Churches race to support Family Promise

It was a win-win situation for two Gainesville-area Methodist churches, even though only one team could prevail.

Grace at Fort Clarke UMC and Trinity UMC were among local churches, a business and a youth volleyball team that competed in a bed race May 21 at Santa Fe College to raise funds for the local Family Promise affiliate.

The victorious Trinity team – “Trinity UMC: The Force Awakens” – had a Star Wars theme. “Princess Leia” – a.k.a. Trinity Pastor Lenora Rousseau – sat in the bed during Trinity's three races, all wins, while others pushed it. She is seen holding a large trophy on Trinity's Facebook page.

“Great day!” someone wrote. “We took home Best Theme, Most Fundraising and Fastest Bed. Good job Trinity!”

“It was a blast,” Pastor Lenora said. “We had such a strong team. It felt like we were flying.”

"We ran our hearts out," someone from Grace wrote on Facebook after the Amazing (G)racers went 1-1.

Six Methodist churches support Family Promise of Gainesville: Grace, Trinity, First UMC, Wesley UMC, Southwest UMC and Celebration UMC. Grace and Trinity competed in the bed race.

“It gets to be a bit competitive,” Family Promise of Gainesville board president and Grace team member Stanley Beckerdite said of bed-race rivalries. Teams, including senior pastors, compete dressed in costumes.

Members of the Trinity Force, the Amazing (G)racers and the other teams helped Family Promise of Gainesville raise more than $25,000. To mark the occasion, Grace shot a video that can be seen on the church's Facebook page (

In wheel trouble

It was the Alachua County nonprofit organization's second annual bed-race fundraiser. The first, held in May 2015, generated about $8,000 in a walkathon-like format. That event was part of a $50,000 fundraising campaign to resurrect the affiliate in July 2015, after it had run out of money and disbanded 11 months earlier.

The rebirth of Family Promise of Gainesville also resulted in the hiring of Jayne Moraski as executive director.

Last year the Amazing (G)racers' bed had a jungle theme – with palm trees on the bedposts and mosquito netting that promoted the national church's Imagine No Malaria campaign. Fake mosquitoes, made out of water bottles and pipe cleaners, were a nice touch on the outside of the netting, according to the (G)racers.

The force awakens! Led by Pastor Lenora Rousseau (Princess Leia), the Trinity UMC team wins all three of its races. The event helped raise more than $25,000 for the Family Promise affiliate in Gainesville.

This year Grace's bed resembled a biplane and was awarded "Fan Favorite."

As the video shows, prior to the heat against United Church of Gainesville, the Amazing (G)racers' biplane almost didn't get “off the ground.” Dan Dias is the first face you see, wearing a lime green propeller hat. Dias is ready for his closeup.

"We're here, live!” he shouts in his sports announcer voice.

Drew Morris stands behind him. "Oh, no! Oh, no!” he yells.

Then Dylan Mead, age 13, explains that the (G)racers' bed suffered a flat tire, effectively clipping the biplane's wings.

"We were just walking our bed down here to start and the tire popped," he said, dejected. But after some emergency roadwork – with assistance from UCG – they forged ahead.

"We're going to do this with one popped tire," said Josh Thompson, 14, his even voice not revealing whether it was a question or a statement of faith.

The (G)racers' race against UCG begins 7:04 into the 7:51 video, with "rider" Melissa Keefer operating the video camera from the center of the bed, and her teammates pushing it along. Thirty seconds later, the race is over, and Grace has won its heat.

Grace team members carried their faltering bed on their shoulders during another heat, losing by a nose to Trinity.

Inspired by Grace's effort, the crowd cheered so loudly that senior pastor Rick Thompson thought Grace had won.

"Unfortunately we had technical difficulties," Grace team captain Kimberli Ponzio sighed. "But, they were real troopers."

Families hosted

Through Family Promise, homeless families with children receive lodging, meals and transportation. Churches commit to hosting different families one week at a time, four weeks per year. Family Promise also provides counseling.

Ponzio, a Family Promise coordinator at Grace, said having the organization host a bed race fundraiser seemed like a perfect idea for bringing attention to homelessness. She said the entertaining video had the added benefit of improving Family Promise's outreach.

The churches' commitment to Family Promise is as solid as the video is hilarious.

“We love being a part of the community of churches coming together to help with this problem, with folks who are in transition,” Pastor Rick said. “To do something this fun shows the spirit behind why we all do what we do.”

“A lot of people talk about homeless issues. But the churches in Gainesville are committed to doing something about it. That the Methodist churches are heavily involved speaks to our commitment to making a difference in our community.”

Pastor Lenora added, “This is one of those opportunities where we can come together to be the body of Christ.”

--Ed Scott is a freelance writer based in Venice.

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