WIMAUMA — With the help of a $1 million grant, a Wimauma-based citizens council hopes to make a long-term impact on the lives of Wimauma residents.
The Wimauma Council for the Common Good Initiative announced plans to funnel six-digit funds into programs that will provide more job opportunities for residents and after-school programs for youths in the south Hillsborough County community where 40 percent of its 6,000 residents live below the poverty line.
The Wimauma initiative was launched last year by the Catholic-based nonprofit, Allegany Franciscan Ministries, which provides grants and other forms of aid to three regions in Florida formerly served by the Franciscan Sisters of Allegany hospitals: Tampa Bay; Miami-Dade County and Palm Beach; Martin and St. Lucie counties.
Since 1998, Allegany Franciscan Ministries, headquartered in Palm Harbor, has invested nearly $80 million in more than 1,400 organizations that serve those three areas, according to ministries spokeswoman Lise Landry Alives.
"We are a grant-making organization established as a result of the consolidation of the Franciscan hospitals in 1998," said Alives. "Our goal is to really make a difference in the lives of marginalized folks, to ensure that we change people's lives for the better."
To make the biggest impact possible, Cheri Wright-Jones, Allegany Franciscan Ministries' regional vice president, said her organization decided to focus on one especially needy community in each of the regions.
Wimauma was a natural choice for the Tampa Bay region, she said, noting that 11 percent of Wimauma's residents are unemployed and 29 percent have no health insurance.
To ensure the funds are spent where they are most needed, the organization formed a volunteer council of community leaders to oversee the initiative and hosted a town hall meeting in Wimauma last fall, asking 120 residents and nonprofit workers where the initiative should focus efforts.
Among those tapped to serve on the council was Moffitt Cancer Center outreach manager Venessa Rivera Colon. For the past eight years, Colon has overseen Moffitt's efforts to provide free breast cancer screenings for uninsured women in Wimauma.
"Our role is to make sure we're accountable to the community as far as how the money is spent," Colon said. "The town hall meeting gave us a chance to really assess the needs of the community based on comments from residents and social service agencies. There is a great need in this community, and our intent is to do right by the residents."
She said the two areas of greatest need, according to residents and social service providers, were economic opportunities and after-school programs.
With that in mind, the council awarded $157,000 to the nonprofit Enterprising Latinas organization for economic development and job training programs and $100,000 to the Beth-El Farmworker Ministry Inc. for its Step Up for Success program aimed at giving families access to health care and helping them achieve financial stability.
The Rev. Kathy Dain, Beth-El Farmworker Ministry's executive director, said Step Up for Success is a program her organization has been looking forward to launching.
"I'm really excited," she said. "This gives us the ability to bring a community resource coordinator on board who will engage with the Wimauma community and assist those who've wanted to take the next step to financial security but haven't had the resources. We will help provide the tools they need to be successful in accomplishing their goals."
Also receiving a portion of the $1 million was Issue Media Group/83 Degrees Media.
"They'll be using the funds to embed journalists in the community and help train residents to produce stories about the good things happening in Wimauma," Wright-Jones said.
"What's unique about the initiative is we're not limited to working with existing nonprofits," Wright-Jones said. "We're also trying to identify ways to address different priorities with nontraditional grants. We're eager to explore options. For us, right now, the sky is the limit."
Allegany Franciscan Ministries will provide periodic reports on the progress of the initiative on its website, afmfl.org.
Contact D'Ann Lawrence White at [email protected]