Posts Tagged ‘Pinellas Hope’

LAETARE MEANS TAKE DELIGHT

Monday, March 19th, 2012

Former CRS president Ken Hackett. Photo courtesy of Catholic Relief Services.

The Fourth Sunday of Lent each year marks the occasion for the annual collection for Catholic Relief Services (CRS) throughout our country. Our church takes justifiable pride in this highly acclaimed and recognized organ of the Catholic Church in the United States which responds quickly and effectively to major disasters throughout the world and leads development efforts in many underdeveloped or at risk countries. While US Catholics contribute about 15 million each year to the CRS collection, the agency’s program expenses and outreach will this year for the first time exceed one billion dollars. The balance comes from agency fund-raising efforts and grants from the US government and other international agencies. CRS serves all of humankind, without favor to religion, race or sex. What makes its so highly effective are two things: its low cost administration (less than $10 for every $100 is spent on fundraising and administrative costs and when I left the Board chairmanship four years ago, the actual cost audited and accounted for was in the neighborhood of $7.00 for the one hundred given) and its partners throughout the world. What other organization has the network of Catholic Charities and parish structures for the delivery of services?

But yesterday’s major gift to Catholic Relief Services was the announcement that the University of Notre Dame had chosen its recently retired (three months ago) President and CEO, Kenneth Hackett for its prestigious “Laetare Medal” at the 2012 commencement ceremony. I would say that given the incredibly distinguished history of its recipients over the years, all Catholics I believe, this award is without parallel for its selectivity and recognition of service to the Church and to the Gospel. I was on the Search Committee, which recommended to the bishops’ only (at that time) Board of Directors that Hackett be appointed its CEO. When chosen, CRS had a program budget of about 200 million a year and, as I noted above, it now should exceed one billion in service to the poor of the world. Still, the administrative costs remain low. Much of this growth and much of its rise in prestige is due to Ken Hackett. He would rightly say that a tremendous staff at CRS backed him up and that is indeed true. But he was the right man at the right time to lead an organization in search of a mission and identity.

In his twenty plus years as CEO, Ken Hackett protected and enhanced its Catholic identity. When USAID balked at giving grants to CRS for anti-HIV retroviral medicines in nine nations in Africa and in Haiti because we did not distribute condoms (our government’s principal answer to stopping the pandemic), he never flinched from Catholic teaching and Catholic identity. And he led the agency in establishing a greater mission than disaster relief and the Thanksgiving Clothing Drive (older Catholics remember that one well) to remain and serve in countries by assisting them in self-help development work (like digging wells and providing for sanitation).

I can’t think of a more worthy recipient than Kenneth Hackett with whom I was privileged both to work side by side with and at the same time learn from about serving the poor. My commitment to and love for Pinellas Hope can be traced to two laymen who have taught me everything: Ken Hackett and Frank Murphy. Congratulations Notre Dame on an outstanding selection and congratulations Ken Hackett on winning this award, which is even more affirming than the honorary doctorate, conferred on you by the same institution a few years ago. And thanks, Notre Dame, for letting CRS woo your Dean of the Mendoza School of Business to succeed Ken Hackett as the person at the helm of the premier relief and development agency in the world.

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THE ICE(WO)MAN COMETH

Thursday, March 8th, 2012

Sheila Lopez with the $50,000 check for Pinellas Hope. Photo courtesy of Frank Murphy.

Last Friday night at the Tampa Bay Times Forum (aka “the ice palace”), the Lightning organization honored one of my own employees as their shining star for one night and a hero for the season.  Sheila Lopez is in every way the “mother” of Pinellas Hope, admired, loved and sometimes feared by the residents of the homeless shelter. Involved from the first shovel of dirt turned, Sheila has directed Pinellas Hope from the very beginning. Every major politician in Pinellas county has met her at some time as she and her boss, Catholic Charities president Frank Murphy, annually appeal for funding for the project and many philanthropies know her as well for the same reason. She is indomitable and unsinkable! The Lightning’s new owner, Jeff Vinik, decided last summer that he would establish and fund a foundation which would seek out charitable works and the people behind them and honor them at home games throughout the season. But the honor is more than a moment on the ice, it is accompanied by a check for fifty-thousand ($50,000) for the charity being honored. Sheila’s check was presented to her just prior to face off by her hero, Marty St. Louis. Additionally the owner himself came and spent a good deal of time with her prior to the presentation of the check by Number 26. During the second television time out, a two minute video about Pinellas Hope and Sheila was presented on the jumbotron and everyone in the forum at its conclusion cheered, clapped, whistled and saluted our heroine.

Frank Murphy, myself, Sheila Lopez, and Very Rev. Robert F. Morris inside the "ice palace"

I am not allowed to divulge Sheila’s exact age (she is one year older than I and I am 71 in May), but it is inconsequential. She dedicates almost every waking moment to Pinellas Hope. She loves the clients and leaned on the Lightning organization to allow her to bring at the Lightning’s expense fifty of her most dedicated residents whose work at the site is above and beyond the minimum expected. They were treated to hot dogs and soda in a private room prior to the game’s start and all the soft drinks they could consume. Alcoholic beverages are forbidden to Pinellas Hope residents and Miss Sheila kept a careful watch. Any violator would have had to walk back from Tampa to Pinellas Park, I was told. The energy of the woman is incredible. I held my breath that she would not ask the Lightning to allow her to put on skates and play during one line (she claims to have played competitive ice hockey as a young girl in Hershey). Her “babies” sitting in section 318 were especially noisy during the public recognition of Sheila’s work.

Sheila Lopez with residents of Pinellas Hope outside of the Tampa Bay Times Forum. Photo courtesy of Frank Murphy.

I was asked as I always am about when we would replicate Pinellas Hope in Hillsborough county. Fifty-four per cent of the residents of Pinellas Hope do leave for independent living (admittedly it is not easy to trace what happens to them long after they leave the facility). That is one of the best numbers in the state. Additionally we now have permission to build about a dozen more small apartments on the site for those who are transitioning from tents to their own homes, apartments, whatever after leaving Pinellas Hope with a job. Sheila has been at it five years in Pinellas Park and she readily concedes that the type of resident we have now is significantly different from those we started with. Now we are caring for the lower middle class and working class residents who have lost their jobs and homes as a result of the economy. The desperation is just as great if not greater with this new generation of homeless.

So, Sheila Lopez for one brief moment was a worthy hero for the Lightning and for five years has been the same for myself, Catholic Charities for which she is an assistant director, and well over two thousand residents, transients, and volunteers at Pinellas Hope. Her smile last Friday night lit up the Forum and I can not thank the Lightning organization enough for a very classy occasion to honor an employee whom I admire deeply, on the ice and in the mud of Pinellas Hope. Go Bolts!

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THERE IS ROOM AT THIS INN

Sunday, December 25th, 2011

“She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.” [LK2:6]

At this "Inn" the Holy Family occupies the same kind of tent as those residing at Pinellas Hope.

 Two years ago this very night, literally wrapped not in swaddling clothes but rather three blankets covering those pitiful, ill fitting and impossible to wear with dignity hospital gowns, I was rolled in a wheel chair to St. Anthony Hospital Chapel for a Christmas Eve vigil Mass. I will readily admit to being an emotional wreck that night as my endocrinologist had visited my room within the hour before Mass to tell me that there was strong evidence that my kidneys may be failing, dialysis at least temporary, was a strong possibility and the reality of going home in two days as planned could be discarded. I was lonely, depressed, and fearful for the future, and weeks since offering or attending Mass. I was essentially spiritually homeless. At some point in the journey from hospital room and bed to the chapel, I had a moment to look out that evening on what was an unusually cold night here, and saw about ten homeless people along St. Petersburg’s Fifth Avenue, making their way slowly to their overnight accommodations outside and underneath the expressway adjacent to St. Vincent de Paul and across from the hospital. I thought to myself, “Lynch, you have little to complain about or to fear. You at least are being taken care of. Someone is watching over you.”

Before Christmas Eve dinner about 150 residents gathered for Carols, a reading from Luke's Infancy Narrative and some prayer and reflection which I felt privileged to lead.

Earlier this evening, I led an interfaith Christmas prayer service at Pinellas Hope. It was entirely optional for the 396 residents living there tonight, in tents and tiny wooden casitas and it preceded the annual Christmas eve dinner, which for five years have been the gift of one of my colleagues and his family. Two homeless people brought a small plastic replica of the baby Jesus seemingly out from nowhere and placed him into a manger scene consisting of, you guessed it, the same kind of tent they live in 24/7 at Pinellas Hope for however long they reside there. Those in attendance were proud that their baby Jesus had a place to stay, which they had erected and prepared. We fed 176 on this Christmas Eve and as two years ago, it is from the homeless I have learned a sense of gratitude and a deeper meaning of Christmas.

Homelessness is a central part of the Christmas story. The long awaited Messiah and King of Israel was born essentially homeless but still loved, longed for, and embraced. It is so often when we are encumbered by the stress especially of this season, that we lose as I did two years ago the sense that it is precisely in adversity that God works His best wonders. Someone historically anonymous made room for Mary and Joseph that night, gave them a place where a child could be born, and to which visitors, unlikely visitors at that, could come and pay their respect and their reverence.

Mrs. Kurci and Ed, the gardener who lovingly cares for "The Garden of Hope" where fresh vegetables are being grown for use in feeding the homeless housed there.

Those visitors, the shepherds were also homeless. Nomadic by nature and vocation, they had no way of knowing for sure where they might be the following year or what challenges might await them. Yet, they saw a star and heard the voices of ones sent by God and for a time left behind every worldly possession they owned to share this seismic moment in human history when God took on our human form and dwelt amongst us.

And while the Christmas story is so charming it is also challenging. Homelessness for Mary, Joseph and Jesus did not end when the new mother and her child were capable of travelling safely and securely back to their home in Nazareth, but rather because of jealousy they would soon flee and become illegal immigrants making their way to alien Egypt, living essentially homeless until it was safe to return home and begin again their life as a family.

The Kurci Family baked 30 sweet potato pies from sweet potatoes grown and harvested from the "Garden of Hope" inside of Pinellas Hope.

We come to Church tonight to sing ancient hymns of joy and happiness reminding us of that “holy night”, to hear again the story of the dear Savior’s birth. Tonight Christ is not born again in human history but Christ can be reborn in each of us. However, we cannot and must not leave him homeless but rather make a home for him within ourselves. The Christmas story can match every longing, fear and anxiety we have tonight and as in the game of poker, “raise it” as well. But the love of God, the trust and faith in God and the hope in God which marked the central figures of that first Christmas assures us that we need not be homeless but have found Him for whom generations longed to see, to experience, to know.

Every year for five years on Christmas Eve, the Murphy family and their neighbors have purchased and served the Christmas Eve dinner at Pinellas Hope. Here are just a few of them before the "rush" begins.

Spiritual and religious homelessness also means that all of us need to recommit to meeting Christ regularly in the sacraments of the Church. It is time for Catholics to Come Home. Sadly but realistically, we know that the second largest Christian body in the United States, behind practicing members of the Catholic faith, is to be found in Catholics who have left us or fallen away from their faith. Perhaps you have seen in recent days the invitations conveyed on television asking those who have been hurt, felt alienated, perhaps embarrassed by the patent sinfulness not of the Church but of some of its leaders and members, to return. We promise a better reception should you return than whatever the circumstances were which caused you to leave. Just as we want and work to alleviate the pain of homelessness in our society, county, city, and neighborhood, we want to alleviate also the pain of spiritual homelessness. Our priests, our deacons, our religious and our lay leaders have all been working to provide a genuine welcome. My two homeless friends at Pinellas Hope could only bring to the manger tent an image of Jesus. We want those who are spiritually homeless to receive the real thing, Jesus, body and blood in the Eucharist and other sacraments of the Church.

There is room within the “Inn of Christ’s Church” and we promise to do everything we can to make you feel at home again.

I cried two years ago at that Mass I described at the beginning, not knowing if I would ever see another Christmas. I now truly believe that God heard the prayers of many and of myself that night, for I was released the day after Christmas as planned and now wish to devote my remaining energy to spreading the truly good news of Christmas and Easter: Christ was born, Christ has died, Christ has Risen, and while Christ will come again, He is among us tonight and every day, just for the asking. In the name of the Word made flesh, I beg you to come home not just for Christmas but for the rest of your life.

Wishing all God’s people, Catholic and non-Catholic, the greatest of blessings this Christmas day and peace to all people of good will. Merry Christmas.

Bishop Robert N. Lynch

CHRISTMAS SEASON ENDS – FINALLY

Sunday, January 9th, 2011

The Christmas season which began in 2010 and ends today with the Baptism of the Lord will forever hold many memories for me but I thought you might enjoy some of them in pictures of the last sixteen days:

The newly renovated Holy Family Church on Christmas Eve, 2010

The new transitional apartments for the homeless at Pinellas Hope who have jobs and are transitioning to independent living

The Fourth Degree Knights of Columbus at the Cathedral of St. Jude present me with a picture just prior to Midnight Mass of the reception of the relic of St. John Bosco last September

Pausing for private prayer at the Cathedral creche prior to Midnight Mass

Midnight Mass over at 1:15am and I am off to bed and the Women's Prison on Christmas morning. Cameras are not allowed there. Cathedral pictures were taken by Brendan J. Stack.

TWAS THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS

Thursday, December 23rd, 2010

Christmas eve is now less than twenty four hours away and I have just finished the first draft of my homily for Christmas. Tomorrow my public day begins at 1230pm with the official Blessing and Opening of PINELLAS HOPE II, eighty new very low cost ($300 per month) transitional apartments for homeless who have found jobs but do not yet have the money for their own totally independent living arrangement. Built with money from a grant from the State of Florida and furnished mostly by the great people of Anona Methodist Church through donations of furniture, cookware, glass and table ware, sheets and towels, etc., the amazing one room efficiency apartments are just steps from the former resident’s tents on the property of PINELLAS HOPE. The certificate of occupancy has been given and the first several people who qualified are ready to move in. What a great day to open a new form of shelter ministry – on the day before the Holy Family was told thousands of years ago, “I’m sorry, Joseph, there is no room at the Inn.”

In a few hours, at four precisely, I will offer my first Mass of Christmas at St. Rita parish in Dade City. Usually and today likely also to be a Mass for Children and Families, the first Mass on Christmas Eve has become the most attended Mass of Christmas in almost all of our parishes. This is a big change since my childhood when Midnight was the earliest one could offer and/or attend Mass on Christmas Day. Now there is a tendency in many places, including St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, to move even the Mass at Midnight to earlier, 10:00 pm. After the Mass it is a quick drive back to Pinellas Hope to serve dinner with the Frank Murphy family to all the residents. This year after a two year absence (more about that in a moment), I will be back at St. Jude’s Cathedral for Midnight Mass which means home and in bed around two o’clock in the morning, depending on how long I preach.

Christmas morning finds me continuing a practice I began when I first came of offering Christmas Mass in one of the jails or prisons located in the five counties of the diocese. Saturday morning will find me offering Christmas Mass, hearing confessions, and also confirming one inmate, at the Hillsborough Correctional Women’s Prison which carries a Riverview address but is closer to Sun City. It is a privilege to offer Mass for these women and to join them in prayer for their children and families who will be unable to be present to them on this special day.

The only thing different about this year from my past practice is that I used to faithfully offer a third Mass on Christmas eve, starting in Citrus County with the first, and then coming down to Hernando or Pasco or Hillsborough for the second around 800pm and often in Spanish before winding up at the Cathedral a little before midnight. When he was working outside of the diocese, I was accompanied and driven on these rounds by Father David Toups but he now has his own parish so I am alone again – thus one less Mass. Next year I will return to Citrus County. It is my love and privilege to serve five counties and I have always thought that on Christmas the bishop should imitate Santa and be everywhere (well, permit me a slight hyperbole).

My final thought is that last year on Christmas eve I was in St. Anthony Hospital. I attended Christmas eve Mass literally wrapped in swaddling clothes (blankets) and while not lying in a manger, I was in a wheelchair at the back of the chapel. Just before Mass my nephrologist had visited my room and said that my kidneys were of great concern and that dialysis was looking more likely. He ordered two tests for right after Mass, neither of which was pleasant. I cried throughout Mass, missing being among my people, angry that I was not getting better, afraid of the immediate future, scared that I would have one of my uncontrollable bowel movements right in the chapel, feeling very alone though surrounded by loving people. By the end of Mass, a certain peace had settled in, resignation had taken the place of resentment, and when being wheeled by the front entrance of the hospital on the way to the elevators, I could see the homeless gathering against the cold night air, ready to bed down near St. Vincent de Paul’s Sampson Center and an inner voice said, “stop complaining”. The tests were negative and I was discharged the day after Christmas. Dear people of God, there is always hope; we abandon it, it never abandons us. Even a bishop can be humbled and learn a lesson from time to time.

Still to come, my Christmas homily posted tomorrow on Christmas Day and some reflections on what it takes today to be a “holy family” on Sunday. Enjoy these final hours of the run-up to the annual memory of when the Word Became Flesh and dwelt amongst us.

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Ahem, Ahaz, Amen

Monday, December 20th, 2010

Three major players in salvation history showed up this week-end in the Liturgy of the Word and I would like to share with you some personal reflections on them and perhaps apply what is learned from them to the lives we try so hard to live. Isaiah, the great prophet of Advent is heard from again (as he will be at the Mass of Midnight when he foretells that “the people who walk in darkness have seen a great light.”) Continuing to spread his message of hope and realistic expectations, he introduces us this week-end to a leader of the tribe of Judah, Ahaz by name. The first reading from the Mass tells us of the Lord’s attempt to get Ahaz to ask for a sign, any sign from the Lord, His God. Ahaz declines the Lord’s generous offer and one might think this was done out of humility, fear, uncertainty, whatever. In fact, Ahaz, does indeed want something – military help in staving off an invasion of the tribes of Israel and Syria. His mind is far from reflecting on what he might ask of God short of more munitions, warriors, etc. So, the offer spurned by Ahaz, is given to him anyway – a baby! Can anyone think of anything or anyone less powerful than a baby? Innocence, yes, but how is one to stave off one’s enemies by the birth of a child, especially one whose name will be “God With Us” or Emmanuel. Judah remains vulnerable but, ahem, Ahaz is told that the sign he so desperately seeks and wants will be a child.

The Gospel introduces us to Joseph, foster-father of the Lord, husband to Mary, chosen by God for a special purpose since he was of the Davidic line. Ahaz is one up on Joseph because at least he says something in Scripture. Search hard as you will, you can not find one word uttered by Joseph. In fact, he appears as a silent player in only two chapters of Matthew’s Gospel and then recedes into the wings of salvation history. Joseph like Ahaz has a real and immediate problem. The woman to whom he is engaged has told him that she is pregnant and it is certainly not his child but she also tells him of how she came to be aware of the life she was carrying – an angel appeared to her. Wait one second, angels to the rescue part two – Joseph is told not to be afraid but to take Mary sooner rather than later as his wife and the angel denominates that the child’s name will be “Emmanuel” or “God With Us”, what the Lord said to Ahaz long ago. Ah, but Joseph too carries a serious vulnerability. His religion and religious faith allows him only two options, neither particularly attractive: divorce Mary, call off the engagement, shame her since she is with child and will soon be showing, or have her identified as an adulteress and stoned to death. That’s what Joseph’s law required of a just man of faith. But he loves her and even though very vulnerable to public opinion, he decides to do as the angel says and he takes her more quickly as his wife. All of this caused by an as yet unborn child.

All of us feel particularly vulnerable at times, worrying about things which are only known to us, worrying about keeping or getting a job, worrying about our homes which are underwater or too highly leveraged, worried about the influence of secular society on our life and that of our children and those we love. Angels don’t appear to us but the Lord does not abandon us, He speaks to us, encourages us, tell us to hope and wait, never to feel abandoned but forever faithful. And what brings all this reality together for us this week? A baby. Amen.

The creche at Pinellas Hope, complete except waiting for the baby

More to come.

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ET ALIA #4

Sunday, December 19th, 2010

Many things on my mind today and the week just ended has been one of the most physically taxing in a long time since the normal Advent and pre-Christmas schedule was interrupted by a trip to Baltimore for a meeting at Catholic Relief Services. So, here goes,

Bishop John Noonan was installed as fifth bishop of Orlando on Thursday at the Shrine Basilica of Mary, Queen of the Universe. A congregation in excess of 2,500 warmly welcomed their new shepherd and in his homily, the new shepherd demonstrated the warmth of his love and fondness for his new diocese. The ceremony was quite lovely and lasted less than 105 minutes which is a miracle in itself. Bishop Noonan did a wonderful thing at the end of Mass when in speaking of Advent as the season of hope, he invited all the seminarians present to come forward as witnesses to hope which the faithful should have for their Church. The bishop has spent almost seventeen of his twenty-seven years in the priesthood working in seminary formation at St. John Vianney College Seminary in Miami, as Dean of Men and then for a good number of years as President-Rector. About eighty seminarians came forth to a standing and prolonged ovation from the people at the Shrine and proudly I could identify about twenty-five as being from our diocese.

Last night saw the annual Christmas dinner for our seminarians and their families (about 190 persons), their pastors and priest friends, and myself. Following Mass in the St. James Chapel we proceeded to Archbishop Favalora Hall where we had dinner and bade farewell with great gratitude to Father Leonard Plazewski who has held the position of Vocation Director of this diocese for twelve and a half years. An earlier post here indicated the transition and who his replacements would be in that very important position within the diocese. The seminarians are fond of Father Len and so the leave-taking was not that easy for him or for many but the Church of St. Petersburg owes him a debt of thanks for his hard work over the years recruiting and assisting seminarians through to priesthood. It is always wonderful to see our men and their families in a relaxed atmosphere and to begin to acknowledge the coming of Christmas with their return to their homes.

Fr. Len Plazewski

Father Len Plazewski saying his good-by and thanks to those present for the annual Christmas dinner for our seminarians and their families. (Photo courtesy of A. Padilla, seminarian)

The Bethany Center is fast becoming my second home as I seem to be spending many nights there lately. Prior to last night, I held the third of my overnights with our priests, this time being the international priests (born and formed in other countries like Poland, India, African nations, the Philippines, Korea, Vietnam, and Central and South America). Our lengthy conversations about their experiences in coming to minister in the United States and in this diocese were both illuminating and helpful to me. They are a great and generous group of men who understand the challenges of language, culture, accent, etc. and who wish nothing more than to be accepted by me, by you, and by their brother priests as no longer a category (e.g. “international priests”) but just as priests of the diocese.

I have had only one angry over-the-top “comment” to a blog entry here which focused on the lack of a “corpus” (figure of Christ) on the large crucifix at Holy Family Catholic Church and made much of the stained glass window of the “Risen Christ” in the rear of the sanctuary. I regret ruining this readers day then and now as I failed to mention that the wood-carved body of Christ did not arrive on time to be installed on the cross and is due in a few weeks and as for the “stained-glass window”, it was in the church since its first dedication and was a sine qua non for the older parishioners in the renovation. When the figure of Jesus arrives and is placed, I will put a picture here in the profound hope that the reader will calm down but I would bet not. He was from Michigan, anyway, not the parish or the diocese.

This evening a number of the staff of our Pastoral Center gathered at Pinellas Hope to prepare, serve and feed the 262 residents on this cold Florida night. Working without a raise for the last two years, this group paid for the food, prepared it, and served it. I lent them my presence and not my culinary expertise of which I have none.

Pastoral Center staff serving one line at Pinellas Hope on December 19, 2010

Father Bob Morris and his mom also helped out

When the new year begins, forty bishops from the East Coast (the Wilmington diocese down to Miami) will gather for their annual retreat from the 3-7 of January at the Bethany Center. Several Cardinals, four archbishops and the rest bishops will spend their first visit to Bethany being led in our prayer and reflection by Bishop Jaime Soto who is the bishop of Sacramento, California. They are all looking forward to coming back to the Diocese of St. Petersburg after having spent a week here this past summer, hoping for warm weather (a coin toss in early January as we locals know), and ready to enjoy our hospitality and the beauty and comfort of Bethany. So I still have some blogs left in me right up to and including the Feast of the Holy Family a week from today but after that – SILENCE until the 7th of January.

That just about empties the file I have in my mind. Enjoy this final week of hope and expectation.

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NEW HOPE FOR PINELLAS HOPE

Tuesday, September 7th, 2010

Today Catholic Charities, the cities of St. Petersburg, Largo, and Pinellas County dedicated Phase II of Pinellas Hope, our amazing outreach to the homeless of our cities and county. Mayor Bill Foster of St. Petersburg joined Karen Seel, chairwoman of the Pinellas County Commission and numerous other city officials from Largo, Clearwater, St. Petersburg and Pinellas County in launching the second and incredibly exciting phase of Pinellas Hope, now in its third year of providing safe haven to the homeless and opportunities for ending their plight and resuming a normal life. There are two wonderful parts of Pinellas Hope II, a brand new community center with permanent showers and toilets, a warming kitchen for catering the meals to the residents, offices for the support staff and a large covered gathering space to be used for eating meals, watching television in the evening and community meetings. The community center will allow Catholic Charities to finally get rid of the three year-old modular bathrooms and showers which are literally crumbling at their base (remember, Pinellas Hope opened for what was originally thought to be six winter months only. Another modular structure has served as the warming kitchen and chow-line since opening and it also was never intended to last three years.

The second exciting part of Pinellas Hope II are 80 individual apartments which will serve as transitional housing for those who qualify and who are about to move out to permanent housing. These one room apartments, air-conditioned with refrigerators, stove, etc. will be rented to those who qualify while they achieve the economic base to move out of the complex and into independent living. To rent an apartment or house almost anywhere requires a first and last month’s rent deposit. A good number of the residents currently at Pinellas Hope have jobs and are earning some income.  If they choose to save it against that day within six months when they will be able to live independently, they will qualify for the apartments. It is a transition living situation. All of this was made possible by grants from the county low-income trust fund and a large multi-million dollar grant from the State of Florida. It is precisely this synergy which has made Pinellas Hope a successful experiment in housing for the homeless.

Everyone present for today’s dedication formalities paid special tribute to Catholic Charity’s Sheila Lopez and her boss and my colleague Frank Murphy for making Pinellas Hope I and II the successful venture they have proven to be. Both have devoted endless hours of their work day and their leisure time to establishing, building and operating this unique facility. Great praise and tribute was also heaped on the faith-based communities which day after day bring hot meals for the evening and other food for breakfast and dinner. Because of these invaluable contributed services, Pinellas Hope costs about $10.00 per day for resident. There are also units for those homeless people who are discharged from area hospitals and need care for their complete rehabilitation. Nursing care services are provided by BayCare, largely through the presence of St. Anthony Hospital.

Pinellas Hope has proven not the proper cup of tea for every homeless person in the area. Requiring a criminal background check prior to admission and a firm pledge to refrain from all use of drugs and alcohol on the premises and off the premises for the former, there are strict hours when the gate is open and a level of accountability that some find so burdensome that they would never think of coming there. Yet for those who accept the ground rules there is a safe environment and counselors and associates ready to help anyone get back on their feet. THE ST. PETERSBURG TIMES ran a lengthy article on Sunday recently about what they found when studying Pinellas Hope I. Are its results 100% certain? No. Are all who are discharged to independent living situations successful and off the streets? No. Is there a way to track the seemingly successful months and years after they depart? No. But still, about 40% leave to take up independent living after a few months at Pinellas Hope and there is indeed hope for those who enter the gates.

Now, we are able to provide essential services in a more human, sanitary, and comfortable environment and help our client residents in their transition from the streets to shelters to independent living. Hope continues to spring eternal. It is impossible for me to convey to the thousands of people, of my faith and many faiths, who have provided the essential services at no or very low cost to the most vulnerable. Pinellas Hope is the Church’s pro-life commitment enfleshed in tents, casitas, apartments and essential services. I hope you join me in being very proud of what has been wrought on the special, holy ground.

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Update: Here’s a video of my tour of the office spaces in the new community center, with more videos to come.

THE GOLDEN KNIGHTS

Tuesday, August 31st, 2010
Knights of Columbus present a check to Bishop Lynch for Pinellas Hope

Paul Koppie, State Treasurer; Dick Haight Charities Coordinator and Terry Cunniff, Membership Coordinator present a check to Bishop Lynch from the Knights of Columbus in support of Pinellas Hope.

My work week began with a pleasant surprise. Three representatives of the Knights of Columbus came to my office this morning to present me with a check for approximately $11,450 which was to be used to feed the homeless at Pinellas Hope. It seems that nationwide the Knights of Columbus challenged their member Councils to prove how much each year they give to the poor and needy. Any local Council which could sufficiently document a certain amount of money contributed credits toward their State Council. The Knights of Columbus nationally had made available $1,000,000 which would be awarded to state councils based on their eligibility and combined credits. The money would then be divided among the dioceses of the state based on population and the bishop given a check to use for feeding the poor. The portion allotted to the Diocese of St. Petersburg was the $11,450 presented to me today. And the good news is that national is again challenging their local council affiliates to do the same for at least another year and next year there will be another distribution.

What amazed me about this particular offer was that the national Knights of Columbus was not asking the local councils to adopt a project but merely to reflect and verify what they were currently doing. I think the incentive for gaining credits will encourage my brother Knights to expand their outreach but for the moment, this literally “out-of-the-sky” gift is gratefully received.

The K of C do many good things for our Church and in our community and remains probably the largest, strongest and most faithful Catholic men’s organizati0n in the nation and perhaps even the world. I salute them not just for this latest gesture of good will but for their commitment to the protection of life, their support for our seminarians and future priests, and their love of their Church. I hope young men will continue to consider joining this fraternal organization which does a world of good. Thanks, Knights.

+RNL

FRIENDS GOES PHOTO – THANKSGIVING DINNER AT PINELLAS HOPE

Saturday, December 5th, 2009

I was able to stop by Pinellas Hope on Thanksgiving Day at 1 o’clock when Thanksgiving Dinner with all the trimmings was served to about 230 residents of the homeless shelter. The dinner (food) was a gift of two individuals who wish to remain anonymous but it was served at tables duly decorated for the day by about 150 volunteers who just showed up to serve the meal. Many were families with small children, all of whom carried plates of turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes, vegetables and rolls to the residents at tables in the dining tent. Here are some of the pictures which I took but please be aware that we do not take pictures of the residents.

Volunteers preparing to serve Thanksgiving meal to residents of Pinellas Hope

Volunteers preparing to serve Thanksgiving meal to residents of Pinellas Hope

Volunteer father and son delivering full plates of turkey and trimming from the buffet line to the dining tent

Volunteer father and son delivering full plates of turkey and trimming from the buffet line to the dining tent

Sheila Lopez, "housemothet/Godmother/denmother" of Pinellas Hope with some of the 125 volunteers who showed up to help serve Thanksgiving dinner to 230 residents

Sheila Lopez, "housemothet/Godmother/denmother" of Pinellas Hope with some of the 125 volunteers who showed up to help serve Thanksgiving dinner to 230 residents

Dining tent has been decorated for "festive" Thanksgiving dinner by Volunteers who arrived early in the morning to "dress up" the area

Dining tent has been decorated for "festive" Thanksgiving dinner by Volunteers who arrived early in the morning to "dress up" the area

Dinner in the "diner"

Dinner in the "diner"

From individual tents to single occupancy "Casitas" made possible by gifts from generous benefactors, Each casita costs $1000 to build and place

From individual tents to single occupancy "Casitas" made possible by gifts from generous benefactors, Each casita costs $1000 to build and place

Pinellas Hope II new buildings now under construction - transitional low cost housing includes a kitchenette, bath with shower and living/sleeping area. The old and the new

Pinellas Hope II new buildings now under construction - transitional low cost housing includes a kitchenette, bath with shower and living/sleeping area. The old and the new