‘National Point of Light’ shines in DeLand community

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

‘National Point of Light’ shines in DeLand community

April 28, 2006    News media contact: Tita Parham* 
tparham@flumc.org    Orlando {0478}

An e-Review Feature
By J.A. Buchholz**

DELAND — Linda Brown, left, shares a meal with people being helped by First United Methodist Church's Agape Clubhouse. Brown began the ministry to help meet the needs of the area's homeless community. Photo courtesy of the Points of Light Foundation, Photo #06-344.Web photo only.

Linda Brown just couldn’t shake the feeling God wanted her to do something for her community.

A member of First United Methodist Church, DeLand, for five years, Brown began to notice more and more street people as she moved throughout the city. Coupled with her background as a nurse and therapist, she approached her pastor, the Rev. Owen Strickland, about beginning a ministry that would serve what others saw as the faceless and nameless homeless community, as well as the chronically physically and mentally disabled.

Strickland gave her the go-ahead, and the church forged its way as one of the few groups or organizations in Volusia County to tackle the homeless issue and the myriad problems associated with it.

That was three years ago. Now, the program, called Agape Clubhouse, offers breakfast, lunch, showers, and washers and dryers as part of its unique ministry to the homeless.

Recently, the National Points of Light Foundation in Washington, D.C., recognized Brown as its volunteer of the day for April 11. Each day the foundation recognizes an individual as a way to spotlight some of the millions of people volunteering in their communities throughout the country. The bios and photos of each volunteer are posted on the foundation’s Web site.

Although she doesn’t know who nominated her, Brown is proud of the program housed in the church’s old fellowship hall and what it means to the community. While the program is free of charge, participants are asked to do such tasks as cooking, cleaning, moping or maintaining the showers as their way of giving back to the program.

“This is a place where people can come from 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. to get off their feet during the day,” Brown said. “While they are here we offer a variety of services, such as drug intervention, mental health assistance, Narcotics Anonymous, Alcoholics Anonymous, computer access and, of course, hot meals.”

After the program began, other churches in the area began asking how they could get involved. Now, other denominations are helping by serving dinner to the homeless in the Interfaith Kitchen.

Brown’s dream that a person would never go a day being hungry has become a reality. Last year the kitchen served 10,000 meals. A sack lunch is even provided on Saturday in a local park.

Brown said the ministry is easy to duplicate — if a church truly has the facilities and, most importantly, a passion to serve the homeless or tackle any other need not being met in the community.

“You really have to have a heart for it,” she said.

Brown’s heart for the poor and homeless began to take shape immediately after college when she was a welfare worker in New York City’s Harlem community. After earning her bachelor’s degree in nursing from Columbia, she went on to earn a master’s in counseling psychology from Antioch New England Graduate School.

“I’m doing what God wants me to do,” she said. “ … I’m a little embarrassed about having this attention on me for the award. I’m committed to what I’m doing, and that’s enough.”

Strickland said he also doesn’t know who nominated Brown, but he knows it’s well deserved. He said Brown’s work has given the church a unique identity in the county.

“City leaders come to us. We are their first contact when they need help with something,” he said.

All of it began with Brown approaching him about her distinctive calling.

“I remember sitting with her and her telling me that God wants her to do something here,” Strickland said. “She had the passion, and we had the facility. Now, it’s just a continually evolving, growing ministry.”

Some days are tough for Brown who occasionally has to talk people into admitting themselves to a psychiatric hospital for treatment. She said most of the homeless are either too mentally or physically ill to properly care for themselves. Brown says many are bipolar, severe diabetics or addicted to alcohol or drugs.

“A lot of them feel at home here,” said Brown, who is also a board member of the Volusia County Coalition for the Homeless. “We try to build their self-esteem through a variety of programs, such as art and music therapy.”

The programs wouldn’t be possible without someone like Brown, who has a vision for it, but she places all the credit elsewhere.

“This church has a real heart for this ministry,” she said. “God led me to this church and this work. I just love this church.”


This article relates to Outreach.

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Buchholz is a staff writer for e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.

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