For the last two years, 78-year-old Harry “Skip” Wilson has been secretly praying for $50,000.
The request was just between him and God. He needed the money to fill the dwindling coffers of Family Promise of Greater Brandon, which serves homeless and low-income families with children in Hillsborough County.
On Jan. 9, his exact prayer will be answered. The Tampa Bay Lightning Foundation will award Wilson, the retired vice president of Tampa Electric Company, the Community Hero award at the game against Carolina. Along with the honor will be a check for $50,000 payable to the Family Promise organization he has been so passionate in supporting. Wilson was shocked when he got the unexpected call. He had never heard of the award and had no idea how he was even nominated.
“They called me and told me, I was a finalist,” Wilson said. “And I said, ‘Of what?’”
As it turned out, Wilson was nominated for the award by his son and a church member at New Hope United Methodist Church in Brandon because of his tireless volunteer work.
The owners of the hockey team have been honoring community heroes this way for more than six years. So far, they have given away $13.65 million through 557 gifts to 380 different charities.
Wilson serves as the vice president of the nonprofit board of the Family Promise of Greater Brandon. He said it's a God-sent blessing to receive the money. The chapter was down to just a month-and-a-half of operating funds. This gift won’t end their need, but it will finally give them the financial base he has been praying for.
“We were down to just $17,000, and we spend $10,000 a month,” Wilson said.
It is the largest donation the chapter has ever received and outranks the next largest donation by tens of thousands of dollars, he said.
“I think we got a $2,000 donation once,” he said.
The chapter of the national organization runs year-round housing up to four families at a time for up to three months in empty church spaces and Sunday school rooms around the community. Family Promise was founded in 1988 and has chapters nationwide.
Wilson helped set up the Hillsborough chapter four years ago. He sits on a five-person board, and they manage a paid director and part-time counselor on staff. They own a “Day Center” where families who don’t have work or school can spend the daylight hours. Families eat breakfast and dinner and sleep in church spaces made available by 13 congregations in the area on a weekly rotating basis.
In the first half of 2017, the Hillsborough chapter served 33 families and 110 children, Wilson said.
The retired executive said that God led him to serve his community in this way.
“I was wondering back in 2001 what I was going to do after I retired,” Wilson said. He had worked for the energy company for 40 years. “God placed three things on my heart: young life, prison ministry and homelessness.”
He has been serving his community faithfully ever since.
“Homelessness is a huge problem,” Wilson said. “We have 3,000 kids who say they are homeless in Hillsborough County. We are just scratching the surface.”
The need may be great, but this gift from the hockey team is just evidence for Wilson that tackling the need with faithfulness and prayer is his best strategy. Then, he added, even this answered prayer was surprising to him.
“When your prayer is answered out of the blue, it makes you realize that we ask Him for too little,” Wilson said.
The hockey team has invited Wilson to enjoy the game in January from a luxury suite with 20 of his friends. He said his family and the volunteers of Family Promise will be his guests.
--Julie Cole is a freelance writer based in Gainesville.
Editor’s Note: Donate here to the Florida Conference Hurricane Irma Fund to help churches and the neighborhoods that surround them. Volunteer to bring yourself or a team to help with the recovery. Together, with God, we are bigger! #flumcWeAreBigger