Saturday, April 09, 2005


Thanks to the Lakeland Ledger's weblog Polk News Watch for the turnon.

While Polk County didn't get the amount of damage from last year's hurricanes that Charlotte or Lee counties did, we certainly got our share. There are still a number of homes with FEMA-issued blue tarps over roofs, nine months after the fact.

It's great that people have not forgotten and are still willing to help those who have not yet fully recovered. A group of young people from Connecticut will arrive next weekend and will be staying at the Lions' Club camp for blind and disabled children near Lake Wales.

The group of approximately 100 high school students represents the non-demoninational Pilgrim Fellowship, a youth-based mission group formed under the auspicies of the First Congregational Church of Greenwich. They do something like this each year; in 2004 they helped a low income community damaged by wildfires.

According to the Shore Publishing newspapers:

"(Pilgrim Fellowship adult committee chairperson Rebecca) Bunting said (Guliford, CT teacher and PF director Michael) Dalton's goal for those going on the Polk County PF mission is to help 50 homeowners move back to their homes. Dalton, who has already visited the Florida community, has been coordinating with a FEMA director who knows the need in the area. At this point, no more FEMA money is available to assist the residents. Bunting also recently traveled to the southern community, where she said she saw "...mountains of refuse piled on the side of the roads."

"This is a suburban, low- income community, where the average income is $10,000 or $12,000 a year. Some are Haitian immigrants, and they don't have any other place to live," she said.

In addition to helping the Florida residents, Dalton said, he hopes the youth members of PF will come away from the mission feeling empowered.

"Empowerment--the idea that they can make a real, tangible difference, if they put their energy into their cause. Second, and no less important, is the idea that all people are significant and all people deserve respect and dignity, even if they are below the poverty line.

"These are values that permeate all systems of spirituality. This is a mentality that, unfortunately, has been largely forgotten in the present climate," said Dalton. Besides helping to clean up debris to allow for rebuilding, the PF youths are trying to raise money to make a substantial gift of much-needed financial support to the Florida community."

Dalton added, he hopes PF youths will give the Polk County residents " in the goodness of ordinary people. There is so much negativity in our pop culture...there is also a perception that all young people care about is (whether) their cell phone works and that they have the latest Xbox game. Young people can be materialistic, but so too are adults.

Given the opportunity, they rise to the occasion. I see it all the time. They really want social justice."

There's a lot of people in Polk that will sincerely appreciate this effort. God bless 'em.


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