Setting an example of housing hope for families | Commentary

todaySeptember 23, 2022 17


Rising rent. Food insecurity. Underfunded education. A low-wage economy. As any Central Floridian can tell you, our region’s challenges have no simple solution, and helping families overcome them isn’t a one-step process: It’s a community-wide effort that can take years — or even decades — to achieve results.

Just ask “Diana,” a young woman who found herself displaced and struggling to care for her two children after she escaped a troubled marriage in the early 2000s. As she looked for a way to make ends meet without steady work or financial resources, local nonprofits referred her to an affordable housing complex.

There, she found more than a safe place to stay. She also found supportive neighbors and other resources that helped her save money, build her credit, and eventually launch her own janitorial business. Within a few years, the housing complex she’d lived in became one of her clients, and she and her children were able to move into a single-family home together.

Diana’s story isn’t unique. It’s one of many successes made possible by Hope Center West, a community development Initiative designed to heal the systemic challenges facing Orlando’s historic Washington Shores neighborhood.

Originally launched in 2000, Hope Center West began as an outreach ministry of The Hope Church. Today, it includes almost 50 acres of independent businesses, recreational centers, affordable apartments, single-family housing, sports facilities, and even a K-8 school.

And as someone who’s been at the helm of that effort since the beginning, I’ve seen firsthand the impact made possible when people work together for positive change.

The City of Orlando came alongside us in our early investments in affordable housing and during the 2008 recession and the years that followed, we renovated homes for displaced families at reduced rent. We brought a Walmart Neighborhood Market into an area that was once a food desert, helping families access healthy and affordable food close to home. And during the COVID-19 pandemic, we partnered with local businesses and restaurants to provide meals to families in need. We distributed tons of food and PPE with other ministries of the community.

We’ve also invested in the future by providing better education for local kids in partnership with Legends Academy, the local K-8 charter school and through our Frontline Outreach nonprofit program.

I say this not to praise our own work, but to illustrate a key point: What Hope Center West has accomplished in Washington Shores is not a one-off success. It’s an example of what’s possible through the unified efforts of a community that cares about its people, and it’s the natural result of investing in the health of people, which will lead to the creation of stable and thriving families.

I am a firm believer that some problems, traumas and hurts take time to heal, and in many cases, won’t happen overnight. It takes time and patience to invest fully in an area and wait for your efforts to bear fruit. But at Hope Center West, we’ve spent 22 years honing our methods and our philosophy to create permanent, positive change — not only for Diana and others like her, but for their children and grandchildren, as well.

Bishop Wiggins is the senior pastor at The Hope Church and founder of Hope Center West. He serves on several boards, such as Lift Orlando, The First Academy and The International Bishops’ Conference.

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