June 29, 2017

Property Services

Our first stab at social enterprise, our Property Services crew is still going strong. Watson, the crew leader who is putting his all into building this business up, recently compared himself to Rocky at the end of Rocky IV. This actually seems pretty accurate as we have watched him take a blow and get back up again and again as he muscles his way through so many challenges. While this business seemed like an obvious and easy one to get into, as we just needed a few guys and some equipment, it has proven again and again to be no easy task. For one, there are the common struggles that all local lawn crews will face like steep competition, broken equipment, brutal florida heat, and problematic amounts of rain that cause work to stack up. These we have taken in stride as well as had the added struggles of working with men on the streets that often disappear due to a trespassing or panhandling arrest, or show up without sleep because of weather or other struggles associated with life on the streets. These added complications make what is already a brutally hard business even tougher, and yet they keep making it work. We have kept our regular residential customers happy, added new residential contracts, picked up several one-off landscaping jobs, and also secured a few larger commercial contracts! These guys keep stepping up and rising to the occasion and we couldn’t be more proud of them. We are hoping to make their experience and work a bit better by investing in some new equipment, uniforms, and at some point a bigger truck as well. If you would like to help invest in this effort, please do.


Sometimes we are a lot like a little kid who has recently planted a seedling. We get really excited about it and do our best to nurture it, all the while wondering where the fruits and flowers are. This eager expectation, while a natural longing, can sometimes cause us to discount or under-appreciate the necessary growth and changes that must take place in the developing seedling if it is going to grow into a strong, fruit bearing plant. So while our dreams for WellBuilt Bikes, and the Well’s social enterprises in general, are large and ambitious, pausing to reflect on the last three months for this update has been a good opportunity to celebrate everything that has taken place as our seedlings sprout and take root.

On Earth Day, April 22nd, we held our first pop-up shop bike sale at the Sustainable Living Project’s Earth Day event. We sold 8 bikes and got a taste of things to come. It was a beautiful day as we met a bunch of new friends, got to share our story and vision, worked alongside some of our Earn-A-Bike participants, and had the opportunity to help people find their perfect bicycle. For our second sale the following weekend, we were invited to participate in the Seminole Heights 3rd annual pop-up market at Watermark Church! We have been so encouraged by everyone we’ve had the opportunity to share with and are eager to establish a permanent location to really build community around this work. After the first two weekends, the Sustainable Living Project extended an invitation to us to host our pop-up shops each weekend throughout April and May. Not all weekends have seen sales, but with each one we are growing as a team and developing our own systems and capacity. We can not thank SLP enough for sharing their space with us as we grow and learn.

In addition to our Saturday sales we have been able to work with six Earn-A-Bike participants who each volunteered at least ten hours toward their very own bikes. This program is at the very heart of all that we are building as we long to see everyone in Tampa have their own reliable transportation. We have also been able to share about 25 kids’ bikes with refugee children through our friends and partner workers at Love Has No Borders.

Jessica, the “founder and matriarch” of the “Well’s Angels” community and WellBuilt Bikes was invited to be a panelist at a recent Bike/Walk Tampa Bay Event. The event was a great opportunity for us to rub shoulders and share our vision with some of the city’s most avid and influential cyclists. Jessica was given the floor to share her own journey into this world where she found tremendous beauty and diversity among Tampa’s cycling community. It is there that she has been leading and working to see needs met, bridges built, and, by shifting one gear at a time, our city made whole. At this same event, during an awards ceremony for local cyclists, our very own Sean Martin was nominated as Commuter of the Year and Jessica for Bike Advocate of the Year.

Our team has been growing and Chris, one of our crew, just transitioned his work schedule to a part-time job so that he can dedicate more of his time and attention to building up the shop. This kind of ownership, sacrifice, and dedication is typical throughout the Well family but should be highlighted and celebrated as we remember how atypical it is in general. Jon took Chris up to Birmingham a few weeks ago to introduce him to our friends at Redemptive Cycles who have been coaching us all along the way. Plus, it’s so much easier to say “Here, this is what it looks like!” than to try and cast that kind of vision. Chris, we are so grateful for all that you do for, with, and among us!

As we recognize growth of the family, new life, and Jessica as a matriarch, we wanted to share some more amazing news: she is having a baby and due any day now!

As we turn the gears and push the vision forward we do have a few significant needs that we hope you might be able to contribute towards (grease, if you will). We are in the market for a good retail space with plenty of storage where we can establish a permanent location for WellBuilt. We also need to raise a good amount of start-up capital for building out the shop and a community work station. Finally, to help Chris transition to us full-time we are trying to secure at least $1000/mo toward a small salary to make that possible. He is already worth far more than that and his undivided attention will be invaluable to our development. Please consider giving regularly toward this staff support or as a one-time gift toward our start-up costs.

Also stay tuned by following us on social media:

The Kinship

The Kinship, our mobile outreach, is about connecting groups of people from different backgrounds to remember we are all kin. We call ourselves the Kinship to remind ourselves and others that though we are serving, there is reciprocity in the giving and receiving that happens at our events. Because this is our goal, we are very excited that after months of planning and practicing, we now have two volunteer teams at different locations sharing food each month! In April we reconnected with our friends from St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, and began a monthly Kinship at The Good Samaritan Inn. Tina is the lead of their team, and we are so thankful for all the work she has put into coordinating and spreading word about the Kinship. They have been faithful and gone above and beyond by making care packages for a few folks that cannot make it to the market with whatever groceries are leftover. It has been such a gift to work with these team members again; they have not only been helpful with offering hands to help, but also with taking initiative and building relationships with the residents at The Good Sam.

Another fruit of the Kinship is Vanessa, who came to volunteer once at the Good Sam and decided to take initiative by committing to regularly clean the bathrooms of the Good Sam (there’s about 11). Since April, she’s gone approximately every other week to love the residents by scrubbing sinks and toilets.

This coming Saturday, July 1st, we will be partnering with University Community Ministries to operate the Kinship in the Sulphur Springs area. Our brothers from the Timothy Initiative will be volunteering with us monthly to make that happen, and we are elated to work with them!

We are very excited about these partnerships and the opportunity to love our neighbors. This quarter we have given away 1,459 pounds of food to 125 individuals. We share this number as something to be proud of, but please remember each of those numbers represents a person we are honored to know, serve, and enter into kinship with. While our volunteers are happy to sort through cereal, condiments, and assist people while shopping, it’s the relationships that begin at these outreaches that are the true fruit. In Kinship, we are made whole and we know we belong. It’s this care for and belonging that we are overjoyed to see spread. We look forward to expanding The Kinship to more places with more people. If you are interested in hosting the Kinship for your neighbors, volunteering with us, or having us bring food to your neck of the woods, please feel free to contact us!

The Conscious Party

A man named Abraham Maslow had a theory about motivation. He created an illustration that consisted of a five level hierarchy of needs, the most basic of which is food and shelter. The next levels are family/friendship, esteem, and creativity, progressing to the top of the hierarchy. While much of our time is spent focused on meeting concrete and immediate basic needs, we aim to do so in ways that provide space for creativity, friendship, and esteem, which are essential to being human. Because we value all of these needs, we host the Conscious Party, our open-mic night that is organized by Andrew O., Chynnah, and Andrew C. They, and all of us at the Well, believe that giving individuals a platform for creativity, sharing thoughts, skills, and talents, is a way to empower and love one another. Since relocating to the Good Samaritan Inn and having Andrew, Drew, and Chynnah investing in it, the Conscious Party has become a more vibrant, inspiring, and inviting space. They’ve planned strategies to make it the space it is intended to be: a space for community to come together and celebrate each other. They are currently looking for food sponsorship as a priority. Food is a medium for sharing culture, ideas, and even compassion, but it’s also simply refreshing to enjoy some entertainment with a full belly.

Our next Conscious Party is July 1st at 8pm at the Good Samaritan Inn. Join us!

The Tampa Eden Project

The Ybor Street Garden is a plot of land with a lot of potential. It’s been used historically to host a few gatherings for the Tampa Eden Project, workshops, and generally a few garden days here and there. Jessica and Tarah have been loving on the space for months now, trying to prune the garden and stave off the weeds and locusts. Over the past month, Chynnah has joined forces with them to be more intentional about revitalizing the garden space with the goal for it to be used for what it was intended: to be a fruitful place for growing food, sharing, and bringing the neighboring community together. Natalia, the former director of TEP, returned from traveling and caught them up on some details on how best to compost, fertilize, and irrigate the garden. She also connected the team with the Property Services for general garden maintenance. Natalia has done really well with passing off the torch for the Tampa Eden Project. Her dream to help connect people in loving the land and the environment is something we really cherish and hope to support through our actions moving forward. On June 24th, TEP hosted a big garden day to reinvigorate community engagement. We were able to harvest bunches of greens, onions, and tomatoes, as well as clear a few beds of weeds and plant some summer crops. We even experienced the joy of new life when we found a handful of lizard eggs that hatched soon after. In the future, we’ll be hosting a garden day every 3rd Saturday of the month and would love to have everyone interested join us!

May 30, 2017

With Fear and Trembling

"work out your salvation with fear and trembling" 
-Philippians 2:12 

Last week the Underground Network hosted a seminar called "The Problem with Fear." When I heard that they were planning it I reached out to a few of our leaders and community members who I know struggle with fear. One of those people in particular seems to always struggle with anxiety and fear when facing something new. As I have watched and worked with this person over the years I have seen them crush one challenge after the next. From my vantage point, it seems like they would begin looking back and concluding that all the things that previously intimidated, didn't kill them. Not only that, but they were almost all easily faced after that initial, albeit horrifying leap. 

It doesn't seem to work that way though. Each new challenge seems to be an encounter with another monster and no matter how many have been slain before this one, each new monster is seen as monstrous. I have been frustrated in watching this, as I know what this person is capable of. I do remember the former monsters, battles, and challenges that I've watched them face. They are a bit of a formidable monster themselves. "You shouldn't be afraid of this one!" I think to myself. And yet...

Frustrated or not, I cannot overstate how impressed and inspired I am as I see their heroic movement toward what makes them tremble! I stand in awe, and as I watch her be brave I recall the above verse from Philippians, and I tremble.

May 8, 2017

Reciprocal Restoration

Mark, David, and Richard before dinner
One of our core values at the Well is direct relationship. We pursue these relationships with each other, with the poor, and with people very different than ourselves. We have seen these relationships bear fruit in our own lives, so much so that we've realized there was a deficit we didn't know we had: we need to be among the poor. You do too, and it's not so much that you need to serve the poor; you need their friendship.

In the Book of Luke, Jesus shares a parable about a poor man named Lazarus and a rich man. Lazarus was laid at this rich man’s gate where he begged for sustenance. In the story both men die and Lazarus, the beggar, is carried by angels to the side of Abraham, while the rich man finds himself in Hades. The rich man cries out to Abraham for mercy, and asks him to send Lazarus to warn his family about this hell. In the end, Abraham refuses, saying that the rich man's family has Moses and the Prophets to be warned by. If they do not listen to the prophets, they will not benefit from the warning of a dead man raised to life. This man had all his comforts in life, and would have been familiar with Lazarus. Even in death, he does not speak to Lazarus but instead addresses Abraham. In life he is divided from Lazarus by his gate, and in death by the chasm between heaven and hell; in neither situation does he acknowledge Lazarus. Stanley Hauerwas reflecting on this story said that "the rich man doesn't want to have contact with Lazarus because if he does he knows he will have to change."

Regular contact precedes friendship, and friendship changes us, especially friendship with the “Other.” It breaks down the walls we have in place, and builds a bridge across our differences. Friendship breaks down the hierarchy we thought existed. This is why the rich man did not contact Lazarus in life or death. When you become friends, differences in age, culture, language, politics, religion, ethnicity, etc. no longer hold the weight of division they once did. That division is filled with meaning and understanding, a bridge built by friendship. This is why direct relationship is one of our core values at The Well, and one we are constantly learning to embody. I want to tell you about six volunteers at The Banquet that have learned this value, and inspire me to seek friendship with the "other."
Grant washing the dishes

First, there's Richard. I've known Richard for almost five years. He taught me how to serve at The Banquet, and brings a wealth of wisdom from his years in the food service industry. These days, Richard is more family than friend. Once homeless himself, Richard has continued to prioritize and serve the people he once slept beside on the street and in low-income housing. Through issues with his own health and the long bus rides from his home, he continues to serve at The Banquet because he believes God has called him to and it gives him joy.

Then there's Grant, who began volunteering with The Banquet with his homechurch two and a half years ago. For a year, he coordinated members of his house church to volunteer with us on a weekly basis. Even as other members were unable to come, Grant continued. He has many responsibilities as a husband, new father, engineer, and friend, but he also continues to prioritize regular service at The Banquet.

Hefziba and Charissa
Hefziba has volunteered with The Banquet for about 4 years. She began during the last year of her undergrad at USF, and continued to become an integral member of the Banquet team. Even when she left to spend half a year in Africa in missionary training and traveling, she returned to Tampa and came back to our team joyfully. She is currently in a graduate program at USF and had to miss a semester of the Banquet because of a class, but that does not mean she disengaged from serving and direct relationship with the poor. Wherever she goes, she brings that with her, and she will always be a beloved friend at The Well.

Next is Eche. She began volunteering on Tuesday evenings at The Good Samaritan Inn, and joined us on Thursdays when we moved to the same location. Eche is a young Nigerian woman that just graduated from Pharmacy school. While living in the area during a 6 week rotation last fall, she began volunteering with us because she wanted to invest in her neighborhood, even if it was only briefly. She is soon moving across the country for a new job, but even so she has not held back in her involvement or commitment. She has fully engaged in the needs of her neighbors in her temporary home and been a gift of life to the people of the Good Samaritan Inn.

One of our most consistent team members is Mark. Mark began volunteering at The Banquet two years ago this summer, and has rarely missed a Thursday since. Mark is a professor, a theater critic, a play write, a husband, and a father. I asked him recently why he continues to come to the Banquet and prioritize serving. He shared that, to his understanding as a Jewish man, it is his obligation to serve the poor and feed the hungry, citing Isaiah 58. He continues to come because he believes God asks this regular practice of him, and he sees The Banquet as a wonderful way to fulfill this religious requirement.

Finally, there is David. David, a professor at USF, has become a beloved member of The Well community over the past year and a half. He began with us by asking his local community garden to donate a plot of land to us, which he tended to weekly and dropped off the harvest with us. You can read his story in his own words here. To summarize, David realized he had an aversion to the homeless, poor, and suffering, much like the rich man in the parable above. With that realization, he committed to do as much as he could to help. When I asked him why he continues to serve, he said "because someone has to." He once heard someone say, "why should I help them at the expense of my quality of life?" and this solidified his conviction that our society lacks genuine compassion and fueled his commitment to do something about it. David continues to serve to combat that self-focused attitude in himself and in our society.

Each of these team members embodies the values of the Well. They are an inspiration to us all. One is an engineer, two are professors, one a graduate student, one a pharmacist with a fresh doctorate degree, one retired, and another a writer. They are Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, and Buddhist. Yet with all their differences, they find themselves at the same table, prioritizing serving and being in direct relationship with the poor in their city. They teach us it is possible to have families, thriving careers, hobbies, goals and aspirations, without forgetting the hungry, the poor, the lonely and forgotten. It is possible to include them in your circle of friends, and gain the privilege of being counted as their friend. And this friendship necessitates change, especially in ourselves. Perhaps it is mandated in so many religions to serve the poor not because it is good for society or moral, but because it changes everyone involved. The proud are humbled and the hurting are comforted in the kinship they find together. Finding this kinship is not possible without each other.

I urge you to join us at The Well. We need more team members, and while we are committed to building this community of friendship and kinship no matter what, we want you with us. If you are interested in joining, you can fill out this form. We need you, and I have some friends I think you would love to get to know.