St. John's is re-purposing a community mission




Four miles from St. John’s United Methodist Church, in an unincorporated part of Winter Haven called Wahneta, a community mission, Casa Vida, is being repurposed.

Rev. David Averill, pastor at St. John’s, is helping transition missions like Casa Vida that are at the end of their life cycles.

Casa Vida originally was a mission for migrant workers in the area, providing much-needed services such as child care.

With the recent decline of the citrus industry in Florida, those community needs changed. Still, the area is impoverished and “in need of outreach,” Averill said.

Wahneta Elementary School hosts the All Pro Dad program that is helping revitalize the Casa Vida mission.

One of the ministries helping to revitalize Casa Vida is the All Pro Dad program at Wahneta Elementary School.

As a part of this ministry, male guardians of the students are invited to breakfast before school once a month. During the event, parents and guardians learn to use Christian values to act as positive influences in the lives of their children.

When asked about the partnership with the school, Averill said, “Many churches would be surprised at how open schools are to forming partnerships and receiving support from churches.” It is thought that this is one of the first bilingual school church partnerships in the conference.

The Casa Vida mission holds regular church activities, such as weekly Bible studies, but also ministers to the community in other ways, including job training with programs such as Jobs for Life and Heart for Winter Haven. There are plans for hosting adult literacy and GED classes at Casa Vida.

“People in the area are wary of big institutions and you have to do a lot to earn their trust,” Averill said.

Pastor Rodolfo Martinez, the leader of Casa Vida, is focused on addressing these challenges.

“We are executing a re-engineering of the relaunch model and making the new [mission] credible in the message and attractive to new generations,” Martinez said. “We are immersed in the urgent and necessary transformation towards a new presentation of image and leadership style.”

St. John’s second mission in Eloise, established in 2011, is a shining example of how a dying mission can be rebuilt into a thriving ministry.

The revitalization of the Eloise campus of St. John’s led to the formation and cultivation of the Angels Care program, which provides free medical care to those who can’t afford it.

Larry and Janet Powell say they are “open to helping everyone” in need through their faith-based clinic.

According to Larry Powell, leader at the Eloise mission, this “faith-based” clinic was the only way to keep the mission going.

“We are open to helping everyone,” Powell said. “The only requirement is that patients have no insurance and live below 200 percent of the poverty line.”

Angels Care has more than 200 volunteers from around the Winter Haven area, including doctors, nurses and intake specialists. The only paid employees are two part-time medical directors.

The clinic is open every Tuesday and on the second Wednesday of every month and provides a variety of medical services to citizens in the Eloise area.

Patients can receive primary and preventative care, plus treatment for colds, the flu and minor injuries. The facility essentially functions as an urgent care clinic, with the only difference being that patients aren’t charged for the service.

The clinic provides a variety of medical services to residents in the Eloise area.

Powell said Angels Care treats many diabetes patients and gives them the knowledge and tools they need to improve their quality of life and maintain their health.

Angels Care has partnered with Winter Haven Hospital to provide patients with free testing services, including x-rays, MRIs, blood work and more. Powell said without this partnership, care for many of their patients would be much more difficult.

Angels Care receives financial support in the form of a grant from Polk County. It is one of five free clinics in the area to receive a grant which provides up to $100,000 in reimbursement for medical services and supplies

It also receives financial donations from more than 10 churches in the Winter Haven area.

When asked about specific stories of success within the Angels Care program, Powell spoke about a woman who was diagnosed with lung cancer but was turned away from the local treatment center because she couldn’t afford the tests that needed to be performed.

Angels Care paid for those tests, and she was accepted into the cancer treatment program. She is alive today and in remission.

If you would like to get involved with any of the outreach programs at St. John’s United Methodist Church in Winter Haven, contact Rev. David Averill at (863) 324-6347.

--Jordan Chronister is a freelance writer based in Tampa


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