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Community groups, churches join forces to help local families

Community groups, churches join forces to help local families

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Community groups, churches join forces to help local families

Aug. 22, 2007  News media contact: Tita Parham*
800-282-8011  Orlando {0726}

NOTE: See related story, “Children, struggling families get ‘fresh start’ at camp,” at

An e-Review Feature
By Jenna De Marco**

Community United Methodist Church in Holiday experienced corporate renewal last month when it welcomed homeless and indigent children into its halls for the “Fresh Start” day camp.

The idea for the Fresh Start day camp, held at Community United Methodist Church in Holiday for children of families experiencing homelessness or financial hardship, came from discussions between leaders in Community's cluster of churches. It was also embraced by a variety of different community groups dedicated to improving the lives of children and families, making it a community-wide effort. Photo by Caryl Kelley. Photo #07-0653.

At least that’s how the Rev. Dan Campbell sees it. He says it happened in spite of the small church’s many struggles with flagging finances, declining membership and economically disadvantaged neighborhood surroundings.

Although the church has 300 members and an average worship attendance of 180 — not the smallest of the conference’s churches — Campbell says the area surrounding the church is depressed, which has had a negative affect on the church’s financial situation.

The church is located along the U.S. 19 corridor in west Pasco County. Although the area was once a retirement haven, many families are characterized as “working poor,” commuting to work in nearby Pinellas County, but living in Pasco because of its relatively cheaper housing, Campbell said.
“The working poor are living as close to that county as they can … the first city they get to is Holiday, and housing (cost) drops dramatically,” he said.
In the process of refocusing their mission to better serve local needs, church leaders made it their goal to help the church “finish well.”
“If it is going to close, (the church) wants to go out in flames and glory doing what it is supposed to do,” Campbell said.
A community of churches, organizations and businesses determined to help impoverished children living in or near the Community United Methodist Church neighborhood helped create that sense of glory through the day camp. And, together, they have plans for future ministries.
“This was so large that we had to rely upon God and prayer and each other, and we had to be willing to step out,” Campbell.
The Community United Methodist Church campus served as the backbone and home base for the camp.

“They have a lovely campus,” including a sanctuary, recreation hall, office buildings, and Sunday school rooms, said volunteer Tom Schaub. Schaub was among the scores of volunteers who came from outside the Holiday community.
The camp received tremendous support from nearby Harvester, Keystone, Asbury, Hope and Trinity United Methodist churches. And within the church cluster formed between Community, Keystone and Hope United Methodist churches, leaders began a vision for a camp serving indigent children.
“We were in a cluster meeting in April and Dan started talking about how his church has basically become a mission and how everyday he had homeless people knocking on his door for help,” said the Rev. Gabe Wright, associate pastor of Hope United Methodist Church. “When I heard him talking, I said, ‘Wait a minute. This sounds like something that we are supposed to do.’ ”
Initially, Wright and Campbell did not know exactly what type of ministry they would be sharing, but tentatively thought a type of vacation Bible school would be appropriate.

A total of 175 volunteers from 40 churches and community groups provided approximately 4,500 hours of service during the Fresh Start day camp at Community United Methodist Church in Holiday, according to the Rev. Dan Campbell. Many said they were as blessed as the children were by the experience. Photo by Caryl Kelley. Photo #07-0654.

From that first idea through all the planning meetings for the day camp, support swelled for the vision of a full day camp specifically for children whose families were experiencing homelessness or financial hardship, Campbell said.

Providing such a camp required community cooperation that crossed denominational, neighborhood and socioeconomic boundaries.

About half of the daily 120 volunteers were members of Hope United Methodist Church, which is located about 10 miles east of Community in a more affluent area. During a discernment meeting in fall 2006, Hope’s church members determined they were seeking and would spend their budget on a local mission. They envisioned “hands down, it was something for children,” Wright said. She says this is why they seized the opportunity to join the day camp ministry.

“It was incredible how many people said, ‘This is what we’ve been waiting for,’ and have wanted something like this,” Wright said.

Serving in this local mission profoundly affected the volunteers and ministers, Wright said. After seeing so many struggling children born into so many dysfunctional family situations, Wright found herself asking God, “Why?”
“The answer that came back to me was, ‘Well, I have you,’ ” Wright said. “That’s why we’re here — to make a difference.”
Campbell believes “to rub shoulders with the poor” draws upon Jesus’ teachings and the heart of The United Methodist Church’s Wesleyan tradition.
“People are hungry to make a difference with their community if the opportunity transcends a particular denomination,” he said.
Building upon their budding joint ministries, Campbell hopes the supportive relationship found among the nearby United Methodist churches will continue.
“This has led to our people getting to know each other. It’s connected the churches in powerful ways,” Campbell said. “ … Now we’ve got all kinds of lay people working side by side … keeping churches from being so isolated.”

In addition to getting breakfast, lunch and two snacks, the children attending the Fresh Start day camp at Community United Methodist Church in Holiday participated in such "fiesta"-themed activities as hot Bible adventures, cactus crafts, grande games, line dancing, movies, drama, clowns, scrapbooking, art, puppetry and chapel time with music and stories. Photo by Caryl Kelley. Photo #07-0655.

The “genius” behind the organization of the camp, Campbell said, was Nancy Dougherty, part-time education director at Community United Methodist Church. Dougherty believes the camp laid the groundwork for a future of caring for the less fortunate.
“We’re still basking in the afterglow of the week — so many wonderful stories of the families and the volunteers connecting,” Dougherty said. “The big hand in this was God’s, as the plight of the homeless has come more to the forefront.”
At the closing dinner served to the families, Dougherty told them that the community would not forget about them. To that end, the leaders have already begun planning for the next ministries, including a holiday gift tent scheduled for the fall, Campbell said.
“For almost a month, you set up a huge tent in the parking lot and people bring clothes and food, and those go to specific families that are in need,” Campbell said.
Other potential projects include becoming a mission outreach hub for Tampa-based Metropolitan Ministries and possibly serving as a resource center or emergency shelter for the Coalition for the Homeless.
More information about the day camp and upcoming ministries is available by calling Community United Methodist Church at 727-937-3268 or visiting its Web site at

This article relates to Outreach.

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**De Marco is a freelance writer based in Viera, Fla.