But he’s already made it plain how to live, what to do, what GOD is looking for in men and women. It’s quite simple: Do what is fair and just to your neighbor, be compassionate and loyal in your love, and don’t take yourself too seriously—take God seriously. [Micah 6:2 The Message]
When I was pastoring a church in the Orlando area, I found myself being exasperated by what I was seeing around me. There were so many in the area that needed help desperately but were trapped. At the church, we did the best we could to help individuals one at a time. But the issues they were facing were much larger than just them. We had individuals within our church community and those that showed up at our door who were struggling with mental illnesses. They were quite aware of it, but when I would try to find some help for them, there were weeklong waiting lists at mental health service providers.
There were those who came to me who were struggling financially. They had low paying jobs, much of them in the theme park industry, who could not find an affordable place to live. They moved from one extended stay hotel to another. When they did find an apartment, most of their paycheck went toward rent. They had to forego getting needed medicine and sometimes food so they could pay the rent. There was an abundance of new housing being built in the area, but they were all high-priced condominiums for the affluent. I began to wish that faith communities could band together to address these institutional issues.
Then we moved to the Tampa area, and I found such an organization existed here. HOPE (Hillsborough Organization for Progress and Equality) is a grassroots, community organization consisting of 23 multicultural and interfaith member congregations throughout Hillsborough County. St. Andrew’s UMC is one of these participating congregations. HOPE’s mission is to work for justice, fairness, and the dignity of people by engaging and training community members to effectively act together to achieve real and effective solutions to serious community problems.
The issues they have been addressing in recent years are affordable housing in the community, access to mental health and addiction services, care for creation, and criminal justice reform. And what I found very exhilarating is that they don't just talk about the issues, ad nauseum, but by partnering with political leaders, community leaders, and major influencers in our community, they are getting things done!
Here is a short list of their victories in the past few years:
· All Tampa Police are now trained in Crisis Intervention to help divert those with mental illnesses to services rather than jail.
· County Commissioners established the HOPE Affordable Housing Fund, which puts $10 million annually toward the construction of affordable housing.
· The Youth Civil Citation program has been greatly expanded so fewer youth get arrested for non-violent 1st-time misdemeanors.
· The Hillsborough County School District received $921,000 in state funding to implement a proven reading program for the 10 lowest performing elementary schools.
· Hillsborough County established a program that assisted over 3,000 homeless people in getting birth certificates and IDs so they can obtain shelter and employment.
We would like to invite you to a special HOPE event. The annual HOPE Nehemiah Action is Monday, March 28 from 7-8:30 p.m. at Nativity Catholic church in Brandon. You can also attend virtually via Zoom. There will be political decision-makers at this meeting, so your presence will make a difference in helping their initiatives move forward. HOPE’s goal is to have 2,000 people present in-person or online, and our goal is to have 100 from our church be a part of this important event. This is also a great opportunity to hear more about HOPE and the progress they are making. If you are interested, you can register by clicking HERE. For more information, contact Pastor Gary Rideout at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“There is HOPE for justice in Hillsborough County.”