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Children, ministry work together to clean up, listen after storm

Children, ministry work together to clean up, listen after storm

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Children, ministry work together to clean up, listen after storm

Nov. 4, 2005  News media contact: Tita Parham*  
800-282-8011   Orlando {0391}

An e-Review Feature
By Gail King**

NAPLES — Neighborhood children help clean up the outreach ministry Grace Place after Hurricane Wilma. Photo courtesy of Stephanie Campbell, Photo #05-264. Web photo only.

NAPLES — After Hurricane Wilma swept through South Florida's Naples area, children living in a neighborhood that is home to the Grace Place ministry decided to give back to the ministry that has been reaching out to them.

"The vision of Grace Place has been that of 'welcome to the stranger, service to our neighbor, and the practice of grace for all,' " said the Rev. Stephanie Campbell, executive director of Grace Place. "This hurricane made the fruit of that witness evident as the children responded with offers of their own help to Grace Place."

Campbell said the kids grabbed brooms, rakes and bags and went to work cleaning up the debris littering the ministry's playground, garden and property. "Happy chatter and shouts of 'I can do it!' filled the air," she said.

Grace Place is the newest outreach ministry of the Florida Conference. It opened a year ago in a neighborhood of working-poor, mostly immigrant families just outside Naples. Five local United Methodist congregations worked together to create the ministry on the property of the former Golden Gate United Methodist Church. Grace Place offers such outreach ministries as after-school tutoring, Bright Beginnings classes for mothers and infants, English literacy classes for parents, summer day camps and the SHARE food program to families in the neighborhood.

The addition of a preschool playground open to the neighborhood children and a second playground for elementary-aged children has been "a powerful witness of welcome and care to these young neighbors," Campbell said.

Staff and volunteers gave the children popsicles and books after their work was done to show their appreciation for the hard work.

"One of the primary goals of Grace Place is literacy for both the children and their parents," Campbell said. "We look for every opportunity to share books with the children and families and to foster the love of learning. Most of these children are very low academically due to poverty factors and the lack of English in the home. Success in school is their ticket out of poverty."

Campbell says more than 85 percent of the families in the neighborhood live at or near the federal poverty level and for more than 80 percent English is not the primary language spoken at home. Most are first-generation Haitian or Hispanic families.

"We work to build relationships with the whole family to become partners together in creating a future of hope for their children," Campbell said.

The clean-up day also gave the children a chance to talk about what they experienced during and after the storm. "Stories just spilled out of the children," Campbell said. "They each needed to tell their story to an adult who would listen."

Grace Place is taking that ministry of listening into the neighborhood. Campbell and the ministry's staff and volunteers are visiting with or talking to most of the families that participate in Grace Place activities. In addition to listening to neighbors' stories, they are asking about any needs Grace Place can fill.

"The response from the families has been touching as they express surprise and appreciation that someone came to look out for and care for them," Campbell said.

While homes in the area were not destroyed, many were still without power and water, and most parents have lost wages from their service-sector jobs, Campbell said. Children are out of school, which also means the loss of free breakfast and lunch programs.

"We are counting our blessings that this hurricane did not cause the destruction in our area that others have experienced. We know, though, that for families on the edge of poverty any disruption can cause food, fuel and housing shortages," Campbell said. "We are glad we can be here ready to help our neighbors, especially the children."

How to help with recovery and cleanup

* Gather supplies, volunteer: Affected areas need a variety of supplies and assistance from work teams. Trucks and truck drivers to deliver supplies are also needed. Because needs change daily, individuals and churches interested in helping should contact the SRC at 800-282-8011, extension 149, or to find out what they can do to help. The center matches individuals/teams with current and emerging needs. Health kits and flood buckets are also needed and can be sent to the Florida Conference Disaster Response Depot in Madison (call to make delivery arrangements: 850-869-0882 or 850-929-4938). Items included in both can be found at

* Give generously: Individuals are encouraged to give to "Florida Storm Recovery" Fund, Conference Special #605, to assist with cleanup and recovery. Checks should include the fund name and number in the memo line. Checks may be given at local United Methodist churches and made payable to the church or mailed to Conference Treasurer, The United Methodist Church, P.O. Box 3767, Lakeland, FL 33802, and made payable to Florida Conference Treasurer. Individuals may also give to UMCOR Advance No. 982523, "Hurricanes 2005 Global." Contributions can be made online at, at local churches or by phone at 800-554-8583. Checks should include the Advance number and name on the memo line. Checks given at local churches should be made payable to the local church. Checks mailed to UMCOR at P.O. Box 9068, New York, NY 10087-9068 should be made payable to UMCOR.

For response updates go to:


This article relates to Disaster Response.

* Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
* King is a volunteer for Grace Place.