifts to other nonprofits. It’s no longer practical for churches to receive offerings only during worship via check or cash in envelopes preprinted with the church’s name and date. People rarely carry checkbooks, so without other giving options, they must remember to write a check before worship and take it to church. Statistically, an “active” church member attends worship just 13 times each year. Given those conditions, it’s likely churches won’t receive contributions members intended to give, except from the few people who might mail a check.

A solution is online and electronic giving. Through a smart phone or other mobile device, an individual can give online any time or place — Sunday morning, Wednesday evening, in the sanctuary, at the beach. And electronic options make special offerings, such as for disaster relief, much easier. A church no longer has to announce the giving opportunity weeks in advance so people can remember to bring their checkbooks. Churches can ask for gifts on the spot when the issue is most current.

It’s all part of a well-planned program of stewardship, implemented throughout the year. Christians give because God has first given to them. It’s a spiritual issue, not a financial one. If we don’t provide people with more preferred giving methods, we could rightfully be accused of placing a stumbling block in the way of an individual’s spiritual growth.

People have an inherent need to give to something bigger than they are — to participate in a greater work than they could do themselves. But as long as churches only receive financial gifts “the old fashioned way,” they will be viewed as irrelevant and incapable of doing useful work. That is where we are. The links below offer tips and resources to help churches change.

Electronic/online giving resources

Related Story
Electronic giving takes the dip out of seasonal slumps

* Becker is president of the Florida United Methodist Foundation.

Growing a culture of generosity — but not by accident

If raising money in order to do ministry seems more challenging every year, then your church — or ministry — is not alone. The good news is that people have not stopped being generous, faith is still real, vital ministry is still being offered and resources have not suddenly disappeared.

That’s according to the Rev. Dr. Michael Vilardo, president and founder of Transforming Christian Ministries, an Ohio-based consulting firm that works with churches and organizations to help them vision, plan and secure resources for their ministries.

The real issue, Vilardo says, is a gap in effective communication. The story simply isn’t getting across.

Story releases resources

“If a church can articulate their mission and vision clearly, if they can write a case for how fulfilling it is and how it will impact lives, especially describing outcomes, then people will begin to give resources to ministry in a stronger way,” Vilardo said in a recent phone interview. “The problem is churches are passive. The church needs to think clearly about how it will engage people.”

Clergy and laity wanting to engage people more effectively and tell their church’s story in the language of stewardship principles that work can learn how June 7, 1:30-4:30 p.m., during a workshop Vilardo is leading on behalf of the foundation. It’s one of several workshops offered that afternoon at St. Luke’s United Methodist Church in Orlando prior to the start of the annual conference gathering June 8.

The Rev. Dr. Michael Vilardo has worked as a pastor and development professional for more than 30 years. He’ll share his experiences June 7 as he leads the “Old Money, New Money, More Money: Cultivating Generous Givers to Transform Ministry” workshop sponsored by the foundation. (Transforming Christian Ministries photo)

The Rev. Dr. Michael Vilardo has worked as a pastor and development professional for more than 30 years. He’ll share his experiences June 7 as he leads the “Old Money, New Money, More Money: Cultivating Generous Givers to Transform Ministry” workshop sponsored by the foundation. (Transforming Christian Ministries photo)

Titled “Old Money, New Money, More Money: Cultivating Generous Givers to Transform Ministry,” Vilardo’s session puts practical ideas in play alongside his personal experiences helping congregations experience generosity and meaningful ministry.

People want to give

Vilardo served two growing United Methodist congregations in Ohio before putting his experience to work as a consultant. At one congregation, he helped leaders more than quadruple their membership and ministry. Vilardo says he’s passionate about giving churches the resources they need to connect with communities in Gospel-charged ministry initiatives.

“I want to equip pastors with the tools necessary to grow the culture of generosity, to take it to a new level,” he said. “I love to see donors get excited about giving away large sums of their resources to do ministry, and do it with a smile and excitement. Now that’s gratifying.”

Vilardo says that experience is why he’s happy to go to work every morning.

“(It’s) helping organizations nail down their mission and vision,” he said. “Not posting them on the wall, but asking what is God calling us to do and what would it look like to fulfill that mission.”

A shift in culture

Leaders need to understand two key facts if they want to connect generous givers with their church’s vision, Vilardo says.

“First, we no longer live in what Robert Putman and David Campbell describe as a post-World War 11 nation of joiners (in their 2010 book ‘American Grace’),” he said. “We can no longer just expect people to come. We must become intentional about ministry and vision, then live that out.”

“At the same time, we’re experiencing the greatest generational wealth transfer in the history of the USA,” Vilardo added. “The resources are available, but the church is losing ground.”

In the workshop, Vilardo will share how leaders can learn from the fundraising world around them.
Development professionals use specific tools for a reason, he says, and understanding that will help ministry leaders find clarity in their own sense of purpose.

As a pastor with 17 years of experience leading Methodist congregations, Vilardo is sensitive to the pitfalls of adapting corporate principles to the church.

“We steer away from thinking of stewardship and leadership as a transactional model,” he said. Instead, church leaders “think more of being transformational — an organic evolution of who God is calling us to be and how we can live out of that to find a stronger sense of our mission and direction.”

“What’s most important is how can we create a culture of generosity,” Vilardo adds. “Generosity naturally makes a connection between money and ministry. When we respond to a generous God with our own generosity, we’re part of the cycle of providing resources that truly offer the Gospel.”

Vilardo’s workshop is open to all laity and clergy. More information is available here.

Individuals wanting to attend the workshop may register through May 31 at www.acflorida.org by selecting the pre-conference workshop registration option in the left-hand menu or by contacting Heidi Leab at 800-282-8011, ext. 192, or email hleab@flumc.org.

After the workshops

Clergy and laity are also invited to attend:

Children at Risk: A Mission of Bridge Building” at 6:30 p.m. The session will be led by Dr. Tammy Pawloski, early childhood education professor and director of the Center of Excellence to Prepare Teachers of Children in Poverty at Francis Marion University in South Carolina

“Sweet Treats Reception” sponsored by the foundation at 8 p.m. Guests will have an opportunity to talk more about the issues featured in the evening session and make a donation to the foundation’s Future Generations Fund, which provides grants to programs and ministries that nurture young people in their faith and Christian discipleship.

* Maul is freelance writer based in Wake Forest, North Carolina.