Hard Times and Inspiration on the Back Roads of Florida

by Wayne Centrone
December 13, 2010

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For sale, for lease, on consignment, open flea market – sign after sign seems to say the exact same thing . . . people are down on their luck and money is tight. Every which way I turned on my drive along the rural roads of the northwest Gulf Coast of Florida, I saw signs of economic troubles.

If you need evidence that the economy is in the tank, get off the beaten track and take a drive on the roads less traveled in our great country. The reality that you see will show you the ripple effects of economic instability that are overwhelming many working class communities.

But there is hope, in the form of hardworking social service providers. In the rural community of Inverness (population 7,151), I met with a group of homelessness service providers who are working out of a small PATH-funded program called Marion Citrus Mental Health Center, Inc. Every day they use their know-how to help give people who are down on their luck the helping hand they need to reestablish their lives. Every day, they are bringing hope to the hopeless and comfort to the sorrowful.

Yes, our country is reeling in an economic downturn that feels like it has no end in sight. And the economic crisis has reached into everyone’s wallet and handbag. Yet, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. That light, I learned this week in my travels, is caring people.

These caring people include Sharon, who works tirelessly to assure that her clients have the best access to services and support she can generate. Then there’s Connie, who is working to develop new, innovative ways to get and retain people in living wage employment. Mary Lee never lets a spreadsheet or a financial statement get in the way of running programs that truly serve people in need.

I am forever amazed at the immense dedication of these hardworking providers. I am forever humbled by their skills, compassion, and resourcefulness. No one knows exactly when our nation’s economic situation will turn around. But I believe that we’ll all be better off if we can learn to work together, like Connie, Sharon, and Mary Lee do, to improve the lives of people in our communities.

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