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Ministry keeps homebound at home, out of nursing home

Ministry keeps homebound at home, out of nursing home

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Ministry keeps homebound at home, out of nursing home

Aug. 5, 2006    News media contact: Tita Parham* 
800-282-8011    Orlando {0525}

An e-Review Feature
By Amy Green**

JACKSONVILLE — Jane Hart (center, standing), founder of Hart Felt Ministries, and members of Beach United Methodist Church share a "one for all and all for one" moment with client Joe Truett (center, seated). Photo courtesy of Jane Hart, Photo #06-410.

Jane Hart gave up a 12-year job with ConAgra Foods in 2003 to start Hart Felt Ministries with one volunteer and one client.

Today the ministry in Jacksonville, Fla., nurtures 156 homebound elderly and disabled clients with 105 volunteers who perform such chores as baking, cleaning and lawn mowing. The goal is to keep the homebound comfortably at home and out of a nursing home, as well as provide personal and spiritual companionship.

This year Jacksonville municipal leaders honored two ministry volunteers for their work, but Hart doesn’t take credit for any of the ministry’s successes.

“I tell people this is not my ministry,” said Hart, 58, who worked in sales at ConAgra and before that at Johnson & Johnson. “This is God’s work.”

Hart was nudged toward volunteerism after her mom died in 1990 of cancer at the age of 60 and her husband died the same year of a heart attack at the age of 50. She lived in Atlanta then and was drawn to Jeremiah 29:11, “ ‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you …’ ” She began working with Stephen Ministries, a nondenominational group in St. Louis that provides training for congregational care in times of grief or trauma, and became a hospice volunteer.

In 1999 Hart moved to Jacksonville with ConAgra, where she still attends Beach United Methodist Church. She continued to pray about Jeremiah 29:11 and the verses that follow, “ ‘You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.’ ”

“I knew that God was bringing me (to Jacksonville) as part of finding that purpose,” she said. “I felt he wanted me to do something with the elderly.”

Hart launched Hart Felt Ministries in 2004. She is the only full-time paid employee, and volunteers come from area congregations of all denominations. In addition to housework they drive clients to doctor’s appointments, run errands, buy groceries, build wheelchair ramps and more. Volunteers meet with clients at least once a week and usually are paired with clients who live no more than five miles from their homes.

“It really is all about neighbors helping neighbors,” Hart said. “We stay with them the whole rest of their lives.”

Dean DeWall, 68, of Jacksonville has worked with the ministry a year and a half and was honored as the Mayor’s 2006 Male Senior Citizen of the Year for his volunteerism. He heard about Hart Felt Ministries at Ponte Vedra United Methodist Church, where he attends services. Last year he did extensive repairs for a married couple, both handicapped, whose contractor had mishandled home improvements meant to accommodate their disabilities. DeWall worked on the repairs for six to eight weeks.

The work is satisfying, he said. He tells of one woman in her 90s who struggled with steps outside her home and needed a railing. Usually the ministry charges clients for materials but not for labor, but DeWall didn’t charge the woman at all.

JACKSONVILLE — Lo Simon (standing), a Hart Felt Ministries volunteer, spends time with client Ida Hendrickson. Photo courtesy of Jane Hart, Photo #06-411.

“It was Christmastime, and she had a nice smile,” said DeWall, who is retired from work with mental health centers, but still does consulting. “I just didn’t have the heart to give her the $20 bill for the materials.”

Word of the ministry has traveled with little effort, although Hart speaks about the ministry at area congregations. The ministry is supported by grants and donations. Hart hopes it continues to grow. The ministry has a waiting list of 160 more clients in areas where there are no volunteers.

Volunteers find their friendships with clients to be most fulfilling, said Hart, who has remarried and has a grown son in Atlanta.

“As time progresses the client comes to trust the volunteer and shares more and more,” she said. “This God-sent bond occurs. … They know they’re not alone.”

Hart has put God in charge of the ministry’s future, she said.

“As time goes by this is going to become a bigger and bigger problem. People cannot afford to hire help,” she said. “Sometimes I feel like I don’t really have my feet on the ground, that I’m somewhere between heaven and earth because the things I get to see and the people I get to meet are such precious people out there who are just struggling.”

Tina George, 49, believes she would be in a nursing home without Hart Felt Ministries. She broke her neck in 1977 diving into shallow water and remains paralyzed. She connected with Hart Felt Ministries when she decided to have a wheelchair ramp built, and since then she has become close to Hart.

The ministry has helped her get a new wheelchair, pay bills and buy groceries, and it nurtured her through recovery from colon surgery last year.

“Hart Felt Ministries is a God-send,” she said. “Those people over there, they are so sweet and precious, and they truly are sent by God. I love every one of them people over there, and they truly have been a blessing to me. They have worked hard to keep me from having to go back into a rest home.” 

See related story “United Methodist ministries receive faith-based grants from city,” FUMNS e-Review #0467 at


This article relates to Outreach.

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Green has written for The Christian Science Monitor, Christianity Today, Religion News Service and other publications. She freelances from Deltona, Fla.