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Around the Table


           newsletter of THE

                                             WELL

 
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Letter from our Director

Dear friends,

“Hospitality means primarily the creation of free space where the stranger can enter and become a friend instead of an enemy. Hospitality is not to change people, but to offer them space where change can take place. It is not to bring men and women over to our side, but to offer freedom not disturbed by dividing lines.”  -Henri Nouwen


While we work hard to create safe spaces wherever we can, we often find that we are the ones in need of hospitality like those we welcome in each day. For example, when we send a team to the park to meet with folks that can't make it to us we need to approach with a humble posture, knowing that it is up to them to welcome us into their space and life. For the last 7 years or so we have been sharing a dinner every Tuesday night at the Good Samaritan Inn. Each week we arrive as guests arriving with gifts of gratitude (aka dinner) for our hosts who so kindly welcome us into their kitchen and their living room where we can share a meal together as friends and neighbors. We are so grateful for that grace. 

There is, however, no way to expect or demand hospitality from another. It can only be received as a gift. Offering hospitality is a risk that takes courage because it means opening up to another. We all know how hard it can be to let others in; into our houses, into our lives, into our spaces, etc. Others make us vulnerable and it takes huge amounts of strength and courage to make oneself vulnerable for the sake of another. If we are honest hostility often seems much more prudent than hospitality. 

Our neighborhood, over the last several decades, has been a very poor neighborhood. As the houses got older, people with means began moving further from the city in a process known as suburbanization. This left a neighborhood to be inhabited by many who were poor and many who faced hostility rather than hospitality in other places. It became a place with a lot of beauty and a lot of pain as it became a community of marginalized people, some marginalized for racial reasons, some for economic, and still others for criminal histories. 

While it is still a mostly poor minority neighborhood, it seems that the demographic tides are turning here. Tampa Heights is now a historic neighborhood that is in a prime location for our cities dreams for urban renewal. Over the last ten years or so more and more folks have moved into the neighborhood and began renovating houses and working hard to beautify what many have referred to as a 'bad' neighborhood. 

As our newer neighbors work to increase the value of their homes and businesses, and make the neighborhood more attractive to the more affluent, poor people themselves can sometimes be seen as a blight that needs to be hidden or removed somehow. This is nothing new to the poor as they are constantly ushered from one place to the next as they have no home, no safe space, no place to lay their heads, and so they are perpetual trespassers, loiterers, and vagrants. Given the populations volume of desperation, mental illness, and lack of access to basic things like toilets, it is no secret that having them around can be bad for business.

As we offer hospitality to these folks who have nowhere to go, we as a community also need the grace and hospitality of those with whom we share a neighborhood. As you might imagine, not everyone wants us here, so we have been in dialogue with the neighborhood association, code enforcement, and the city to remedy some of the issues our neighbors have raised. We want to be good neighbors to everyone in this neighborhood and use the economic diversity to do what we always aim to do, build bridges and tear down dividing walls of hostility. Even still, we will not always be needed here, not on this block anyway. Someday the poor will be pushed away, not necessarily by anyone in particular fighting for their removal, but by systemic forces that transcend all of us. That 'Invisible Hand' if you will. What comes with our commitment to the poor is a commitment to share in their burdens. Whenever they are unwanted, we will be. Because they will be ushered off, we will too. Where the poor go, we will go.

I should say here that all of this excites me. You can imagine how this might feel like a blow to our organizational development but I see it as an important part of our communities development. We do wear the garments of an organization and we do well with having the space that we do, but in the end, we are a family of folks ultimately committed to some very basic values we learned from Jesus. For example, while the specific manifestations of hospitality may change over time, it is this guiding principle and commitment that is foundational to our work. We want to be a community that is always reassessing ourselves and our work. We never set out to develop some institutional version of basic works of mercy, we fear actually that the very heart of mercy might be lost in such a process.

So as we interpret the signs of the times we will again return to our driving values and ask some very basic questions; How are we doing at living these out in concrete ways? What changes might we make that would better serve our purposes? What other expressions might these foundational commitments take? Where are the greatest needs? How might we best leverage the resources we do have? How might the cross inform these assessments? How might our community and organization embrace the teachings of Jesus like "Whoever tries to keep their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life will preserve it."

There is a certain grace in all of this for us. These kind of 'back to the drawing board' situations are healthy. They remind us that we should never fall into the rut of 'the way we have always done it.' They challenge us to be creative in contextualizing our work to best love our city and it's people. 

I should say here that we are in good standing with the city, having hopeful conversations with the civic association, having regular town hall meetings with our guests to invite them too into the work of being good neighbors, and secure in our current arrangement. There is no impending doom and things are, generally speaking, going quite well. I just wanted to engage you in this process now as I know many of you have great ideas to offer, places that need love, as well as hands and resources to offer to the work ahead of us. 

In keeping with our commitment to hospitality, our doors are open to you. Please come serve and/or commit to partner with us financially. Please pray that we would have wisdom as we work to discern how best to love Tampa. Pray, also, that we would have the courage stay vulnerable, hospitable, and to live out, as best we know how, a concrete example of these deeply held commitments of the Well community. 

PS. This first quarter of 2016 we have already been able to share over 10,000 pounds of groceries and welcome over 6,000 visits.


In His hands,

Jon Dengler
ReCycle Bin & The Well's Angels

Over two weeks of March The Well was buzzing with youthful energy. We hosted college students from the New England area as they used their spring breaks to take a trip called Serve Up with Intervarsity Christian Fellowship and serve Tampa, lending their hands to whatever projects we had for them. They were promptly put to work, and the two weeks of help were quite transformative for our humble little bicycle shop. We’ve sorted out and organized a lot of the clutter, improved operations, rolled out on two group bicycle rides as ‘The Well’s Angels’, fixed and distributed bikes to kids in suitcase city, and built a deck for a flat clean work surface!

We try to recycle as much as possible at the ReCycle Bin. Our shop primarily consists of what we can strip from old bikes and defunct parts. We end up having to store a lot more than we use until we get the chance to strip the old broken frames and parts down to sort what’s useful and what’s scrap. Having lots of extra sets of hands around, eager to do grunt/dirty work, was the perfect opportunity to get a ton of that work out of the way. The students worked alongside guests of The Well that regularly work in our bike shop, who helped and instructed them on how to dismantle the frames and rims.

Thanks to the Timothy Initiative, they and the Serve Up students were able to make some of our construction dreams come true. With TI’s expertise and the student’s willing hands, we were able to build a 20’ by 20’ wooden deck for the ReCycle Bin. This is an incredible improvement as it gives us a clean, flat surface to work on and lifts us out of the dirt bowl that floods every time it rains. They were also able to fix our wooden fence and install an outdoor sink for washing hands covered in grease and grime.

One of the benefits of working on bikes with a bunch of people from the neighborhood is that you end up with a group of people, outfitted with bikes, who want to ride – essentially a bicycle club! The Well’s Angels was formed in August of 2014 when we went on our first official group bike ride. Within in the past three weeks, we have gone on two amazing Well’s Angels rides. One of which involved the shop volunteers fixing up 30 donated kid-sized frames to take up to suitcase city. There was a free market there for the large refugee population in suitcase city, and we partnered with them to distribute the bikes to the neighborhood children.

The ReCycle Bin will adding additional hours of operation to better accommodate people’s work schedules, and our younger guests’ school schedules.  We are hopeful that a few later evening hours bring out new volunteers from different areas of our community to help further our mission of bridging gaps between them. Our new hours are as follows:

            Tuesdays &Thursdays – 11am-4pm

            Fridays – 5:30pm-8:30pm

Feel free to come by if you are interested! There is safety in numbers out there on those urban Tampa streets, so we’d like to invite you all to come get your bike tuned up and join us on one of our Well’s Angels group rides. You are guaranteed to have a blast, strengthen your legs, and get a new perspective on your neighbors and our city!



A Quick Update on Saturdays

For about 6 months now, we have been opening our doors on Saturdays, extending our hours into the weekend. Saturdays have seen a culture of their own grow out from our volunteers and guests, with a relaxed atmosphere and a laid back pace. Many of our guests who are not able to make it during the week for one reason of another now have the opportunity to grab a hot shower, lunch, and take a load off while enjoying coffee and the occasional movie. Our first Saturday Medical Clinic, staffed by the Tampa Bay Street Medicine team from of USF, has also seen a drastic growth in the number of patients, both new and returning. If you would like to join us some Saturday please contact Chris to schedule it. 

Oh SNAP!

We're expecting a small spike in the number of guests coming to The Well for food around the beginning of April. On April 1st many Floridians who are receiving benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) will lose their assistance. On January 1st, a 3 month time limit went into affect for individuals that are able-bodied and without dependents from the age of 18 to 49, also known as ABAWD. These individuals must be working, volunteering, or participating in a Local Workforce Development Area work program for at least 80 hours a month to remain eligible for SNAP. If not, they can only receive SNAP for 3 months in a 36 month time period, which they can extend 3 months if they lose a job. This means cumulatively someone can only receive SNAP benefits for 6 months of unemployment in a three year time frame. Due to high unemployment rates these work requirements have not been in place in Florida since 2009. It's estimated that in Hillsborough county over 27,000 people will lose their benefits unless they are able to find employment or alternatives. Across the country, 500,000 to 1 million people are expected to lose eligibility for SNAP. It is this type of policy that we must be aware of as it greatly affects the lives of the people we serve and frustrates further the life of people living in poverty. At The Well, we will continue to serve those who are negatively affected by policies such as these.
Read more here and here


One USF Intern's Perspective

The past few months interning at The Well has been an incredibly humbling and valuable experience. From the very beginning there was a strong sense of teamwork and open communication. The staff are all so welcoming and instantly make you feel part of the team. The laidback atmosphere of The Well makes anyone feel right at home, and the blessing that it is to so many is obvious once you are there. I was shocked at first by the number of people who came through the door, and equally as shocked by the resources that The Well is able to provide. Whether someone needs food, a shower, wants to volunteer and work in the bike shop, or simply wants to find some comfort on one of the couches, The Well does not turn them away. It is clear that those who work at The Well are deeply passionate about what they do and love everyone the same regardless of their status. It wasn’t long before I was building friendships with the guests and looking forward to their company. The Well’s vision is one of compassion, advocacy, and fellowship. The work being done highlights the needs of the city and takes a stand to walk among those who struggle, helping in any way they can. I have enjoyed working at The Well and feel lucky to be part of such a unique and important organization.

-Casey

Thank You for your support and prayers



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