Jason Sowell sleeps well knowing he's fulfilling God's will. In his dream world, Jason Sowell lives on a southern California beach as a pro surfer. In reality, he conquers waves of poverty and despair, creating crests of hope for those who need it most. The 38-year-old Tampa resident seldom surfs, far removed from the beach bum life.
Sowell's résumé reflects his commitment: missionary, ordained minister and church leader, published writer, public speaker, nonprofit entrepreneur and founder/president of Current Initiatives, a Tampa-based nonprofit that lessens the burdens of the low income through three distinct programs.
Affordable Christmas, an annual event held Saturday (Dec. 10) at Crossover Church in Tampa, allowed parents to purchase gifts for their children at a fraction of their suggested retail costs.
The Laundry Project periodically provides the soap, softeners and quarters needed to wash and dry clothing and linens at laundromats; and Hope for Homes offers free home repairs and renovations for working class homeowners.
Sowell's work has been featured on NBC Nightly News and in People, and his initiatives earned him a Tampa Bay Lightning Community Hero award.
He recently sat down with Tampa Bay Times correspondent Joyce McKenzie to talk about his childhood and educational path, and what prompted him to want to help people less fortunate than himself.
Tell me a little bit about your background – where you were raised and in what kind of household.
I was born and raised in Panama City and I've been a Florida resident my whole life. I had a great family, consisting of my parents and three siblings. My mom was a nurse and my dad was a police officer. We had a very balanced and encouraging household, common in so many ways and quite different in some ways than most families. Oftentimes holidays were spent more with grandparents or we would have Christmas the day before because either my mom or dad had to work because of their professions. I think it made me more sensitive to family dynamics and the pressure that many families feel at the holidays.
What inspired you to attend a Christian college and earn a degree in church ministries?
I grew up in church and at a very young age I recognized the importance for every human being to understand and pursue spirituality, which is usually the most complicated and confusing part of life. I had great mentors and pastors who modeled a balanced, genuine, sometimes messy practice of religion/Christianity. And my parents and grandparents were always great at modeling that balance of life. With my parents working careers that were focused on helping other people through medicine and safety protection I think I recognized early in life that I wanted to do something with my life that would help people. I figured what better way to do that than to focus on the most important part of life, spirituality and an understanding of God.
Why did you decide to leave your church positions and take your ministry to the "streets?"
I was in between ministry positions and feeling restless and unsure about my future because of some circumstances out of my control. I asked myself if I could create my own career what would I do. Out of that was born the idea of educating and mobilizing people right here in our cities, our front yard so to speak, about the overlooked needs that we pass by every day. I looked to the example of Jesus Christ, who more often than not, healed a physical ailment, fed the hungry, gave dignity and hope to the unlovely and overlooked of society and then spoke to their spiritual need. I felt like that's the part of the gospels and the Jesus story that we missed so often in the church world.
What was it that motivated you to specifically found Current Initiatives and start each of the projects?
Current Initiatives was founded in 2008 on that idea of giving dignity and empowerment to people in need, just like Jesus did. It broke my heart to learn that so many children go to school with dirty clothes and sleep in dirty blankets more often than not, and that many parents go to work or job interviews with dirty clothes feeling undignified and sometimes hopeless. We created the Laundry Project to help address that need. We started the project in Sulphur Springs and we've grown to 33 locations in over 20 cities and helped more than 8,700 families wash over 82,000 loads of laundry.
How do you solicit donors and volunteers?
We get donors and volunteers from all walks of life, honestly. All ages, races, creeds, belief systems. I'm amazed sometimes at the incredibly diverse group of people that help make all of these initiatives happen.
What personal rewards do you reap from the work you do and the many people you've helped?
The personal reward I think I reap the most is the fulfillment of purpose I get from helping others. I sleep well with satisfaction that I have a reason to wake up in the morning and that there is hope in this world. I get to see that hope every time I'm in a laundromat and a parent smiles or sheds a tear with joy from the simple act of a stranger putting quarters into a machine; or when a family hugs a contractor they've never met who renovated their home for them, or when a parent walks out to their car with a new bicycle for their child they couldn't afford before and helps relieve a burden that was overwhelming to them.