DAVENPORT – Sometimes, Pastor Scott Smith said, it feels good just to get a little bit of recognition for the work that you do.
That makes it all the sweeter, he added, when someone gets nominated for recognition at an awards ceremony – and actually wins.
“We went in there thinking, ‘Okay, we got nominated, it was quite an honor,’ “ he said.
What he didn’t expect was to actually beat the competition.
“Buddy Dyer, the mayor of Orlando, was one of the nominees,” Smith said. “So was Heart of Florida (Regional Medical Center), and the Orange County Children’s Cabinet. And we won.”
“It was quite an honor,” added his wife, Kris Smith.
Scott Smith is the pastor of the Community of Faith United Methodist Church in Davenport, which has been servicing residents of fast growing Northeast Polk County and Four Corners for years, before the heavy growth started in this region.
The church is involved in a lot of community service work as well, including organizing the Four Corners Fall Festival in October, an annual event meant to bring together the community in this very transient area.
Their work came in for special recognition recently, when Community of Faith won the Public Service Excellence Award from the Central Florida Chapter of the American Society For Public Administration.
Founded in 1978 to offer networking and educational opportunities for public service professionals in this region, the group’s mission is to advance excellence in public administration through programs and events.
The Public Service Excellence Award honors organizations that have accomplished something by helping others, and in this case, Community of Faith was recognized for two things the church and its volunteers did last year.
One for the church’s frequent efforts to assist families along the U.S. 192 corridor that are considered homeless. In this case, it means families living in motels on that tourism corridor because they don’t have the money to get into an apartment or rented home.
The church was also recognized for reaching out to the victims of a fire at one of those hotels in Four Corners, which destroyed the building and left the people living there homeless.
“We won the award for our community service, for work on the 192 homeless situation,” Scott Smith said.
Because of a segment of “60 Minutes” that was broadcast in 2011, this region has become known for families hurt so badly hurt by the recession, they’ve been forced to live in local hotel and motel rooms. Community of Faith became involved in an effort to feed hungry children in Osceola and Polk counties, by adopting local schools like Westside K-8 Elementary School in Four Corners and Loughman Oaks Elementary in Davenport.
The church works with other groups – like the Green Bag Project, based in ChampionsGate, which holds fund-raisers to help stock the cafeterias in these schools with extra food, and provide backpacks filled with food that the needy students can take home on weekends.
Last September, the Osceola County School District reassigned nearly 100 children from Westside Elementary to Celebration K- 8, all of them living in extended stay motels, because Westside K-8 had too many homeless kids. The term “homeless,” in the view of the state and local school districts, means families without a permanent address. They also referred to officially as “Families in transition.”
“The redistricting was all through one hotel,” Scott Smith said. “They took 88 kids out of Westside and put them into Celebration K-8.”
“We were just too overcrowded,” said Kris Smith, who works as the media specialist for Westside K-8.
The couple said this remains an ongoing challenge, trying to assist families and their children struggling to make ends meet since the housing market collapsed, sending the local economy into a tailspin.
The devastating fire at a hotel on West U.S. 192 happened exactly a year ago, in June 2011, and left 150 residents without a home. The fire destroyed the Vacation Lodge Maingate at 7514 W. Irlo Bronson Memorial Highway (West U.S. 192) in Four Corners, and was a total loss, one of the worst fires in Osceola County in years.
The four alarm fire caused the roof of the lodge to collapse. The hotel is just a mile from Disney’s Animal Kingdom theme park. The property had 430 rooms, and about 150 people were staying there. The hotel was generally not marketed to tourists but to long-term residents who are unable to afford an apartment or home. It has since been demolished and the property remains vacant.
The American Red Cross was called to the scene to assist the people who had been living at the lodge. Community of Faith worked with the Red Cross to help those victims.
“Our church was the one that went in there within an hour for in-take,” Kris Smith said. “A family would come to us, and we’d have to figure out how much money the Red Cross would need to give them. In-take was assessing the needs of the families, what they needed to get their lives back.”
Scott Smith said it was an honor to get the recognition, and to demonstrate the positive partnerships that can be made between public schools like Westside K-8 and Loughman Oaks, and faith organizations.
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