A Wimauma church, whose domed sanctuary was in danger of being raised to build custom homes, received approval May 17 for a loan to purchase the property along U.S. Highway 301.
“It’s been a miracle. God has opened doors,” says Lead Pastor Carlos Irizarry, of Wimauma’s Wholesome Church.
Wholesome, which has been renting the property for five years, appealed to the public in March for $235,000 to buy the property and keep it from being torn down to build a subdivision. The owner, River of Life Christian Center in Riverview, had received an offer from a developer for the property valued at $1.5 million. River of Life gave Wholesome the first right of purchase, at a considerable discount, but it asked Wholesome to act or vacate.
After deadline extensions in March and April, Florida Community Loan Fund approved the church's application for the loan, with conditions. A closing is anticipated on or before June 30.
The Florida Community Loan Fund, according to its website, "was founded in 1994 to provide a statewide source of flexible financing for delivering capital to low-income communities to support community development projects by nonprofit organizations throughout the state. Today it has made over 200 loans for a total of over $195 million to over 100 organizations to improve social and economic conditions in communities all across Florida.''
“The Dream goes on to help the Wimauma community,” Irizarry says. “We still need to raise $20,000 for closing cost and other expenses involved.”
The church is accepting donations on its website and at Go Fund Me, where it has raised $1,125 for its “Save the Dome” campaign.
Wholesome also is expected to have a lease agreement to rent a house on the property before the closing date, make the church available for those who want to rent it for meetings, and have the needed appraisal and inspections.
“The owners are fully cooperating with us,” Irizarry says. “We agreed on the contract. That’s how we were able to proceed with the application.”
The pastor credits a “Dream Team” God put together for the miracle, which played out after he was referred to the Florida Community Loan Fund by an advisor, Manny Rivero. The team included Olga and Joe Gonzalez, grant writer Leigh Chambliss, his wife, Judy, and other volunteers, such as Bob Buesing of Trenam Law, who provided free legal representation to Wholesome Church.
“Our church members were faithful, praying outside the church,” he adds. “No inch was left not saturated with prayer.”
Irizarry also is grateful to donors.
Now that the loan has been approved, the church will be more available for community uses and is seeking nonprofit groups to partner with in ministry to the largely rural community in south Hillsborough County. Nearly 80 percent of Wimauma residents are Hispanic; most landowners are multi-generational African-Americans or whites.
“We want to expand as soon as possible. Now you’re going to see more involvement with the community,” he asserts. “We’re ready for action.”
Wholesome had developed extensive plans for the property on the east side of U.S. 301 between Big Bend Road and State Road 674, but it could not proceed until it secured ownership. Those plans include health and youth centers, a preschool/ administration building, kitchen hall, multipurpose building and thrift shop.
Once the sale is complete, Wholesome will focus its efforts on a pre-school, New Generation Academy, it plans to open in the fall. “We’re going to prepare room,” he says.
A coalition of people concerned about the community of Wimauma has targeted early learning as a priority for its young children, who may be hindered because their parents don't speak English. With help from the Community Foundation of Tampa Bay, the Wimauma CDC and others, the group has been working to expand educational opportunities for children of all ages and their families.
Wholesome also is moving forward with plans for the health center to provide chronic care, behavioral and mental health services. A practicing nurse, Irizarry, plans to work at the center.
“We don’t have a timeline to open,” he says. “We just want to take one step at a time.”