Sometimes payback is heaven-sent




 Wendy McCoy Mickey Wilson
Wendy McCoy  Mickey Wilson

LAKELAND – There were no strings attached when United Methodist churches supported efforts to rebuild in the wake of Hurricane Andrew, which ravaged South Florida 20 years ago.

But that support was remembered when a nonprofit, faith-based foundation decided to close its operations and distribute leftover funding to others who were providing affordable housing to those in need.

As a result, the Preachers Relief Board celebrated the new year with a $100,000 grant from the Jubilee Community Development Corp. (JCDC) of Miami. The funds will be spent on upkeep of homes for retired clergy in need.

"This generous gift will allow us to have funds to maintain current properties for some years to come,” said Wendy McCoy, benefits officer for the conference who drafted the grant application.

The Florida Conference established the relief board in the 19th century to assist “tired and worn out preachers” with retirement housing at the end of their careers, according to a history on the conference website, http://www.flumc2.org/pages/detail/739.

Though needs have changed, and the board is authorized to provide direct financial assistance for active and retired clergy as warranted, the program still focuses primarily on housing for retired clergy who served most of their ministry on minimum salary. Over the years, the board has acquired several houses throughout the conference for that purpose.

The Jubilee foundation was formed after Hurricane Andrew struck South Florida in 1992. Its purpose was to raise funds to rebuild affordable housing after the storm. From the beginning, United Methodist churches in southeast Florida supported those efforts.

Recently, after 20 years of rebuilding the storm-damaged community, Jubilee sought to close down its operation and use existing funds to provide grants to organizations that support affordable housing programs.

Representatives contacted the Florida Conference to determine whether it had an eligible program. Mickey Wilson, conference treasurer, and McCoy presented a proposal at the November meeting of the JCDC board, asking for $100,000 for the preachers relief fund.

As part of the proposal, the conference promised to report annually on how funds are used and restrict grant spending to the relief board's housing program. The request was approved and there is no deadline for using the money, according to McCoy.

“The group’s board was very complimentary of the Florida Conference and our local churches," McCoy said by email.

"Through the years they have had much support from Methodist congregations in the area and felt that this was their opportunity to give back."

Currently, the relief board is conducting a major structure and maintenance assessment of its housing units that will help determine how the money is spent. No new projects are planned until deferred maintenance on existing properties is completed, McCoy said, and the board is not providing rent assistance to any pastors at this time.

* Anne Dukes is a freelance writer based in Atlanta.

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