The mission of the new St. Michael Outreach Center in Wauchula is to develop each person’s recognition of their individual dignity and worth through the cultivation of their emotional, spiritual, intellectual and social development. The Center’s supportive economic, therapeutic, and educational resources are designed to provide a healthy framework for personal and social growth within families and the community.
That mission was celebrated with a dedication and blessing ceremony of the Outreach Center by Bishop Frank J. Dewane on Nov. 21, 2020. Participating in the ceremony were staff, volunteers, supporters and local government officials (including Hardee County Manager Lawrence McNaul), as well as the Servant Sisters of the Virgin Matara, the religious sisters who serve at St. Michael Parish. Among the supporters’ present were members of the Our Lady of the Angels Knights of Columbus.
The Outreach Center, purchased and remodeled by the Diocese of Venice, is designed for community outreach to low-income individuals/families and the migrant community. This includes overseeing a food bank and thrift store as well as having afterschool programming, immigration services, mental health counseling from Catholic Charities, and other classes for both children and adults.
As part of the ceremony, a prayer service, which included Bishop Dewane first incensing the exterior and interior of the building as well as blessing the building with holy water. The was followed by comments for key people involved in the Outreach Center.
Bishop Dewane praised everyone for their hard work noting that they are making a real difference in reaching out and providing needed services in this poor economically challenged community.
The blessing was delayed because of the COVID-19 Pandemic and participants wore masks as a precaution. Programming at the Center began several months ago but are limited due to social distancing requirements as well as the ongoing urgent need for supplies.
The afterschool program for kindergarten through fifth grade is supplementing the student’s education by providing small group teacher-led instruction to bring them up to grade level. This is necessary because many are simultaneously learning a second language. Teen helpers assist with homework and provide other guidance for the younger children. Included in the afterschool effort is handwriting and cursive instruction, character formation, as well as outdoor developmental playtime.
Chantelle Garcia, who is an elementary school teacher, assists with the afterschool program as tutor and program coordinator. Garcia explained that in the first three weeks of the program the children made great strides. “It is amazing to see the difference that was made in such a short period of time. Imagine how they will be in three months or longer. There is a wait list because families are learning how well those in the program are doing.”
While the Outreach Center is making a positive impact, there are urgent needs. These include basic school supplies (construction paper, card stock, paints/pastels, crayons, educational games, books) for younger children (K-5). There is also a demand for children’s underwear, socks, shoes and sneakers to help the poorer families provide necessities. Another need is for metal supply cabinets with locks, as well as shelves for storage.
“We are just getting started and we don’t have a lot of money in the community, so our needs are great,” explained Erika Wood, Outreach Center Coordinator.
Another example of a need is that of musical instruments. Thanks to a donation of a grand piano, the Outreach Center does offer piano lessons. However, only a few children are learning to play, while other music lessons are limited to teaching basic notes and rhythm. The wish list includes Yamaha electric pianos (with headphones) as well as other instruments, so as more children can learn at the same time.
Sister Gema Ruiz, who is the Director of Religious Education at St. Michael Parish, said it is a blessing to have the Outreach Center and for Bishop Dewane to be present for a blessing and dedication.
“We are providing needed services in this community and it is good to have the Bishop here to see our work and to inform the Diocese of the blessed work we are doing here in Wauchula,” Sister Gema said.
To learn more about how you can help the St. Michael Outreach Center, you can reach Erika Wood at 863-832-6904, Erika.firstname.lastname@example.org, or you can send donations to: St. Michael Outreach Center, 317 N. 6th Ave., Wauchula, FL 33873.