September 2, 2016

Our First Mobile Unit!

Isn't it pretty!?

We are now the proud owners of a 2000 Holiday Rambler Alumascape 5th wheel travel trailer! This coach will be serving as a mobile Family Room and Free Market as our team begins looking to serve in other parts of the city. If the last decade has taught us anything it is that the poor are always on the move. We have watched as neighborhoods gentrify, affordable housing is demolished, and ministries that serve the poor are pressured to close or move and so we have, as a team, recognized the need to increase our overall agility. By mobilizing our services, we can go to where the needs are, and when they move (or are moved along), we can move with them. Our commitment has always been to the poor, to the vulnerable neighbors themselves rather than a certain street or block. 

We are so excited as this unit will aid in building partnerships with other communities throughout our city and county. We will be coming alongside existing works in poor neighborhoods to offer ourselves to help them love and serve one another in that place. We pray that our small offerings will add something to the work of development that is happening in our communities. If you are one of those communities that would like us to bring our mobile free market, just hit us up!

Thank you all who have given toward this project. We have learned that our truck is probably not ideal for towing such a large (9,600 lbs) trailer. We need a large pick-up truck (250) to pull this unit as well as the other coaches we hope to add over the next few years! If any of you have a truck you would offer or if you would like to contribute toward a purchase we would be very grateful. 

One step at a time we will get there! May God's kingdom of peace and wholeness come and may God's loving will be done, in Tampa as it is in the Heavens. 

August 23, 2016

Help us take the show on the road!

We have been praying and dreaming about creating some mobile outreach units that would give us the ability to serve in other neighborhoods and develop more partnerships throughout our city. 

We have an opportunity to acquire a 29' fifth wheel trailer for only 4k! 

We need to move quick and could really use your help to make this purchase. Our hope is to raise $6,000 as we plan to use the extra money to retrofit this trailer into a mobile version of our Free Market. 

I am asking that you would please pray and consider contributing toward getting the Well on wheels.

You should also know that we have an opportunity to purchase a food truck for 14k as well. Our hope and prayer is that we will run both a mobile market and kitchen in the very near future. 

Please consider standing with us.

Click here to give!

Thank you so much for all of your love and support

July 22, 2016

Investing in Social Enterprise! Please Help

As many of you know the Well has been in a time of serious discernment about the future of our work with and among the poor here in Tampa. In our last few quarterly newsletters we tried to paint the picture and explain some unfortunate external reasons for considering changes as well as some hard won internal lessons for charting a different course forward.  It's been a really exciting season for the team to reflect and pray and really consider what, among the many things we do, really meets specific needs, helps to build bridges, and really produces the opportunity for the fruitful relationships that we are here to build. 

Among the handful of things that we see coming, our family has been sensing a strong calling toward building small social enterprises that help develop marketable skills, earned income opportunities and also give us a chance to work shoulder to shoulder with one another in meaningful labor, which is where the deepest relationships are forged. Over the last several months we have started a small property services company, we have made a few small sales of produce that we grew in our aquaponics system to a local restaurant and we are eager to work hard at building such opportunities as we move forward. 

A few from our team just visited a community in Birmingham that has launched several successful businesses that serve to offer opportunities for work and relationship with those in the city that need it. While this may mean they work with a smaller number of folks at any given time it also makes for the possibility of deep and qualitative work with the individuals they do work with. That excites us and we want to do likewise. We know we have a lot to learn in this regard and it is why we visited. Our goal for the summer was to visit and learn from others who have done similar work. 

Next up, another small team of us are traveling to LA! Primarily, we are going to join Homeboy Industries for their Homeboy Global Network Conference. The video above is an awesome introduction to what they do. This gathering brings together a variety of non-profits, institutional, and government agencies to learn more about their social enterprise business model that is providing hope, training, and support to men and women working to reclaim their lives. 

Since getting to LA is expensive and we would rarely have the chance to be there, we decided to go about a week early to leave some time to visit places like The Catholic Worker LA, The Dreamcenter, Ron Finley (we hope), the No Estas Solo Refugee Center, and a few other social enterprises like Black Coffee

While this trip is a clear investment in our team and its future, it is also an expensive line item that is out of the ordinary on our annual budget. If you would like to help invest with us we would be so very grateful as we are working hard to not let our immediate expenses slow down any of our ongoing commitments. We do have a handful of other pressing needs though here we are specifically asking your help with this expense. 

Overall we hope to raise $3,000 to cover airfare, lodging, food, and the conference itself. 
Please contribute if you can. Any amount would be greatly appreciated. 

July 11, 2016

Sharing the Work

“Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” Galatians 6:2

About a week ago, a woman came in to the Well and it was clear she had soiled herself and was not quite all there. She came in hungry, and was looking for a couple dollars to catch the bus so she could get to an appointment. A new volunteer asked if we could open the shower for her to wash up, and of course we could. She got something to eat, eventually took a shower and changed her clothes. I had no cash, but we had extra help at the Well that day and I was free to leave for a short time so I offered her a ride to her appointment. All this woman needed was a friend to help with transportation. Unfortunately, because the Well was still open, I could not walk in with this woman or sit with her through the appointment. I had to drop her off and get back to the Well to care for the many people there. Normally, I wouldn’t be able to leave and assist this woman at all. Hers was a simple need, and as I reflected, I became discouraged about how few people commit to the cause.

There’s an interesting phenomenon that happens when you begin sharing life with people that have no home. While among your peers, you may share about your day or a small tidbit of what you do may come up, and there appears a glaze in their eyes and a knowing smile, while the words, “oh, you’re such a good person” escape their lips. That remark has always made me uncomfortable. In a way, that remark protects the person making it from acknowledging that this is something they can do, too. It idolizes the one who does the work, putting them on a pedestal that seems unreachable and unnecessary to someone’s everyday life.

But that’s not true. This type of work is accessible to everyone, and our work at the Well does not make us good people. We do not do it because love overflows from our hearts and we have warm fuzzy feelings for the world. Most days, this work hurts and leaves us feeling helpless. When I hear people praising the work we do in such a way, I confess I get angry. I question, “if it’s so good, why aren’t others here? Why isn’t our whole city taking better care of each other? Why don’t you do this work, too?” Not to say everyone must be at the Well, but what if everyone took it on themselves to find one person in need of a friend, and poured their life and energy into loving them? People praise our work, and then send people to us so we can help them, releasing them from the burden of caring for someone. That is not ok.

Currently we have 4 official staff members and about 10+ regular weekly volunteers. That’s 14 people regularly trying to be a friend and committed to the 50 to 100 people that walk through the doors of The Well. It is too much for us to love people well. But if those of us in Tampa who are housed and stable opened up our hearts to just one person, people would not need the Well on a daily basis, and the 4 staff members and 10+ volunteer team would not be killing themselves to meet everyones need. We could focus, and truly walk alongside people in much needed restorative relationships.

At the Well, we do not find people housing, we are not equipped to find them jobs, nor are we equipped to assist them in recovering from addiction. We are here simply to befriend people, and hope that through those friendships dignity is found for those who are outcast, and humanity and community recovered for those who live disconnected from their suffering sisters and brothers. In this befriending, needs are often met. But something the staff has been convicted of lately is that we do not and can not be everyone’s friend. If you are everyone’s friend, you will be no one’s friend. If you are trying to meet the needs of everyone, there will be some serious needs that go unmet in the lives of the people close to you. It’s draining us, and we have realized how our many yes’s mean we are stretched thin, and cannot give out of the fullness of our hearts when we encounter people. Running on empty, we may actually contribute to the alienation and pain that someone may feel because we have nothing to offer from the depletion of our own energy. This is incredibly convicting. We are here to love people well, but we cannot because there are too many people and too few of us.

So we will be cutting back, retreating, so that we can love better. Love ourselves, love each other, and love the stranger we hope will become a friend. And I want to challenge you, the next time you see someone on the side of the road, ask yourself what you can do for them. The next time you meet someone in need, stop your hand from reaching to your phone to call your humanitarian friend. I promise you, their heart is already breaking from the amount of people they cannot help. Open up your own heart to that person. If they need a meal, take them out to dinner. If they need clothes, open up your closet or take them shopping. If they need to be listened to, open up your ears. If they need a place to stay, open up your guest room. If they need family, open up your family. Not in charity, but in true hospitality that recognizes the face of Jesus in everyone you meet. Someone whom you sought as friend may someday become your brother or sister. Bear someone else’s burden, and share the work of loving the needy in our city.

Find someone you genuinely connect with and share your abundance with them. We are tired from sharing from our emptiness. 

July 10, 2016

In Mourning

This week has left us reeling.

If you have not heard, early Tuesday morning, Alton Sterling, a man we would have never known the name of, was shot and killed by a police officer. It was caught on camera by bystanders. He was shot in the chest while restrained on the ground.
Then on Wednesday evening, 32 year old Philando Castile was pulled over by the police, informed the officer he had a licensed weapon in the vehicle, and was shot multiple times while reaching for his identification. His girlfriend filmed his death, while her 4 year old daughter soaked it all in from the back seat. They were then arrested and held overnight for no reason.
Both men were black. Both men were sons, brothers, significant others. Both men now join a long list of black men killed at the hands of police officers, a list that shouldn’t exist but does.
Then Thursday, at the end of a peaceful protest mourning the deaths of Sterling and Castile and in support of Black Lives Matter, a lone sniper opened fire on the crowd, targeting the police officers on duty at the rally. Five officers have died, and six are wounded.

Is it any wonder we are reeling with grief?

Such violence cannot be justified. The deaths of Sterling and Castile are not rare accidents, they are an altogether too common phenomenon: 136 black men have been killed by police this year. And if you consider the history of our country, this is simply a continuation of the racism at the core of our nation. We have never valued the lives of black folks. From stealing people from Africa, packing them like sardines in ships, selling them as property, beating and using them and treating them like livestock, to imprisoning them when we could no longer enslave them, segregating ourselves when they refused to do the things we would incarcerate them for, maintaining systems that keep people in poverty, we have never valued black lives. And now, now when a black man dies by the hands of the police, it is not the officer on trial, it is the man’s dead body that is scrutinized and found guilty. There is no justice. Many in our community have been mourning, hurt, tired, exhausted and crying out to know when the world will affirm through action that black lives matter. And then, in a true display of how violence begets violence, an ex-military man chooses to use his skills to kill police officers.

Murder is always wrong. We are in mourning for these lost lives and grieving over the violence that became unavoidably visible this week. Eight families mourn this week; eight families are experiencing the first waves of grief, despair, and loss. They each have lost a member that they can never get back. Let us grieve with them. Take on the weight of eight men murdered this week. Mourn them. Pray for each family that is wrecked with grief right now.

But do not forget where the violence originated. The violence must end, but that does not mean we must forget how this all began. If our nation wants to heal, we must root out the injustice the black community lives and breathes. Let your prayers and your tears move you beyond this screen, towards your neighbor, and towards someone with a different skin color and life experience than yourself. It’s through relationship and friendship that our fear and misunderstanding of what is different begins to die. May our tears and prayers move us towards just and loving action.

Lord, be gracious to the family of Alton Sterling,
Forgive us for not standing in between him and the officer who shot him
Be gracious with the son of Alton Sterling, who just wants his daddy back
Forgive us for legally murdering fathers and creating an orphaned generation
Be with the children of these men, who must watch again and again their fathers die on TV
Forgive us for making a show of the death of black men
Heal the eyes of Diamond Reynolds young daughter, and every young black boy that fears for his life
Forgive us for the lie that this is their future
Be gracious with Diamond Reynolds and Quinyetta McMillon; comfort the widows
Forgive us for saying broken families are the problem in the black community, when we are the ones breaking the families 
Be with the numerous children that found a role model in Philando Castile
Forgive us for demonizing black men and never seeing the worth they bring to our world
Be with all black men that are reaching for their wallets during routine traffic stops
Forgive us for fearing blackness
Be gracious with every black man carrying a gun legally
Forgive us for clinging to our weapons
Be with the families of the fallen police officers
Forgive us for continuing to live in a culture of violence
Lord show the world that black lives matter to you
Forgive us for acting as if some lives matter less than others

Teach us the way of truth, justice, love, and peace.

June 16, 2016

New Eyes for Life

"There are many things that can only be seen through eyes that have cried."
Archbishop Oscar Romero

LGBT folks are both strongly represented and diverse within The Well's broader community. We are well acquainted with the violence they face, violence that all too often left them without a home, and violence that in many cases follows them on the streets. The pain in the eyes of someone who has been ripped out of a family because they refused to lie about who they are and what they believe is indescribable. 

We don't track statistics on the sexuality of our guests, but the Williams Institute finds that 40% of homeless youth identify as LGBTQ. Of those, 89% are homeless specifically because they were rejected by their families, and more than half of them report having suffered physical, emotional, or sexual abuse at home. It isn't the ease of surviving on their own that causes them to flee their families either. In Florida, it is perfectly legal to fire someone for no other reason than their sexual orientation. According to the Human Rights Campaign, "more than 20 percent of hate crimes reported nationally in 2014 targeted people based on their sexual orientation or gender identity." Globally, the average life expectancy for non-white trans women is barely 35 years

It is more than those who are visibly attacked who suffer a tragedy. Details have emerged that indicate the person who chose to unleash violence in Orlando this past weekend was himself struggling with sexual identity, and likely concerns about acceptance within his family and broader community. The families and friends of those lost are forever affected, and even many who struggle to empathize with the LGBTQ community are deeply shaken. We all feel a kind of painful separation between ourselves and those we judge or simply do not understand, and with death this estrangement is cemented with a terrifying sense of finality. 

In the end, whether slowly or quickly, life is always fatal. It's not that how we die doesn't matter, or that some deaths are more or less tragic than others. But if there's one thing more tragic than a horribly and unnecessarily painful death, it is a tragic life of being shunned by those who should love you and forgotten or rejected by your community. In every case, long before guns manifest violence, violent words have first manifested. Before hatred of others becomes visible, we have first learned a deeper hatred of ourselves. If we are to hope for a world with less violence, we must first hope for our own hearts to forget judgement and hatred. 

The most precious thing about The Well to me is that we are called and committed to love those that no one else loves. Disagreement about faith, politics, or even facts can all be overwhelmed by love for each other. In the end, it is not having been wrong that makes a tragic life, nor will having been right make it a triumphal life. Separation from each other is the greatest tragedy, and the only triumph happens when we seize and desperately cling to each opportunity to love someone. 

Sometimes, we are afraid to love those who no one else loves. Sometimes, it puts us at odds with powerful forces in our city and beyond. It puts us at odds with other people we love, people we are close to, people we are afraid of losing. In our own city, at The Well, most of the people we encounter for whom sexual identity has led to homelessness and violence come from homes and families that call themselves Christian. For that reason, loving them requires us taking a difficult and awkward stance toward other people who call themselves Christian. 

As my friend Micah puts it:
"I am not impressed with anybody taking a stand with the LGBT community against ISIS, if you’re not taking a stand with the LGBT community against politicians, preachers, and pundits who also try to silence, cause fear, or kill my LGBT friends.
May God give us the courage to boldly stand with those who live under threat of violence. May we mourn with those who mourn, and learn to see through eyes that have cried. 

June 2, 2016

Looking back: Our Narrative History

The Well’s purpose is to serve both those who suffer from material poverty and those who suffer from spiritual poverty. The Well is a community who has been operating a space where anyone in Tampa can come and have their material needs met, but also find what Dorothy Day refers to as “food for the soul.” Rather than simply offering a menu of services and volunteer opportunities, we endeavor to connect people relationally and create a community where members of all ages, races and economic backgrounds can serve and learn from each other. In all of these interactions, we seek to intentionally cultivate dignity, industry, creativity and community.

While we serve the immediate needs of the most vulnerable in our city on a daily basis, we also call our entire city toward a future of cooperation, peace and abundance. Just as we embrace the works of mercy, we simultaneously affirm every individual’s responsibility for and stewardship of their time, talents and material wealth. Everything we do is based on this belief, that a better future for our city is not only possible, but is promised to us as we fulfill together our responsibility to be better neighbors.
Headquartered on Florida Avenue in the Tampa Heights neighborhood, The Well draws thousands of guests, volunteers and visitors every year. We also rely on support from throughout the broader Tampa Bay area, from businesses, civic organizations, churches, as well as other ministries.

This work began in 2004 with the formation of the Lake House, an intentional Christian community located in ybor heights, less than a mile from the Well’s current center. In the years that followed our efforts to simply be Christian and love our neighbors led to the establishment of a house church gathering with friends made in the neighborhood as well as other friends from the many different arenas in our lives like work and school.

It was in those meetings that some who were looking apply what they were learning asked a few others there who were living on the street for ideas and The Banquet, our thursday night community dinner was born in 2008. That same year the Lake House community began aggressively opening its doors to those we met at our meals to share our shower, washing machine, couches, etc. We also began the Tampa Eden Project’s first community garden and launched our monthly open mic/potluck known as the conscious party.

It was 2009 when the Underground moved to 7th avenue and offered our community a space in the building to open our first Family Room and Free Market. As our community grew in capacity and size and as we encountered other needs we did our best to respond as we could. We met many who found housing in the Good Samaritan Inn and so in 2010 a team of us started our Tuesday night meal that we affectionately call “The Good.”

At this point our hands were more than full and we stayed dedicated to building our community and serving in these ways that we had committed ourselves to for the following several years as we maintained a growing presence in the Underground’s space. We are proud to say that The Lake House community, The Banquet, The Tampa Eden Project, The Conscious Party, The Good, The Free Market, and The Family Room are all still operating today.

In 2014 the Well Incorporated and leased the building at 3023 N Florida Ave. where we are still headquartered today. Since moving into our own space we have built many gardens and installed and aquaponics system where we have been learning to raise Tilapia and produce. We also planted a bike co-op known as the ReCycle Bin where neighbors without transportation can come to build their own bike. The move also put us into the heart of need and tampa and we more than quadrupled the number of guests that we were seeing on a daily basis. We have since been approved as a 501C3 non-profit, leased our first house for a pilot housing project, started a lawn business, and developed many wonderful partnerships with schools, churches, grocery stores, restaurants, and others throughout our city.

Since we work with neighbors that are not always wanted or loved we, as a community, have also faced some opposition. That being the case, we have still built a really solid reputation as a loving and sacrificial community that works very hard and leverages every resource available to our shared vision of meeting needs, building bridges, and to see our city made whole.

Join us in pursuit of this shared vision for Tampa, and work with us to build a better future for all of our neighbors.