Wholesome Community Ministries taps faith, fundraising to create wellness hub in south Hillsborough3-phase buildout will cost $6.2M

Pastor Carlos Irizarry founded Wholesome Church 12 years ago with the mission to minister to the underserved and mostly Hispanic population of Wimauma. 

That grassroots effort has led to a spiritual and community services center “under the dome” of the church, located on Route 301 South, Wimauma, that is now at the heart of Wholesome Community Ministries (WCM), a non-profit faith-based organization. In 2017, in the face of competing bids from developers, Wholesome was able to purchase, through a series of donations and interventions, the church property they had been renting. Pastor Carlos calls it “a miracle.” 

The Biblical story of David and Goliath is a fitting parable for the journey that has brought Wholesome Community Ministries to where it is today … on the verge of becoming a major resource for the surrounding communities. In January 2021, the Ministries kicked off its Keeping the Promise fundraising campaign to, “expand its operations to realize a community where South County, especially Wimauma, residents live to their fullest potential and thrive by improving and maintaining physical and mental resiliency even during and post COVID-19.”  

The Keeping the Promise campaign will provide funding for “Project 7,” Pastor Carlos’ long-held dream of creating a “wellness hub” that, according to the official Project 7 overview, will “Combine multiple health and human services and providers in a single location to deliver services to rural families across the Wimauma community and surrounding areas. WCM will bring together resources in one wellness location that will help rural families with accessing affordable healthcare, community-based resources, referrals, and behavior development support for children, youth, and families. The Project 7 wellness hub and developmental center will bridge healthcare silos for families with physical health, behavioral, developmental, clinical care, social, or emotional needs.”

Pastor Carlos calls the wellness center a way to provide “integrated holistic services,” saying, “We will be a unique one-stop place to serve people and families.” He stresses that the family approach is particularly important because there are often multiple generations living together in one house, and if one person is not well either physically or emotionally, it affects the entire family. 

Comprehensive care

Project 7’s Wellness Center will be made up of multiple elements and multiple phases with Phase 1 underway now through January of 2022.

Citing the Project 7 official Overview, first on the Phase 1 list is the Lucca Comprehensive Care and Behavioral Health Center (Trauma-Informed), a not-for-profit, faith-based patient-centered care system, behavioral urgent care facility, and outpatient community clinic that encourages active collaboration and shared decision-making among patients, families, communities, and providers. The Lucca Health Center seeks to design, implement, and manage a customized comprehensive care plan for behavioral health/mental health, substance use disorders, and primary healthcare that serves local health needs within rural Wimauma and surrounding South County communities.

Next on the list in Phase 1 is the Wholesome Community Resource Center to provide services, including workforce development and employment training. The Center seeks to improve the quality of life for all area residents by providing a wide variety of leisure and cultural activities, social support groups (including trauma support groups), health education classes, a computer lab, and community meeting rooms. The Resource Center is all about services that encourage health, exercise, fitness, relaxation, and mental wellness. Outside the facility offers a playground and soccer field as well as open space.

The Resource Center’s fitness room with cardio equipment and free weights, a gymnasium, and physical therapy training rooms was given a huge boost when Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office under the leadership of Sherrif Chad Chronister and another organization that asked not to be named donated $65,000 in physical therapy equipment. Pastor Carlos says that Sheriff Chronister knows that Wholesome can serve a population that is in re-entry, recovery, and suffering from chronic conditions. 

Also included in Phase 1 will be a Community Kitchen and Garden and a Youth Arts Program.

Phase 2, which will run from January 2022 to January 2023, will include a Pre-K Academy and Community Thrift Shop. 

The final Phase 3, planned for January 2023 to January 2024, will see the development of a Recovery Farm to provide education, care, support, workforce development, employment training, awareness, and evidence-informed interventions to those recovering from substance use and behavioral health disorders and their families, as well as developmental services to individuals and their families re-entering society after recently being released from a corrections facility. WRF includes innovative family programming, organic gardening, and animal therapy.

A servant’s heart

While Pastor Carlos, who is also a Registered Nurse, ministers to his flock and builds a thriving community center based on faith and service, he has faced personal challenges of his own. “I’m not just a nurse or a pastor,” he says. “I’m a client. I know what it is to bounce from one provider to another” as a cancer survivor. “I’ve seen other patients with serious and chronic conditions who had no insurance, no English language skills, and no transportation. Wholesome Church is the umbrella under which these people will be able to seek care. When funded, Project 7 will greatly expand Pastor Carlos’ vision of a holistic place of faith and wellness. 

The work that has been done by Wholesome Church until now has provided a bridge to the community both to those who are served and those who volunteer to serve. Pastor Carlos praises the contributions of the medical community including nursing students from USF who provide care, counseling, and case management. Among other important contributors are Bay Care Health Systems and the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office. The U.S. Mission of the Assemblies of God has committed to providing major construction support.

The cost of dreams, especially ones that can impact the lives of so many, can be daunting. The cost of completing Project 7 is $6.2 million. Phase 1 will cost half of that. To stay on schedule to complete Phase 1 in 2021, the Keeping the Promise fundraising campaign will need strong support from those who can afford to help. 

When asked how optimistic he is about meeting his fundraising goal, Pastor Carlos quotes Mathew 17:20, ““Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, “Move from here to there,” and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” 

To contribute to Wholesome Community Ministries Keeping the Promise fundraising initiative, make checks payable to Wholesome Community Ministries, P.O. Box 759, Riverview FL 33568. You can also donate by text or credit card online.

Related story: Wimauma church gets major loan, donations to buy domed sanctuary
Enjoy this story? Sign up for free solutions-based reporting in your inbox each week.

Read more articles by Pamela Varkony.

Pamela Varkony’s non-fiction topics range from politics to economic development to women's empowerment. A feature writer and former columnist for Tribune Publishing, Pamela's work has appeared in newspapers, magazines, and in PBS and NPR on-air commentaries. Her poetry has been published in the New York Times. Recognized by the Pennsylvania Women's Press Association with an "Excellence in Journalism" award, Pamela often uses her writing to advocate for women's rights and empowerment both at home and abroad. She has twice traveled to Afghanistan on fact-finding missions. Pamela was named the 2017 Pearl S. Buck International Woman of Influence for her humanitarian work. Born and raised in rural Bucks County, Pennsylvania, Pamela often weaves the lessons learned on those backcountry roads throughout her stories.