In northern rural Florida, specifically Hamilton County, 60% of the residents live at or below the poverty line. These residents consist of lifelong natives and many transplant retirees, veterans, and still more who are physically challenged and unable to get out on their own.
Nearly all struggle daily to meet their most basic needs:
This is always a top priority.
As a rural region, many depend on gardens and their produce is routinely shared between family members and neighbors.
Heat in winter, cooling in the summer
Most cannot afford increased seasonal utility bills, so in the summer they struggle with heat and humidity, and in the winter, they struggle with the cold. To fight the cold, many scrap for slash debris from the timber industry, mostly pine branches, to provide fire wood for stoves or fireplaces. Chimney and house fires are common.
For the region’s youth, there are no preschool programs, no before or after school programs, no skills or technical training programs, no mentoring or internships, and no summer programs. As a result, graduation rates hover around 50%, with math proficiency at 20% and reading proficiency at 23%. This foreshadows the steep climb most students face when pursuing post-secondary education and training.
Our goal of $50,000 would fund:
• Setting up a permanent stand-alone 501(c)(3) organization
• Replacing log handling/cutting equipment we have used for a decade to create firewood for residents.
• Providing after-school and summer STEM enrichment programs for our K-12 children.
• Providing mentoring and paid internships for teenagers.
• Providing meal programs for youth and elderly shut-ins.
The Project HOPE, Inc. has been incorporated as a Not for Profit Corporation in the State of Florida, we have obtained our EIN, set up a bank account, and received our determination letter from the IRS notifying us of our 501(c)(3) status.
Learn more at TheProjectHope.org
written by Dr. Helen B. Miller, Mayor of White Springs, FL
About 12 years ago shortly after retiring to Florida, a large oak tree came down in our backyard. As my husband went about cutting the tree into small pieces, he placed them in a stack beside the road where trash and debris were routinely picked up. Within a few minutes, a very old gentleman stopped and asked if he could have some of the wood for his stove. Over the next few days, as my husband placed more wood by the roadside, more people – most elderly, including one widow who was unable to cut, split, or use large chunks – asked for the wood. We learned that this wood was to become their primary source of heat during the cold, often freezing, winter weather. With these insights, we partnered with the Town, acquired a log splitter, recruited and organized our neighbors as volunteers. Using the Town’s old waste treatment plant as a base, we began salvaging downed hardwood trees, cutting, splitting and giving away the fire wood to anyone who needed it. Chimney and house fires became a thing of the past. (We cautioned everyone to use only hardwood in their homes, and to avoid using pine.)
When the volunteers were working, I made coffee and refreshments. During their breaks, I learned about other needs, including the lack of resources for children of all ages, and the resulting delinquency problems, the nutrition shortfalls for elderly shut-ins and others, the job roadblocks and earning challenges for those who had failed to graduate from high school, and much more. After much thought and discussion with my husband, in late 2009 I organized a working lunch of community officials, leaders and influencers to discuss these and other needs. This meeting resulted in the HOPE Program, a loosely organized group of volunteers who would partner, when appropriate, with state agencies, municipalities, churches, charities, and businesses, to address specific challenges.
By early 2010, we were well on the way of organizing a summer program for kids. We focused on a Monday through Friday, 7:30 am to 5:30 pm, 8-week program. Nearby, the Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park donated the use of a facility with a kitchen as well as other park assets, including the park rangers who included the kids in their Jr. Ranger Program. The county school district provided food service from a state agency. A retired Army cook worked with the kids to make additional treats and birthday cakes. We had extremely limited financial resources, but over 100 volunteers – many living below the poverty line – stepped forward to take the kids fishing, teach them gardening, sewing, yoga, and art. In anticipation of the summer program, one man planted and grew watermelons, which he harvested weekly for the kids. For the 4th of July, an Army National Guard Medical Unit flew in with their chopper to engage the kids, only days before deploying to Afghanistan. In the summers that followed, we replicated the program, each year a little different, based on the amount of money we could raise and the organizations that we engaged as partners.
Early on, it became my practice to never say no to anyone with a new idea or offer of assistance. If someone offered to help, I found a way to make it happen.
As the HOPE Program activities and the number of public and private partners grew, so did the complexity and challenge of managing the widely varying organizational rules, requirements, procedures, costs and politics, often in conflict with one another. The time has arrived when it’s a necessity to formalize a dedicated, incorporated permanent legal entity for the HOPE Program. As a legal entity, the newly incorporated “The Project HOPE, Inc.” will continue to partner with municipal, county, school district, state agency, church, charity, and private sector businesses, but with the ability to process its own funds and use its own resources.
From that one backyard tree that first winter, our activities known as the HOPE Fuel Bank grew to recovering hundreds of fallen hardwood trees, with dozens of volunteers, cutting, splitting, and delivering between 160 and 200 tons of fire wood each year. In fact, the Fuel Bank has been so successful that Florida’s Department of Elder Affairs discovered the program, recognized its merits, and asked that it be expanded throughout Hamilton, Suwannee and Columbia Counties. The HOPE Fuel Bank is now partnering with Hamilton County’s CDBG housing program which builds energy-efficient homes for low-income residents. This year’s CDBG award list contained two (2) HOPE Fuel Bank clients who needed assistance with site preparation prior to construction – they needed large trees removed so construction could take place. Fuel Bank volunteers used their own equipment to take down the trees, remove debris, and cut/split the remaining hardwood for curing prior to the next winter.
HOPE has also delivered Summer and After School programs, Mentoring and Career Training, as well as fulfilled daily nutrition needs with thousands of breakfasts, lunches and snacks for hundreds and hundreds of kids. Juvenile delinquency and crime have been drastically reduced, nearly eliminated. Also, some of the challenges faced by elderly shut-ins, veterans, and physically challenged have been addressed. Our HOPE approach has been studied, documented, and commended by the Florida Department of Education, the University of Florida, and the Florida Department of Elder Affairs for its innovation and effectiveness.
- Shaun Graham
- Suwannee Bicycle Association
Fundraising team: HOPE Team (2)
#1 fundraising platform
More people start fundraisers on GoFundMe than on any other platform. Learn more
In the rare case something isn’t right, we will work with you to determine if misuse occurred. Learn more
Expert advice, 24/7
Contact us with your questions and we’ll answer, day or night. Learn more