HOLIDAY — In January 2009, a group of 40 parishioners at a dying Methodist church in a poor neighborhood decided to do something remarkable:
The parishioners voted to close the church's doors and reopen as a charity focused on helping the poor and homeless of Pasco County.
In the short time since then, Joining Hands Community Mission Inc. has created such a good reputation that Metropolitan Ministries — the vast charitable network based in Tampa — decided it wanted to be part of it. On July 1, the two nonprofit organizations merged to become one agency.
Though Metropolitan Ministries has many partner agencies, this is the organization's first official merger since it was founded 39 years ago, said Tim Marks, president of Metropolitan Ministries.
"It means we are in it for the long haul," Marks said of the reason for doing a merger rather than remaining a partner with Joining Hands, which is now called Metropolitan Ministries Pasco.
The Pasco agency remains at the same site, 3214 U.S. 19. Marks said people who have grown to depend on and trust the Joining Hands resource center — which handles a range of services, from summer camps for homeless children, financial literacy classes, emergency shelter, substance abuse programs and more — should not be worried about possible changes.
"We want people to be assured that the services provided there and the focus and leadership aren't going to change because we're merging," Marks said. "That's not why we are doing this. We're doing this to try to help."
The largest changes to come from the merger will be outside public view, but will free up Joining Hands staffers to focus on being on the front lines: When a computer breaks, Metropolitan Ministries will send someone to fix it. Joining Hands no longer has to worry about accounting or grant writing. Those duties will be handled by Metropolitan Ministries, which was founded in 1972 by 13 churches that realized they were duplicating charitable efforts.
Marks said Metropolitan Ministries picked Joining Hands for its first merger for several reasons: The homeless population in Pasco is growing, and the community has supported Joining Hands, which has goals similar to Metropolitan Ministries'. Both agencies believe in helping people become self-sufficient.
"We are not interested in growing just to grow," Marks said. "We'll do it when it makes sense and it impacts the families we serve."
The Rev. Dan Campbell is the founder of Joining Hands. He was the minister of Community United Methodist Church when the congregation shuttered and was reborn. Campbell said he and the parishioners discussed the possible change for two years before taking the final vote. They talked of their goals and their purposes in life, personally and as a group. They saw homeless people sleeping in their church parking lot. They didn't feel as if they were doing enough to help those struggling outside their doors.
"It's about what God shaped you to do and be," Campbell said. "And that is different for different people. But this is what He's called me to do."
The parishioners agreed. Campbell said the agency now has hundreds of volunteers throughout the year, though it's always looking for more — especially with needs constantly increasing. He said the number of homeless children in Pasco has doubled in the past two years to 3,000 school-age children. He said there are about 8,000 homeless people in Pasco, with many labeled as the working poor. He said the definition of homelessness is now more broad and includes families living together. He said it's common for three families — about 17 to 20 adults and children — in Holiday to share a 1,100-square-foot home with one bathroom. He said there are more than 35 homeless camps in the woods in Pasco, and many other people are living in their cars. Campbell said Joining Hands has gotten advice from Metropolitan Ministries since it began.
"We decided we didn't need to reinvent the wheel," said Campbell. "They've been doing this for 39 years successfully."
He said he is excited about the merger and what the future holds. He is still in charge of the Pasco mission, though he's unsure of what his new title is: "I'm now the ministry director," he said. "Or is it director of ministries? Hmmm …."
He laughed. Everything is still so new.
"I haven't gotten my business cards yet," he said.
Erin Sullivan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6229.