By Lindsey Lupfer
After hearing from Reverend Mary Downey, the executive director of the Community Hope Center of Osceola County (and a newly commissioned United Methodist deacon and minister), about the organization’s successes, a pattern arises that can be summed up in one word: Persistence.
Downey was persistent in chasing her dream to open the Community Hope Center in 2013. She is persistent about writing grants – she shared that her team doubled the number of grants they wrote between 2015 and 2016 and it paid off in a big way when they were surprised with Bank of America’s prestigious Neighborhood Builders award last October. She was persistent about bringing IDignity to Osceola County, and that became a reality last year, too.
In Osceola County, nearly 50,000 families and individuals are unable to achieve self-sufficiency due to homelessness or being precariously housed. In our school district, over 4,000 children are classified as homeless. The Community Hope Center targets these families to build self-sufficiency within the family unit through life skills and case management by deploying its own case management and partnering with nearly 60 other agencies. The team provides gap services by identifying a personalized path to self-sufficiency for each client, allowing them to seek help from the social services agencies that best fit their needs.
So what are the outcomes so far? The Community Hope Center has consistently served its 1,642 clients (and the 4,911 members of their households) since April 2013. Beyond the scope of its long-term clients, the team has helped over 13,000 individuals that have come through its front doors with food, clothing, resources, and referrals. In that time, the team has placed 238 clients in stable housing, which Downey says is the agency’s main focus now.
“Basically, we are a small-but-mighty agency working to break the cycle of homelessness in our community through eliminating duplication of services, providing more effective communication between agencies for client care, and putting the right tools in the hands of families so they can find their path towards becoming self-sustainable,” Downey shares.
Aside from its day-to-day operations, the Community Hope Center is responsible for coordinating IDignity Osceola, which is a quarterly event for now. IDignity was created in Orlando in 2008 to help the disadvantaged in Central Florida through the complex steps of getting personal identification.
“It seems like a small thing at first, but then you think about all the things you cannot do without personal identification – applying for jobs, taking college classes, accessing shelters, opening a bank account, securing housing – not having an ID is a major roadblock for people who are trying to become self-sufficient,” says Downey.
Downey and a few of her staff and board members got involved with IDignity in Orlando and worked hard over a year’s time to learn the intricacies and replicate the detailed processes the organization uses to secure identification for its clients. In February 2016, through combined efforts of the IDignity team in Orlando and the Community Hope Center staff, the first IDignity Osceola event took place at Kissimmee Christian Church. And IDignity Osceola hasn’t slowed down since. At its most recent event in April 2017, the event staff and volunteers (85 total) served 94 clients – many of those clients left with an ID in hand that day.
“We couldn’t pull off IDignity Osceola without our wonderful volunteers. People ask me how they can get involved, and these days, that’s my answer. Volunteer at IDignity for a day. We need the help and it’s an amazing experience,” Downey says. (The next IDignity Osceola event will take place on Friday, July 28 at Kissimmee Christian Church. Learn more at www.osceola.idignity.org.)
Downey, who is currently on maternity leave after having her third child in April, didn’t have much negative to say about what it’s like being a woman in leadership in the non-profit world. She points out that while there is a gender gap, it’s not nearly as steep as it is in other industries, and things don’t look very grim in Osceola County.
“This community is filled with women leading our non-profit organizations. Cara Eule [formerly with Helping Others Make the Effort] molded and shaped me. Bev Hougland [of the Osceola Council on Aging] and Donna Sines [of Community Vision] are trailblazers. Tammy Douglas [with Help Now of Osceola] is my rock on so many things. Sue Ring [of Community Vision] inspires me. I’m sure I’m going to get into trouble for forgetting someone now that I’m listing names. But if you look around, you’ll realize that women are taking the charge around here when it comes to making a difference in our community. I love it!” says Downey.
Downey added that she couldn’t do any it without the support of her team and board of directors. She is currently managing a staff of 12 people, mostly women – a coincidence, though she does love to help nurture and develop young, female leaders. She sees it as paying it forward.
To learn more about the Community Hope Center of Osceola County, visit www.hope192.com.
- CLOUD CHAMBER OF COMMERCE
Executive director: Kari Whaley
Goals for the Chamber:
- Continue to support local businesses through our Small Business Development Center and member benefits, like our signature events and Business After Hours networking opportunities.
- Reinvigorate our welcome center and museum to highlight key historical artifacts that tell our community stories and provide visitor information.
- Create opportunities for local start-ups and new business owners through offering resources to local students at our member schools like TECO, St. Cloud High School, and Harmony High School.
Upcoming event: 4th of July Fireworks Celebration at the St. Cloud Lakefront – Come out for vendors, food, craft beer, and live music. The celebration runs from 4pm-10pm with fireworks scheduled for 9pm.
CIRCLE OF HOPE FOR CANCER RESEARCH
Led by Rosa Holloway and Joan Tashbar
Goal for the year: To raise $30,000 in order to make grants available to cancer researchers in Florida.
Recent accomplishment: In 2016, was able to award two grants of $10,000 each. One went to a researcher working toward treatment for small cell lung cancer, which is a very aggressive cancer with low funding. The second went to a researcher who is working toward a treatment for gioblastoma (a type of brain cancer) which also doesn’t receive much funding and affects both children and adults.
Upcoming event: Our 3rd annual golf tournament will be held on September 30 at Royal St. Cloud Golf Links. Details will be available at www.circleofhopeforcancerresearch.com soon. We’re in need of sponsors and golfers for this event!
KISSIMMEE MAIN STREET
Executive director: Diana Marrero-Pinto
Goals for the year:
- Increase Kissimmee Main Street membership
- Increase volunteer base for Main Street events
- Engage downtown merchants in events and create new and innovative ways to support downtown business retention and growth
- Maintain and create events that highlight our community and preserve our history
Upcoming event: Our Food Truck Rodeo (first Friday of each month), the Kissimmee Valley Farmers Market (First and third Tuesday of each month from 9am to 12pm at Kissimmee Lakefront Park), and save the date for Boo! On Broadway on October 28th!