Hope For Homes: Creating Stability For Families In Tampa Bay

It was nearly 3 o' clock in the morning when Entrepreneur and Investor Franklin Cruz had an epiphany: Take everything he has learned throughout his career in real estate rehabbing and apply it toward a nonprofit to benefit the Tampa Bay community and its residents.

Driven to make this vision a reality, Cruz presented the idea to his circle of fellow entrepreneurs and teamed up with an already-established nonprofit called Current of Tampa Bay, a University of South Florida movement to promote social justice education and initiatives among young adults, and, just like that, his epiphany had a name.

Tampa, say hello to Hope for Homes, a project supporting local families by providing both improvement and remodeling work to low-income and middle class family homes.

After using an application from "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition'' as a template to establish their own, Hope for Homes' first family applied and the organization was official -- the freshman project was in the works and donned a $30,000 price tag.  

"We weren't supposed to be doing such a huge rehab for our first project, but we did it," Cruz says. "Basically, we've promised to do something in 56 hours that normally takes about six weeks."

Volunteers and sponsors weren't hard to find. Most of the cost, products and services were donated by big names such as FreedomSoft, Rooms To Go, Amoroso Cabinets, Chick-fil-A, Hilton Garden Inn in Ybor City and Kanes Furniture, among others. Tampa Bay residents even did their part by pitching in some necessities.

"We had a woman come out and donate a stove, microwave and AC unit," Cruz says. "We were very blessed with three front-page St. Pete Times news articles telling of the family's story and, after getting the word out, volunteers and sponsors just started coming out of nowhere."

Jason Sowell, who manages the project as co-founder of Hope for Homes and the president of Current, says funding "kind of comes from all over the place," but mostly consists of individuals and small businesses who donate anything from a couple hundred dollars to services to funds in thousands.

Hope for Tampa Families

As Hope for Homes grew from its first project last summer to its second this past winter, the number of volunteers increased accordingly -- about 30 people came out for the first and a little over 50 for the second. Cruz and Sowell credit this growth to news articles and promotional work, as well as their extensive e-mail database.

"Even if you've only spent an hour volunteering with us, you can just feel the difference in your own self. I've never felt more self worth than I have after spending time doing work on a Hope for Homes project," says Cruz, a University of South Carolina alum. "It really helps you see that there are still good people in the world."

And Cruz makes sure one of the project's focuses is just that.

"I really think people need to know that there's hope out there and we understand what it's like to be beaten down and to have the world kick you in the face," he says. "No matter how bad it gets, there are people out there -- good people -- that care and want you to succeed. We're bringing an entire neighborhood, community and city together to stand behind these families through this project and bring about change.''

When applying, those low-to-middle-income families seeking that change have a few simple requirements to meet: They can't be in foreclosure, they must prove their income and, above all, they have to show how they're a pillar of their community. In order for a difference to be made in their own lives, they first have to make a difference in the lives of others.

"We're trying to get families that have been through tough times but still have smiles on their faces," Cruz says. "We want to help people who have changed their neighborhood and are mentors in their community, despite everything they might be going through."

Once Hope for Homes finds that person or family, they interview them, inquire their specific needs and then begin work. During each individual project, the organization is sure to focus on reliving everyday burdens by remodeling rooms and improving damages, as well as by replacing outdated, inefficient appliances -- basic essentials to make life easier.

"A lot of times problems like a house needing a new roof or a bathroom that's not functioning goes unfixed. It might be a single mom whose doing everything she can to keep things afloat while taking care of her family, but has problems with her home," says Sowell who, as a Trinity Baptist College alumni, puts his B.S. in church ministries to good use during the project. "I think there are a lot of people out there, especially in Tampa, that really need that little extra bit of help to get things moving along."

Cruz couldn't agree more.

"We're not doing a lot of upgrades here. We're just making homes liveable," he says. "I see it like this: You wouldn't go into a retirement home and go up to someone who is old and broken down and say, 'that's it, you're old. There's no hope for you and you're done now.' People don't do that with people and you shouldn't do that with homes. We're trying to change a person's life by showing them a little bit of love in their home."

Changing Communities

As word about Hope for Homes continues to spread and the organization grows, a third project is slated for late spring / early summer. Both co-founders have high hopes for what's to come; the organization completed two projects last year for about $16,500, as well as an estimated $25,000 in donated goods and services while a goal of approximately $45,000 for three upcoming projects is currently budgeted. Having just partnered with a huge church in Florida, Cruz couldn't be happier.

"The first thing they asked us was, 'if money wasn't an issue, how big do you want Hope for Homes to be?' That's pretty big," says Cruz, who can see Hope for Homes becoming a nationwide project. "My vision was to have a nonprofit that will sustain itself and bless as many people as possible because it's that's what it's really all about: changing the family and changing generations to come."

And as the organization moves toward that goal, Sowell is sure Tampa isn't overlooked.

"I really want to establish Hope for Homes here and change our communities," Sowell says. "We really want it to be an organic growth without too much focus on goals because, while it's good to do that, I feel like you lose sight of what it's really all about -- you start only working toward goals rather than actually taking time to look at the people you're helping."

Alexis Quinn Chamberlain, a Florida native and freelance writer, can often be found trying out new vegan recipes, biking around town and daydreaming with her boyfriend and Chihuahua at Lettuce Lark Park. Comments? Contact 83 Degrees.
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