Volunteers provide basic resources to transform lives
By: Dale King Contributing Writer
For a couple of hours each Saturday morning, Fellowship Hall at First United Methodist Church in Boca Raton becomes an outreach center for the homeless, hungry and needy, the unemployed and people looking to kick alcoholism and drug abuse or get help for medical problems.
Boxes placed around the room contain clothing, toiletries and other items most people who live on the street don’t have. Visitors are welcome to comb through the cartons to find what they need. They can also take a shower, get a haircut, see a medical professional or have a hot meal, among other things.
For at least two hours a week, these people enjoy camaraderie as well as succor through a program called Homeless Outreach Mentoring Education – better known as HOME.
But there’s more to the organization than a once-a-week enhancement for the indigent. Brown bag lunches and hot dinners are available at various times through the week at nearby St. Gregory’s Episcopal Church, 100 NE Mizner Blvd., and Ebenezer Baptist Church in the Pearl City area.
“HOME partners with local businesses, churches and charities to collect and disperse community donations,” said case worker Susan Keith, who attends the Saturday programs and schedules formal appointments to make sure that individuals receive access to benefits, intervention and treatments along with food, bus passes, legal documents, drivers licenses, medical benefits, resume help and professional clothing for job interviews.
“HOME updates and disburses a comprehensive list of local resources, apartment rentals and job opportunities for homeless people,” she added.
Seated at a table in the church hall that is part gymnasium, part stage and part kitchen, Keith said she has been working for HOME for seven months. “Every month, I write at last 10 success stories,” all rooted in the assistance provided by HOME volunteers.
Case in point. “One guy came off the streets,” she said. “He had been homeless for 10 years.”
Another man who visited the HOME center on a recent Saturday is still living in his car, but he now has his own business and is saving money to move to a better residence. He got help starting his own pressure cleaning service which has become something of a success.
Jim Comer arrived at the HOME center just in time to save his injured hand that had become gangrenous and might have required amputation. He received the needed treatment for the serious condition. His hand is much better, and he has also started his own business with help from the organization.
HOME serves several dozen homeless men, women and children each week – people from age 12 to about 90 – with everything from love to hot showers, dignity to laundry facilities, warm meals, new clothes, haircuts and grooming, eyeglasses, homeopathic treatments, clothing, toiletries, basic health screenings, social worker appointments and prayer.
“The first step is to greet them with kindness so they feel safe,” said James Batmasian, who lists himself as a member of the board of directors. But everyone in the room knows that the man who tries to remain humble and out of the limelight is truly the driving force behind this effort.
Batmasian and his wife, Marta, are the city’s leading property owners and both are well-known philanthropists, helping the needy, supporting cultural arts scene and contributing to virtually every nonprofit in Boca.
The Batmasians also operate PROPEL (People Reaching Out to Provide Education and Leadership), an organization that promotes education, character and leadership for at-risk youth through mentorship, apprenticeship and life skills training.
While Batmasian shrugs off the compliments, he can’t deny that most volunteers are here because of him. “Mr. B is the reason,” pointed out Candace Rojas, publicist for HOME.
“I’ve known Jim for 20 years; he has always been giving out money and food,” said Charles “Chuck” Laser, a volunteer. “Jim started HOME. It used to be called Love Boca Ministries,” but it moved out of its host church and now operates in the community with aid from several houses of worship. HOME’s offices are at 2236 N. Dixie Highway in Boca Raton. Rita N. Scott is executive director.
Assessing the program, Laser said, “The progress is just amazing. We are making a great impact.”
At age 85, Laser could retire and relish the quiet life while still volunteering for Batmasian. But he is president of Laser Oil and Gas Exploration, and, in fact, enjoys laboring as a “wildcatter” in petroleum fields of the western U.S.
Another volunteer, Farris Brown, observed: “Once you experience the authentic generosity of the volunteers, and witness the love they show to the most vulnerable, you will be truly touched.”
The Rev. Tom Tift, pastor of First United Methodist Church, has put his religious center on the HOME map.
“We have opened our doors to show compassion and offer basic resources with the intention of changing and transforming lives so that the people we serve feel loved and supported,” he said.
Pastor Tift is also chairman of the HOME board.
“Nobody thinks they will ever be the person who becomes homeless; nobody believes that their friends or family may become homeless. The fact is, we are all just one step away from everything unraveling,” said attorney Michael Liss, a HOME board member.
HOME needs volunteers who “have a heart to serve the homeless community” along with donations of money and goods so it can continue providing services. Those who can help should call 561-465-5311 or visit www.homeboca.org.