Pine Island pastor named person of the year (Jan. 27, 2005)

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Pine Island pastor named person of the year

Jan. 27, 2005    News media contact:  Michael Wacht*    
407-897-1140     Orlando  {0237}

An e-Review Feature
By Jenna De Marco**

BOKEELIA — The Rev. Scott Harris, pastor of Pine Island United Methodist Church, received a big shock a few weeks ago when he opened the Fort Myers News-Press.
He was searching for an article about island clergy who worked on hurricane recovery. A reporter had interviewed him for the story and said it would appear in that day’s edition. After looking through several sections, Harris found the story, but it wasn’t at all what he expected. It named him and three other area clergy as the paper’s Person of the Year for 2004.
“When I opened it up, I about passed out,” Harris said. “It was really a shock.”
Displayed with the article was a composite photo of the faces of the four clergy. Harris said he’d had his photo taken before the article appeared, but the photographer and reporter gave no indication of the real purpose of the story.
The paper honored the clergy for their efforts in helping the Pine Island community recover from Hurricane Charley. The other three clergy are from the major churches on the island — Lutheran, Catholic and Episcopal.
“We were the main people who provided assistance to the emergency responders when Hurricane Charley came through,” Harris said.
Harris said his church opened as a shelter for National Guard personnel, assisted the Sheriff’s department and served as a place for utility workers to store their supplies. As the other three churches regained electricity, they assisted in similar ways after Harris contacted them.

Harris says the award is really recognition for the entire Pine Island community.
“It was a wonderful thing for Pine Island, which gets lost in the shuffle when it comes to (places such as) Cape Coral, Sanibel, Fort Myers,” Harris said. “We accept it humbly because there were so many people who were helpful in the recovery.”

Harris and the other clergy honored — Ann McLemore of St. John’s Episcopal Church, Thomas Pohto of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal Catholic Church and Roger Lemke of Fishers of Men Lutheran Church — helped create a permanent recovery agency in their community called Beacon of Hope.

“The Beacon of Hope office now houses full-time paid personnel who do nothing but help people with recovery issues,” Harris said.

Beacon of Hope operates unofficially as a ministry of Pine Island United Methodist Church, Harris said, but paperwork has been filed to incorporate it as a separate non-profit organization. Harris also said Beacon of Hope recently was named Citizen Organization of the Year by the local Chamber of Commerce.

In the long term, Beacon of Hope will help find affordable housing for the farm worker community, “which is so integral to the local economy,” Harris said. Additionally, its mission will be to increase hurricane preparedness, including educating the community on how to deal with issues such as insurance claims.

“There are a number of people still living in very crude conditions, and we’re trying to upgrade the housing standards here and keep them at a level that people are not forced off the island,” Harris said. He noted that property values are going as “sky high” as they are in many places in Florida.

Harris also credits Tom Davis of Church World Service with helping the four clergy organize their relief and recovery efforts.

“Tom Davis was our mentor, and he was the one who kind of guided us through,” Harris said. “We own a great deal of debt to Church World Service.”


This article relates to Florida Conference Disaster Response.

*Wacht is director of Florida United Methodist Communications and managing editor
of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**De Marco is a freelance writer based in Viera, Fla.

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