Editor’s note: D. Lorne Coyle, author of InsideVero’s regular “Helping Hands” feature, is a resident of Vero Beach and a non-profit consultant.
Homelessness: Not at all like camping
D. LORNE COYLE, MDiv.
Ignoring the cup’s “Hot/Chaud/Caliente” warning, the man cursed as the coffee burned his lips. I wondered if he couldn’t read.
He and another man sat next to me at the McDonald’s high-top table on the corner of 58th Avenue and SR60. Judging from the amount of belongings they had stuffed into a backpack and several plastic bags, I guessed they were homeless. The cups of hot coffee were their breakfast on this cool morning.
Joe looked at me and said, “Pretty dumb, uh? You’d think I’d know by now that this stuff comes out real hot.” His grin revealed only two upper teeth. “My brother there takes his time and sips it real slow.”
I really wasn’t sure I wanted to engage the two men. I was between two meetings, had little time. Despite the fact that I was working with homeless families, I was wary of homeless singles. Experience had shown that homeless singles are a very different demographic than homeless families. I responded to Joe’s comment anyhow, waiting for what I thought would come next: The inevitable ask for money.
The conversation went on, including not only Joe but also his brother, Frank. Turns out they had lost their jobs and the lack of insurance plus mounting medical problems had reduced them to homelessness. I figured there was more to the story; always is. But that’s what they wanted to tell me. I left it at that. Still waiting for the ask.
I wondered where they were living. “Nearby,” said Joe, “Behind Applebee’s. It’s not so bad. We have a tent there. We get by.”
The ask never came. Before I left, I urged them to contact the Treasure Coast Homeless Services Council. I wrote down the number for them: 772-567-7790. We all finished our coffee and said goodbye.
A few days later, mid-morning, I went there. I was careful, parking the car in the Applebee’s lot, leaving my watch and wallet hidden in its trunk. I walked south toward the Wal-Mart loading dock. I moved along the cinder block wall till I saw a slim break in the Brazilian Pepper tree line. I entered the break. Walking east about 50 paces, I saw a clearing.
It was not state park-type camping. The arrangement of the tents was haphazard. The tents themselves were saggy, dirty, some torn. No one was home.
Eighteen tents plus a few tarps strung on rope between trees. So about 18 of the 676 homeless Indian River County adults lived there. Taking them as a random sample, that meant that 12 of them were homeless because of a lack of employment. One of them was likely a veteran. Five – only five – may have had substance abuse issues.
But the site was remarkably clean. I’d expected to see the detritus of homelessness: Empty liquor bottles, food cans, fast food wrappers. I saw little of that. What I saw were two pits about 20 yards from the farthest tent site. One was for garbage; the other for human waste. Apparently the camp was organized around a need for sanitary conditions. Smart.
I was startled to see plumbing standing up in the middle of the camp. “How in the world did they do that?” I wondered. Someone had rigged PVC piping onto a two by four frame. That someone had discovered an unused artesian well, perhaps from an old citrus grove. The result was a rudimentary shower and more: A faucet for drinking water and for washing, and a sink for dishes.
It wasn’t exactly Camp Applebee but it was livable, if you didn’t count mosquitoes, heat, cold, and thunderstorms. If you had no other place to go, or no other place you wanted to go, you could survive there. If you didn’t want to use the resources available in the County, you could make that work. I guess.
New to working with homeless families, I observed an intake. The family of three had been living in their car. Now they had no money for gas, food, or rent.
The case manager was skilful, professionally parsing the many words coming at her from the homeless mother. As with Joe and Frank, the homeless mother offered an account undoubtedly edited to make herself look better. But who doesn’t do that?
As the case manager explained the services available, the mother held her two young daughters on her lap. The older was four, the younger, two. Then the case manager reviewed the expectations of the mother: Either at work, looking for work, or in school every day. Chores around the center. Random alcohol and drug testing. Curfews. Saving money from paychecks.
The mother signed the contract and left to take a urine test. But before she left the room, she asked if she could have some diapers. “Yes,” said the case manager, “for the baby?” “Well,” the mother said quietly, “I also need some pull-ups for the older one.”
When the mother left, I asked the case manager how it could be that a four-year old needed diapers still. She said, “How do you potty-train a female child when you’re camping in a car?”
I had just seen two of the 372 homeless children in Indian River County. I wondered how many more were living in a car, how many more lacked potty training, not to mention food.
The mother passed the drug test. At least she and her daughters now had a roof over their heads, three meals a day, and hope. The demographic grouping of homeless families is different from that of homeless singles. For the most part, the families are more motivated to get back on their feet. They do it for the children, if not for themselves.
Not long ago, a successful but stressed friend said to me, “You know, I sometimes envy the homeless. Living off the grid, no bills, no responsibilities. Some days it looks pretty good to me.”
I invited him to spend a week living at Camp Applebee – without his phone or wallet – or in a beat up old car – without his phone or his wallet.
He hasn’t said that since.
Editor’s note: D. Lorne Coyle, author of InsideVero’s regular “Helping Hands” feature, is a resident of Vero Beach and a non-profit consultant.
Who cares about our kids?
D. LORNE COYLE, MDiv.
The Recession is over?
Commercial space is being occupied. New restaurants are opening. Hotel occupancy is way up from two years ago. Gas prices are down. Giving to the United Way is up. New home construction is booming again.
The Great Recession is over.
Or is it?
Not for everyone in Indian River County:
- While unemployment is down from its 14% peak in 2010, it is still almost twice as high as in pre-recession 2006
- The number of Indian River County citizens in poverty has increased to 14% from 10% in 2006
- The number of homeless in the County has grown to 1048 from 741 in 2006
- Births to single mothers have increased to 47% from 43%
- And the children? Today 21% of our children under 19 years old live in poverty vs. 16% in 2006.
Sadly, that means 5715 children in Indian River County are living in poverty. These are not children who have come here from the North to get Florida sunshine. These are children of our neighbors, our friends, our acquaintances, and of the people we see every day. If you had those children line up as if they were waiting for a school bus, that line would stretch for more than a mile.
Take Ana, for example. She is now six years old and has lived in this county all her life. She has two parents and a brother. Both parents have high school diplomas; her mother has an associate degree as well. Her parents work, not high-paying jobs, but jobs nonetheless. She’s in first grade at Dodgertown Elementary. She is one of the 17% of students who are not subsidized by free or reduced lunch. That means that 83% of students at Dodgertown Elementary are subsidized because of poverty.
What’s more, Ana loves to read. She will read anything to anyone who will listen. When she bumps up against an unfamiliar word, she sounds it out. In fact, she has been reading since she was four. She’s one of the 63% of Dodgertown students deemed ready for kindergarten. If she had been a student at Fellsmere Elementary, she would have been one of only 44% found ready to start kindergarten.
Why is Ana succeeding when other children aren’t?
Key indicators in Indian River’s pockets of poverty are:
- the mother giving birth at the age of 19 or younger
- the mother lacking a high school diploma
- the mother unmarried
- the family on Medicaid
- to say nothing of the father…
Ana, on the other hand, was born to a married couple. Her mother was 21 when she gave birth to Ana. Although they were on Medicaid at the time, Ana’s parents did have high school diplomas. Later, her mother would earn a higher degree. The parents have stayed together. Both work. The children were in daycare and are now in an after-school program. It’s not an easy life but Ana and her little brother are thriving.
Perhaps even more important, her mother expected Ana to read almost as soon as she could walk. Reading together was a time not only for building Ana’s awareness of how much she was loved but also for building her brain in its capacity.
Or take Jalissa Q. Harris. She is a graduate of St. Edward’s School and a 2013 graduate of the University of Florida, and is now a teaching intern at an international school in China. One of eight children born in Wabasso, Jalissa credits her mother’s discipline for her success. “Mom made us read a book every day even before we were in kindergarten. We had not only to read the book but also to write a paragraph on it. Then we had to memorize two verses of Scripture.” Again, note the consistent care and discipline of the parent in the home.
Is anyone doing anything about the children who are struggling?
Indian River County’s Board of County Commissioners empowers its Children’s Services Advisory Committee (CSAC) to work for the benefit of its children. Chaired by Miranda Hawker, CSAC has two subcommittees, the Grant Subcommittee, chaired by Kip Jacoby, and the Needs Assessment Subcommittee, chaired by Hope Woodhouse. Brad Bernauer is the CSAC director. While the County can’t possibly meet all the needs, in 2014 it commissioned the Needs Assessment Subcommittee to conduct a study to identify priorities.
From that study come all the numbers and facts cited above. But the study went further: It has built principles to create a 15—25 year long-term solution. Those principles are:
- Early intervention is optimal
- Seek out child service providers who use best practices in their work
- Focus on the pockets of poverty in the County, i.e., Fellsmere, Gifford, Highlands, and parts of central Vero
- Develop services for children which are available both in cost and in accessibility
- Communicate consistently the availability of services for children
- Encourage collaboration among service providers so as to avoid duplication of services, competition for funding, and to create economies of scale
- Assess the financial resources available to children
“The 2014-2015 IRC Children’s Needs Assessment gives us empirical data as well as qualitative information gathered from focus groups on the lives of children and their families in Indian River County,” said Woodhouse. “All members of our community, especially our politicians, local grant makers, and the agencies serving children, should read the report or at a minimum the Executive Summary.”
At present, the County partly funds 18 private non-profits which work for children. Among those non-profits are established and well-run agencies such as the Boys and Girls Club of IRC, Gifford Youth Activities Center, Childcare Resources, and the Substance Awareness Council.
But the long-term strategy argues more for preventive action than remedial action. So, to save the children, the parents become the top priority. As the CSAC study states, “The parent is the first and most important teacher.” In addition, the study identifies pre-school readiness as essential to success. As the learned Ben Franklin said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
Those principles will require strengthened public/private partnerships to fund and implement. An example of an excellent public/private partnership is the Learning Alliance’s partnership with our school district. Together they have created the Moonshot Moment focusing on K – 3rd grade literacy. More recently, the “Kindergarten Readiness Collaborative” has formed and is in the final stages of a strategic plan to address early childhood (birth to age 5) development.
We are all in this for the long haul. Let’s care enough to help create more kids like Ana.
All CSAC documents, including the Executive Summary, may be found by clicking here.
For a list of CSAC 2014 grants to agencies serving children, click here
Recovery – Does anyone really want to be here?
D. LORNE COYLE, MDIV
He kept his eyes on the walkway as he approached the church on 58th Avenue. Even as George L. greeted him, John looked away. “I don’t think I belong here. I just thought I’d check it out.” George just smiled and shook his hand. As John entered, another Celebrate Recovery (CR) leader invited him to sign in. “Want a name tag? First names only.” “Naw, I’m good,” replied John.
Jean-Paul Bedard recently wrote, “No one, and I mean no one, walks through the doors of their first meeting feeling ‘happy, joyous, and free.’” Although he was referring to an Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) session, he could as well have been writing about a Celebrate Recovery meeting. Who really wants to be there, to admit he has a hurt, habit, or hang up that is wrecking his life? To be seen by other people publicly admitting his problem?
John didn’t. At all. But he knew his life was slipping out of control. His girlfriend had said she’d had enough of his drinking and anger. Hung over, he’d raged at a co-worker for a minor offense. As a result, his boss had put John on probation. Money was tighter than ever. So he’d come, mainly to mollify his girlfriend. He slipped into a chair in the nave, hoping he wouldn’t know anyone there. His ball cap stayed on, even though he knew better than to wear a hat in church. He pulled the brim even lower. The nave lights dimmed, which was just fine for John. The people around him were a mixed lot: Some hunkered down in their chairs; others smiled and greeted friends. Some were dressed well; others, ragged t-shirts and jeans. Some wore camo. Some left their ball caps on. At least they were giving him space.
Kool and the Gang’s 1980 hit, “Celebrate Good Times” started the meeting. The others all stood up and clapped in time to the music. John wasn’t sure if he wanted to stand up. He didn’t.
Issues in paradise?
Indian River County has a plethora of 12-step groups. Even paradise has its issues. One can find groups dealing with alcohol abuse, drug abuse, teen substance abuse, and family members’ substance problems. Indian River has six to seventeen meetings per day just dealing with alcohol abuse. In paradise? As addiction expert Dr. Vincent Felitti says, “It is hard to get enough of something that almost works.”
Among those 12-step meetings are two called Celebrate Recovery. John had just slipped into the south county meeting at Freedom Church.
CR is a national recovery effort. Founded 24 years ago out of the Saddleback Church in California, CR has helped more than a half million individuals regain their lives. CR honors its roots in AA but differs in certain ways:
- Whereas AA speaks of a “Higher Power,” CR names that power as Jesus Christ.
- CR uses the Twelve Steps of AA and adds Eight Principles, a Christ-centered synopsis based on the Beatitudes. The latter forms an acrostic:
- Realize I’m not God. I admit that I am powerless to control my tendency to do the wrong thing and that my life is unmanageable. Jesus: “Happy are those who know they are spiritually poor.”
- Earnestly believe that God exists, that I matter to him, and that He has the power to help me recover. “Happy are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”
- Consciously choose to commit all my life and will to Christ’s care and control. “Happy are the meek.”
- Openly examine and confess my faults to myself, to God, and to someone I trust. “Happy are the pure in heart.”
- Voluntarily submit to every change God wants to make in my life and humbly ask Him to remove my character defects. “Happy are those whose greatest desire is to do what God requires.”
- Evaluate all my relationships. Offer forgiveness to those who have hurt me and make amends for harm I’ve done to others, except when to do so would harm them or others. “Happy are the merciful. Happy are the peacemakers.”
- Reserve a daily time with God for self-examination, Bible reading, and prayer in order to know God and His will for my life and to gain the power to follow His will.
- Yield myself to God to be used to bring this Good News to others, both my example and by my words. “Happy are those who are persecuted because they do what God requires.”
- Where AA focuses – successfully – on alcohol abuse, CR embraces a variety of “hurts, hang ups, and habits.” Those are behaviors which create chaos in an individual’s life and in the lives of those around him. Examples include substance abuse, pornography, low self-esteem, eating disorders, co-dependency, anger, depression, fear, control needs, and abuse.
This is not to put AA down. In fact, studies show that nothing, no therapy, no drug, no discipline, works better
than AA for recovery from alcoholism. It has helped millions of people around the world regain their lives.
What’s the deal?
Celebrate Recovery works well for those whose recovery needs to have a Christ-centered focus. Under Saddleback Church’s pastor Rick Warren (The Purpose-driven Life), a layman named John Baker began CR in 1991. Dr. Henry Cloud says of Baker’s work in CR: “Sometimes recovery, healing, and spiritual growth are talked about as if they are three different topics. What I like about John’s work is that he brings them all together and we find…we are all on the same path.”
CR believes that God in Christ is the author and finisher of our lives, that He is the answer to healing and redeeming our lives. That same God is the one who made our bodies so wondrously.
Take our brains, for example. Neuroscientists are just beginning to understand the intricacies of that organ. When an individual gets habituated to a behavior, that neural pathway in the brain is reinforced each time the behavior is exhibited. Brushing one’s teeth is a behavior ordinarily so well ingrained that the day doesn’t begin or end without it. That neural pathway is well trodden.
The same is true of negative behaviors. If one begins using food to palliate pain and continues that behavior day after day, soon that compulsion will be as daily as teeth brushing. If one uses pornography to combat loneliness, that behavior will become more and more dominant in one’s life.
Studies show that twelve-step groups such as Celebrate Recovery work to erase old negative pathways and to create new healthy ones. CR helps neutralize the power of the old pathways by bending the brain’s prefrontal cortex back into shape. Researcher Brendan L. Koerner says it’s not just the program. Rather, it seems that actual face-to-face meetings with others on a regular basis have a key effect. When one meets in a group and hears others revealing their long-hidden secrets and one does likewise, one is moved to consider the consequences of one’s choices. That is difficult to do by oneself. That group sharing kicks the prefrontal cortex back into gear. It then resumes its regulatory function. “The brain is designed to respond to experiences,” says Steven Grant, chief of the clinical neuroscience branch of the National Institute on Drug Abuse. “I have no doubt that these therapeutic processes change the brain.” The more that twelve-step experiences compel the pre-frontal part of the brain to operate as God made it, the more the entire brain reverts to pre-addiction status. While that’s happening, the CR group as a whole works as a temporary cortex, the misfits and the moms, the geniuses and the jokers, all becoming one’s fill-in neurons.
But you’ve got to work it.
What happened to John?
John stayed for the entire large group meeting at Celebrate Recovery. He was uncomfortable. Thank God for the anonymity thing. No way was he staying for the small group sharing time afterwards. The one who’d first greeted him, Asst Pastor George L., had spoken in the large group about his journey. Drugs, alcohol, prison. Friends lost, family hurt. Now, after several years of sobriety, George has a beautiful wife, three children, and a rewarding ministry. John heard George say, “Celebrate Recovery has been a safe haven for me. It has empowered my life, enriched my marriage, and increased my capacity to be a father.”
George’s sharing made John squirm — weren’t pastors supposed to be better than the rest of us? Yet something about his honesty warmed John’s heart.
You or someone you love want help?
Indian River County has two Celebrate Recovery meetings per week:
- South county – Thursdays at 7 pm, Freedom Church, 455 58th Ave SW, George Lynch, 772-562-3185
- North county – Tuesdays at 7 pm, Coastal Community Church, 11205 Roseland Rd, Sebastian, George Johnson, 772-532-2003
To find an AA meeting, go to http://www.aa.org.au/findameeting/
To protect anonymity, “John” is a composite fictional creation.
Unseen. Unsung. Yet essential.
D. LORNE COYLE MDIV
If you are a veteran and find yourself without a job and living in the woods, what’s the best way to get help? If you are mentally ill and life is just so overwhelming that you don’t save your rent money, what’s left to do?
If you are part of a family and living in your car outside Wal-Mart, you have no gas, no job, no stove, and no hope, who will help?
So, who ya gonna call?
Since the year 2000, you’re going to call the Treasure Coast Homeless Services Council (TCHSC), that’s who. It began in 1999, when a group of Indian River County citizens had become alarmed at the lack of resources to aid the homeless. As a result of that lack, the homeless were suffering in the streets and the woods. Law enforcement had no options for sheltering them. The hospital’s emergency room saw more and more admissions from the streets. Comprising Richard Stark, the country commissioners, Community Church, and Dick Van Mele, the concerned citizens group wanted to find a better way. They discovered that in order to get any help from the state or federal government, the county needed to have a Continuum of Care. They formed one and hired Louise Hubbard, a well-respected social service leader and grant writer.
Within a year, Hubbard helped Indian River Homeless Services Council win a government grant in the amount of $293,898. That was just the beginning of hope for the homeless. Since then, Hubbard and her team have brought more than $22 million to the Treasure Coast’s neediest. The Indian River Homeless Services Council grew under Hubbard’s leadership to include St. Lucie and Martin Counties, thereby becoming the Treasure Coast Homeless Services Council. That’s 65 agencies working together.
“Louise Hubbard has created the best true collaboration for the common good,” said Tracey Segal, program director for the Samaritan Center in Indian River County.
A former Congressional aide did call
The recent annual meeting of TCHSC featured what that common good can do. Former Congressional aide Will Harris had become homeless. He found hope at Camp Haven on US1 in Vero Beach. With a bed, meals, and a structured program, Harris is getting back on his feet. Camp Haven Board Chair Lalita Janke encouraged Harris to speak at the TCHSC annual meeting. “I just don’t like the word, ‘homeless,’” he said, “because it conjures up the image of a panhandler who is just hustling and who sleeps in the woods.” He went on to say, “Some of us are temporarily without a place to stay. Camp Haven has become my home for now. But I am getting back on my feet and soon I will be someone with a job and a future. From the bottom of my heart, I thank this Council and all of you for caring.”
Camp Haven would not be there for Harris, or for anyone, if it had not been for the guidance and support of TCHSC.
Are too many calling?
Some complain that helping the homeless just attracts more homeless. They say that all funding is counter-productive; i.e., helping the homeless just creates a bigger problem. Hubbard says they don’t know the facts. Statistics show that over 70% of Indian River County’s homeless have lived here for at least a year. They didn’t come to Indian River County to freeload and soak up the sun. They are friends, neighbors, or family members. The majority of them, 64%, are homeless because they lost a job. And as of last January’s “Point In Time” count, there were 1048 of them in Indian River, including 372 children.
Sadly, that represents an increase of 62% since 2010’s “Point In Time” count. Despite the best efforts of TCHSC and its dozens of member agencies, the number of homeless has increased. True, unemployment has decreased since 2010. But those on the bottom of the jobs ladder often can only find part-time work and that won’t make ends meet. In addition, families will often take in a relative who is homeless. After a while, though, that extra person creates stress in the host family unit and therefore needs to leave.
But the coldest, hardest fact is that even with a full-time job many families cannot afford the rents in Indian River County.
For example, at the recent annual meeting of TCHSC, Hubbard distributed data entitled, “The National Out of Reach Report.” That report is based on rental information supplied by the United States Dept Of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and may be found at http://www.huduser.org/portal/home.html. TCHSC tracks the Out of Reach data for the entire Treasure Coast Continuum of Care. In Indian River County a family of four, seeking a two-bedroom domicile, would need to pay an average of $821 per month. The estimated renter median wage for Indian River is $10.58 an hour. Assuming that rent should use about 30% of one’s income, that average Indian River renter can only afford $550. per month. Therefore, in order for the average family to rent, they will need to have one adult working 1.5 full-time jobs or two adults working, one full-time and the other half time. Assuming those jobs were available, many low-income families have one parent, not two. And if mom were to work 1.5 jobs per week, who would watch the children? Who would pay for daycare? And how much is left over for food, medicine, and transportation?
TCHSC helps. For qualified applicants, TCHSC provides housing counseling and rent and utility assistance to prevent homelessness. For those whose income may be slightly above the federal cut-off for aid, TCHSC has partners which help. Government entities which help include HUD, the Florida Dept of Children and Families, and the counties of Indian River, Martin, and St. Lucie. Private partners such as the United Way of IRC, the Community Church, the John’s Island Community Service League, the Robert F. and Eleonora W. McCabe Foundation, the Indian River Community Foundation, and the Communities Foundation of Texas all help TCHSC bridge the gap for many homeless families and individuals.
Want to see a veteran begging on a street corner?
“We focus on homelessness prevention as much as rehousing the homeless,” said Hubbard at the annual meeting of TCHSC. Recently, with veterans being mustered out of the armed forces, TCHSC has partnered with veterans advocates to create “Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF). The SSVF Program focuses on securing and maintaining housing for honorably-discharged veterans who are currently homeless or who would be homeless without assistance. It provides temporary financial assistance and services to help veterans gain housing stability. The goal is for veterans in the SSVF program to remain stably housed after this temporary assistance ends. TCHSC believes that no veteran should be begging on a street corner.
The deal: Real collaboration works
Coordinating the efforts and services of those 65 member agencies is a key work of TCHSC. Early on, TCHSC saw that the duplication of services to the homeless was counterproductive. It also saw that having a client’s information scattered among several agencies would neither serve the client’s nor the agency’s interest. At about the same time HUD reached the same conclusion. HUD created the Homeless Management Information Systems (HMIS) and TCHSC was one of the first agencies in the region to apply for and receive funding to implement HMIS. The result was a confidential, digital database which improved the intake and assessment process, shared essential information, and tracked expenditures among those 65 member agencies. The result is that HMIS provides better services for homeless clients with less waste of time and money.
“Louise is the cement that holds us together,” said Dallas Drawdy of New Horizons.
“Even after 30 years of working in the social service field I am still learning from Louise,” said Dr. Anita Cocoves, Health and Human Services Manager for the Board of Commissioners of Martin County.
Even those without Cocoves’ extensive experience appreciate Hubbard. New executive directors quickly discover that Hubbard and her TCHSC staff are authentic partners in finding grant money, using those funds to best serve clients, and maintaining the records so crucial to collaborative caring. “Hubbard taught me what I needed to know and made sure I did it,” said a recent executive director of the Homeless Family Center in Vero Beach. Echoing that, Robin Benjouali, new executive director of The Source in Vero Beach, added, “I see Louise as the voice of the homeless. She is a tireless advocate. She keeps us up to date on changes in the environment in which we serve.”
There is someone who was there at the beginning. One who called Louise Hubbard to Indian River County. One who helped her grow a little agency into the Treasure Coast Homeless Service Council. That one is TCHSC Board Chair, advocate for the poor, patron of the arts, and noted philanthropist Richard A. Stark. He had this to say: “TCHSC is entirely dependent on the skills and expertise of Louise Hubbard, for whom we are very grateful.”
The Shining Impact
“This is thyme. This is rosemary.”
D. LORNE COYLE
Not that he wanted the television cameras from WPTV Channel 5 to be there. But the Jefferson Awards had just honored Joel Bray for his volunteer work at Shining Light Garden. That annual award is considered by many to be the pinnacle of national recognition for volunteerism and public service. Bray and other recipients from across the country were honored at a special ceremony in Washington, D.C., last July. Now reporter Tania Roberts from WPTV Channel 5 had come to visit. Bray felt obliged to be hospitable. So the pony-tailed former construction worker was pointing out what was in the garden when she visited.
Indian River Impact 100 in April had awarded Shining Light a $100,000 grant to provide equipment that would be used to increase production by 50%. As a result, Shining Light leased another 20 acres, adding to the 30 acres Mr. Bray and a group of volunteers already worked. Impact 100 President Judy Peschio said, “This national recognition for Joel Bray and the Shining Light Garden solidifies our selection of him as one of our choices for a recent grant. The women of Impact 100 take great care in the selection of our recipients and this is just icing on the cake.”
As if the recognition of the confluence of local generosity and local need weren’t enough, Bray wrote a personal note after receiving the Jefferson Award. He wrote this to Indian River Impact 100 Grants Chair Suzanne Bertman, “This week I was in Washington, D.C., for the Jefferson Awards. Before the time for my speech, the lady who went before me was Wendy Steele who had been nominated for starting the [national] Impact 100 concept. I was then able to acknowledge publicly to her that from her idea Shining Light Garden was a recent winner of an Impact 100 grant that would enable us to purchase needed equipment that would help us to feed more of the needy.”
For over four years, Joel and his volunteers have grown veggies and flowers. The vegetables go to local groups such as The Source and Harvest Food and Outreach to feed the hungry. Bray knows how unbalanced is the diet of the needy. Agreeing with Bray, a former executive director of a local homeless agency described the diet of the homeless – when not eating out of dumpsters – as canned, packaged, high-sodium, high-carbohydrate, often junk food. Bray’s request for the $100,000 Impact 100 grant focused on getting healthier, inexpensive food to the poor and the homeless.
The flowers go to Indian River’s VNA Hospice and St. Francis Manor. Bray said, “I saw the change it made in their lives and the joy just to receive something.” To make ends meet, Bray said, “Basically we just depend on God and He has never let us down.”
Ann Marie McCrystal added her appreciation of Bray and Shining Light. A founder of the Visiting Nurses Association of the Treasure Coast (VNATC) 39 years ago and herself a registered nurse, McCrystal said, “At Hospice House we want a patient to live every day to the fullest, with comfort, compassion, and dignity. Shining Light’s flowers bring a breath of life to patients and brighten up their days.”
Youth Profile: VBHS senior, Dasie Hope student Marquise McGriff
D. LORNE COYLE
“Kids first, Sir,” said Marquise McGriff. Those were the first words spoken to this visitor to the Dasie Bridgewater Hope Center in Wabasso, Florida. It was suppertime at Dasie Hope and the visitor’s mouth had watered at the scent of the barbecue ribs. When the visitor had inquired about a plate, young Marquise had politely but firmly established the priority order for food. Until all the students in the after-school program had eaten, no staff or visitors would be fed. For some of the children, it would be their only hot meal that day.
From Gifford, the eldest of five children, McGriff had been attending Dasie Hope as a student since seventh grade. The Vero Beach High School senior is now a volunteer at the Dasie Hope after-school program. He helps the younger students with their homework, supervises sports activities, and serves in the kitchen. Executive Director Verna Wright calls him “one of the smartest and most positive young men I have known.”
This past school year McGriff met another volunteer at Dasie Hope, a retiree named George “Buff” Weigand. A snowbird in Sebastian in the winter, Weigand retreats to Brackney, PA for the summer. While there, he gives his time to the Susquehannock Camps, a boys and girls sports camp in Brackney. The Susquehannock Camps have been a lifelong passion for Buff and his late wife.
Weigand saw the potential in Marquise. He asked him if he would be interested in being a junior counselor at Susquehannock. McGriff said, “I would but you’ve got to meet my mom first and get her OK.” Weigand did so and Mrs. McGriff gave her support. For Marquise, who had never been out of Florida, it was to be a new world.
He had never flown on a plane. On June 13, McGriff flew from Orlando to his destination, the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre airport. He later said, “Taking off was the scariest part. Seeing the ground disappear was, well, I was just happy to see it again in Pennsylvania.”
Weigand and the camp staff welcomed McGriff and put him right to work with the other staffers in readying the camp for the season. After a week of hard physical work, McGriff went through the training required for all junior counselors. The camp’s philosophy is to encourage the moral, social, and physical development of young campers. Through a combination of athletics, adventure activities, family-style dining, and cabin life, campers embrace tolerance and respect for others, learn how to deal gracefully with conflict, and develop a sense of fair play. McGriff said, “I just loved it.”
“Well, most of it. The first time I had to sleep outdoors in the woods on an overnight all I had was a tarp under me and a tarp over me. I had seen those big spiders. I couldn’t get to sleep. A senior counselor showed me a trick, which was to tie a headscarf around my eyes and ears so the spiders couldn’t crawl in while I was asleep. It worked.”
McGriff had never seen mountains before. He had never looked into a crystal-clear lake and seen the bottom 20 feet down. He had never been cold in the summer. And, he said, “I got to experience that all in a very loving community.”
Summer ended on August 10. McGriff said flying back to Florida was no easier than flying north had been. But he made it back in time to start his senior year at Vero Beach High School and Dasie Hope. Catching him in the midst of McGriff’s busy schedule, the visitor asked him what he wanted to do when he graduates. He said, “I’d like to be a firefighter, like my grandfather, Larry McGriff Sr. He served in Jacksonville, Florida, until he retired. I want to give back to people. That’s what I should do with my life, give back.”
The visitor got so much out of his visit with McGriff. But he never did get any barbecue.
The Dasie Bridgewater Hope Center, 8445 64th Ave. in Wabasso, Florida, was founded in 2001 as a 501c3 non-profit. It is an after-school program and summer camp serving approximately 125 children from kindergarten through high school living in the Wabasso area. The Center offers homework assistance, individual tutoring, computer skills, creative arts, gender-specific programming and supervised outdoor sports in a “clubhouse” environment. To volunteer at the Center, call 772-589-3535. Find it on Facebook.
The Dasie Hope Thrift Shop, 8860 US1 in Sebastian, Florida, supports the Dasie Hope Center. It is open Tuesday through Friday, 9:30 am to 5 pm, and Saturday 9:30 am to 4 pm. Find it on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/DasiesDeals.