Stories of Impact
Stewarding Shared Resources
While the Glades is a rural economically challenged community, it is rich with proud and diverse people who have a passion for supporting their community and one another. Faith is especially strong here, with trusted pastors and strong formal and informal community leaders creating pathways for Healthier Glades to bring together the human, social and spiritual capital of its people. Veree Jenkins, CEO and founder of the Federation of Families of Florida and a member of Healthier Glades’ steering committee, shares how the initiative opened the door for residents to share their voices and talents to launch a new faith-based program for helping their neighbors most in need.
“I’ll be honest. Even though the Federation was involved the first time Palm Health Foundation came to us with Healthier Glades, we were not as attached. There is very strong leadership in our community, which made it a challenge to implement a resident-driven initiative at first. Sometimes it’s just not the right time. But when the foundation came back to give us another shot, it was just the right time.
Our organization had just completed Parents on a Mission, which is a parent advocacy curriculum created by two parents with the support of the University of South Florida’s Louis de la Parte Florida Mental Health Institute. The 12-week course helps parents of children with mental health issues to have a more assertive voice and advocate for themselves and their children. The teens in the course also benefitted from learning how to speak with confidence. When the foundation started inviting residents to Healthier Glades meetings to determine what the initiative’s course would be, we offered it as a challenge to participants enrolled in the Parents on a Mission training. We said to them, ‘This organization is interested in your voice as a resident. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to see how powerful your voices are?’ It was a great idea at a great time to let people see how advocacy really works.
People rose to the challenge. The conversation in the community meetings resonated with the individuals we were training because they had lived experience in the foundation’s three health priorities—behavioral health, family caregiving and diabetes. Some could relate to all three.
The community conversations became real for me when people started talking about their personal challenges. Our youth talked about being fearful and their problems in school. There had been a shooting around the time of one of the meetings. One of the youths shared that his brother had been shot at—the bullets just missing him. That conversation led to one of the sheriffs talking about how she felt that she didn’t have a way to help people. Her only option was to lock them up knowing that many just needed a chance and support.
I could tell by the openness of the conversation that the people in the meeting saw that maybe they could have the opportunity to be change agents. And then a resident and leader in our faith community—Pastor Willie Lawrence—mentioned Open Table. I was dancing inside.
Our organization had been introduced to Open Table through our work in Children’s Mental Health System of Care as a promising practice. It’s a national faith-based model that brings together a ‘table’ of approximately ten individuals to invest their time, personal connections, and skills in the life of an individual or family on a weekly basis over the long term, becoming a team of advocates to move them out of poverty, permanently. We had begun exploring the idea within our System of Care Community Partners Group and I had the opportunity to send two peer leaders to a conference where Jon Katov, the founder of Open Table, and John Vandenberg, a consulting board member for the organization, were speaking about Open Table. One of the peer leaders was life-long resident, Pastor Lawrence, who raised Open Table as an option at the meeting.
The enthusiasm and energy around the room for Open Table grew. To hear a resident raise the concept during the Healthier Glades meeting was the shift we were looking for. Everybody in the room began to say this makes sense. People got involved. From that point on, it turned out to be not just a Palm Health Foundation or Healthier Glades-driven project, but something the residents said they really wanted to do. That’s what we all hoped would happen, and it happened.
I became like staff to the residents. But that was OK. That’s why I was supposed to be there. To give them the support where they needed it. That’s the role of Healthier Together. Let the residents lead and provide the staff to support the process until they have the capacity to do it themselves.
What resonated about Open Table is that it’s a faith-based model. The Glades is steeped in faith. When you have the pastors buying into it, and the residents saying this is what we want, it clicked. And it was a model where people could speak for themselves and still have leadership in directing their own lives.
Open Table happened at just the right time. In that first meeting, a fire was lit. It was the right environment for the birth of Open Table. Palm Health Foundation came in with tools and structure to enhance what was already there, but maybe hadn’t been identified or lifted to the surface yet. That’s what Healthier Glades did.”
Sustainable impact: Faith, government, business, nonprofit, healthcare and community leaders have embraced Open Table in the Glades, which was the first Open Table model launched in a rural, low income Florida community. Joe Kyles, Mayor of the City of South Bay, became the first U.S. mayor to sponsor an Open Table in his community to primarily address the plight of young black males and their families. Mayor Wilson, City of Belle Glade Mayor Wilson and City of Pahokee Mayor Babbs have joined as well. Thirteen youth have been helped by the tables to-date through the four churches that have joined the initiative. Recruitment for new table members is ongoing to meet the needs of the Glades residents in need of community support.