Waiting For Christmas at Good Shepherd Ministries of SWFL
Waiting for Christmas-Good Shepherd Ministries of SWFl, Inc.
Rev. Dr. Judy Lee
Our children look to us with hope and anticipation as they hope for the kind of Christmas they see on television, with big meals, joy and laughter, lots of desserts, and lots of coveted presents. Most do not know that little of this will come their way unless Santa gets a little help this year. They know that Santa will visit our church for Christmas and they can hardly wait for that day. Most do not know that their families often cannot pay the rent or utilities unaided, let alone provide this kind of Christmas experience. Most do not know that Good Shepherd Ministries helps their families hold on to housing and tend to the needs of their children for a secure home as well as love, caring and the things they need. Most do not know that the need we face is above our ability to meet it, and so they hope. They still hope for a good Christmas for all, and we do as well.
As we prepare again to meet the needs of the Good Shepherd Community for the Christmas season it is good to look back and see what we have accomplished since last Spring. This has been a time of maintaining and consolidating our goals of assisting individuals and families to attain and maintain housing and educational and vocational success for our youth. We have also had a good deal of illness among our community members necessitating even greater assistance and a renewed attention to health.
Fortunately we continue to have a strong and varied volunteer core and some changes, positive and negative in our supportive help. The saddest and most difficult change to accept was the loss of the wonderful Doctor who saw our medically uncovered people pro bono, Teresa L. Sievers, who was killed in her home by “friends” of the family on June 28, 2015. We missed our July meeting of the Tuesday group as we officiated at her funeral on that date. She and her two little girls were regular attendants at our church in 2012 and 2013 and continued to work with us until her tragic death. Many of our Good Shepherd members attended that event and we continue to mourn her loss. We have not located another Doctor who is willing to assist us as she did as of yet. She gave her service selflessly and often on brief notice and with the greatest respect for her patients too poor to pay a “regular” Doctor. We continue to pray for her and her family. Below Dr. Teresa Sievers and her girls at Good Shepherd.
We are fortunate to have a new Good Shepherd member, Patricia Byrne, who is a RN and Master’s level pastoral counselor volunteer to assist with visits and follow up with the sick served by Good Shepherd. She has worked intensively with four of our people during this period. Our Pearl Cudjoe also assists with hospital visits. Below is Patricia Byrne with Brenda Cummings who has epilepsy and breathing issues on her Baptism Day.
We have been invited once again by Barbara Roth to submit a grant proposal to Our Father’s Table Foundation. In 2014 Hank Tessandori shared our work with Barbara Roth who is an OFT Board Member and Barbara is supportive of our work. One can only apply by invitation. Our last grant from OFT was in the summer of 2014. It was for the goals of assisting with housing and youth enrichment. This application is also for those continued goals with the additional focus of health education and access to health care. Our experiences with the serious illnesses of our members including family wage earners, has illuminated the need for greater focus on health, both health education and access to resources. The problems affect all ages and include managing diabetes, high blood pressure, cancer, obesity, heart attacks, sickle cell, migraines, Gyn and GI problems, HIV+, epilepsy and issues related to addictions and mental illness as well.
Hot Meals and Food and Clothing Programs
Healthy nutrition has always been one of our priority services. From April 22 to December 1st, 2015 we have served 480 hot and healthy meals on Sundays and 107 on Tuesdays for a total of 587 meals. This does not count the additional plates taken home for themselves or others or second helpings. We are blessed to have Ellen and Jack McNally of CTA and Country Creek Community serve and prepare meals for our Tuesday gatherings. Our Board member, Gini Beecroft and her Breckinridge Community also prepare and serve meals on either Tuesdays or Sundays. The Breckinridge Community also gives monetary donations for special needs and Christmas gift cards for teens and families. Lisa Munklewitz and Sally and Rob Patterson and Monica Piccirillo of Lamb Of God Church continue to help us on Sundays. Our Board member Judy Alves and Pearl Cudjoe also cook and serve on many Sundays.
The McNallys with Pastor JudyB and Nate, and Pearl Cudjoe and Lisa Munklewitz serving our meals
The LOG Thrift Store helps us with reduced prices on clothing and when we obtain furniture and household goods to move someone into housing for the first time. They also send monthly monetary donations. St. Columbkille Thrift Store has also been helpful with donated furniture. Many private donors also give clothing and goods regularly.
Stipends And Bills
We have four people now housed who have no income as they await Disability hearings. We give each one a $20 stipend a month, base, and more as needed. Some of our housed people on SSI have market rate rent so high that they cannot afford both rent and utilities. In one case a private donor gives $100 per month so one woman can maintain her housing. We also assist her with special needs. In another case, illness has caused unemployment and inability to pay rent and utilities and we are supplementing rent and utilities and car insurance as a car is needed for reemployment. This is a minimum of $800 per month but we are keeping a serially homeless family of seven housed. The primary wage earner is now covered medically by Medicaid and hopefully appropriate medical treatment will restore health and thereby employment. We acted similarly with another family of eight. But we simply can’t keep up this pace especially during this holiday season.
We also assisted three other families with utilities and rent to avoid evictions. We paid Security deposits for two families and program fees for two women in Residential treatment for alcoholism. We also assisted several people with applications for HUD assisted housing.
We helped several people and families gain access to Medicaid and Medical Services. One dear woman whom we have known for eight years and who has never asked for anything was recently diagnosed with breast cancer and had a single mastectomy. We were able to help her with dealing with this devastating diagnosis and helped her to access health services and additional services like Meals on Wheels and transportation as she goes through chemotherapy. We also paid for her family living in another state to come to her aid as she lives alone and provided for a microwave oven and special food extractor as well as more comfortable furniture for her apartment. We make many hospital visits and are thankful for Pat and Pearl who assist in this as many cannot negotiate the medical system unaided.
In other situations we worked with Hospice to get appropriate care for a formerly homeless woman who could not cope with her diagnoses and placement and we assist another with her relationships with family. We have also done a good deal of education on various illnesses with several of our people and assisted with access to care. We have had sessions with our youth as well on illnesses that affect them and their families.
Ruby, in Hospice care, was especially worried about her cat of seven years and pleased that her cat was placed in a good home with our assistance.
Joshua Hospitality House
The family of seven living in Joshua Hospitality house for five months moved out on in early May 2015. We assisted them fully in getting established in market housing. Sadly their rent is very high and there has been much serious illness in this family. On May 6th a man who regularly attends Good Shepherd and was living in a shed with his dog for several years moved in and is now acting as caretaker. From 7/25-8/3 a married couple with two dogs who were living in their car moved into one of the rooms for a week. We also had paid for a night in the Quality Inn for them. Unfortunately they moved out with our TV and digital box and several household items. This brings the number of people served by Joshua House to 38 individuals, and several pets. We thank Hank Tessandori for patching up breakage and damage after stays. Despite some difficulties we are happy to provide this housing as a bridge to permanent housing.
Youth Success and Enrichment
During this period we served 33 young people ranging in age from 4-young adult. All of our young people except one achieved promotion and grades from average to excellent. This lack of academic achievement has to do with her learning limitations and we have hooked her up to the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation for further testing and vocational help. In the meantime she is working at a Super Store and enjoying this. Another of our young men has a Security job at this store and is happy with the higher pay and status this job provides. Another is holding down three jobs. Our college student is in her Sophomore year and although challenged by her own illnesses and family situation including the need to work she is still in school and working on her courses. We have given her much counseling and also financial support for all of her text books and medical needs. A donor recently gave an amount that paid for an eye exam and new glasses for her. We also have another young woman graduating from SWFL College this year. For our middle school teens and elementary students we provide an oasis where learning is valued and rewarded and problems are worked on together. Almost all live in families where there are significant problems and we try to assist the whole family. We continue to reward academic progress and homework completion with small sums.
This summer we were able to take five trips to local educational and nature experiences and attractions. Twenty young people from 6-23 attended these functions along with our youth leader who just graduated from Brown University, Efe Cudjoe,two parents and the two Pastors. We were blessed to have Efe’s help for six weeks before she took a research job in another state and applies to Medical School. This was a great way to get to know one of our new families with four children and also two other children as well as the regular youth members. As one teenager wrote after a Busch Gardens trip: “I loved this trip and I want to say thank you. I loved the animal show best because it is amazing knowing that they can remember so much and not mess up. I had a great time, and it was even better because I got to spend time with great people, my church family.” And when the teens attended a movie of their choice “Max” one wrote: “….This is a great story and showed me so much about love and loyalty and what a hero really is. A Hero doesn’t always go with the popular choice, he does what is right whether it is the popular thing or not.” A mother who accompanied her five year old on a trip said “ she had a ball, but so did I. I didn’t realize how important it is to play with my child and enjoy something together. I’m glad she is making new friends and I am too.”
Efe and the Cudjoe Family at her Brown Graduation
We are looking forward to doing more enrichment activities with our kids if we get The Father’s Table grant as there is no doubt that new worlds are opened when we do special activities together.
Our Donors and Volunteers
We are so thankful for our donors and volunteers for making all of this possible. We have several who give monthly and those who give at special times of the year. We are so moved by their generosity and support. Our volunteers have mostly been with us for years-indeed, more like an extended family. We are so thankful for all they give of themselves and their resources. In this Christmas season we have a few wonderful elves to help us, like our Board member, Stella Odie-Ali who is wrapping endless gifts.
We continue to need a youth leader and Sunday school teachers. These are special skills and persons with experience with our diverse population are needed. Some gift cards have been pledged but in view of the need we need Christmas gift cards for families as well as teens. The Orioles Lodge in Fort Myers has again volunteered to give gifts for our little children as they have done in past years. We are so thankful for their continued interest. They have 28 children on their list and that is a lot for them. We are also hoping for donors who will provide monthly stipends to people who are in housing that far exceeds their abilities to pay and make ends meet.
Website and Brochure
Thanks to Jack Ross our website: www.goodshepmin.org is up and running. It is a terrific website and we encourage you to visit it and also suggest materials for it. And thanks to Gini Beecroft and her sister Judith Strom of Minnesota we now have an excellent brochure that can be used for informative and donation purposes.
Pastor Judy Beaumont and I want to thank our Board members, donors and volunteers and all who continue to make Good Shepherd a successful endeavor, especially the members of our Sunday and Tuesday communities. We thank all for their prayers and blessings and hope that you will remember our families as Christmas draws near. For how to send donations to our tax exempt organization please go to http://www.goodshepmin.org
In Service and gratitude,
Rev. Dr. Judy Lee,RCWP
Pastor Judy Lee-Co-Pastor and Clinical Director of Good Shepherd Ministries of SW FL, Inc.
And Rev. Judy Beaumont, RCWP, Co-Pastor and Administrator