Community With A Heart is underway

The annual campaign offers a helping hand to those who need a little extra money to get by—and all of the funds are used locally.

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Posted November 21, 2022 | By Susan Smiley-Height
Photos by Bruce Ackerman

We all face trials and tribulations in life, some more than others. Imagine the heartache of not being able to provide your children with adequate care or losing your barely-making-it job because your car broke down or facing homelessness with no money to keep up on the rent.

These are all scenarios that have come before the Community With A Heart (CWAH) board of directors during the annual giving campaign. And these were all local people—our neighbors—who received help through CWAH.

The campaign, which relies on donations, begins in early November and runs through the middle of January. The nonprofit group is governed by a board of 13 members who are affiliated with area help agencies. Those who are seeking assistance must apply through one of the agencies on the board, present recent documentation of the need and demonstrate self-sustainability.

“This program is not a handout, but a hand up. CWAH assists individuals and families from all walks of life. We don’t want people who used to help others or never needed help before to feel embarrassed or ashamed because they now need assistance to get back on track. Life happens, and this program exists to help people in our community that need a little help,” said board chair Monica Bryant, the Family Violence Prevention Coordinator with the Marion County Children’s Alliance.

The goal of the program, she explained, is to help families who have experienced an unexpected major life event get back on their feet.

“We don’t put band aids on the problem. If they can’t pay their bills each month, they won’t qualify for the program. We have to be good stewards and use the money donated wisely,” Bryant affirmed.

Now in its 36th year, CWAH has collected more than $1.8 million, of which $31,531.80 was raised during the 2021-2022 campaign. All of the donations go directly to help individuals and families living in Marion County.

The CWAH board members meet once a week during the campaign to review applications that have been vetted by board members. The board member must make a home visit and the applicant must show some certification of need, such as two estimates from a certified car repair shop, if they are requesting help to get their car fixed.

“The board reviews case by case and votes on who receives support. It has to be a majority vote,” Bryant said. “And no money goes to the person; it goes to the landlord, or the car repair shop, or whatever.”

There is a cap of assistance at $1,200 and approved applicants may not apply again for five years.

Often, local businesses, churches, and volunteers donate their services to stretch the giving even further, such as in the case of Jeanna and Marcus Brewington, who received help through the program last year. Both of their cars were not working and with nine children it was difficult getting the children to school and work doing Door Dash to earn extra income. CWAH assisted the family with getting one of the cars fixed and a private donor read about the family’s situation and donated money to repair the second car.

While the campaign is often seen as being holiday-related, it is in effect year-round, when it helps, for example, provide funds for gas cards, electric assistance or emergency shelter in a motel or hotel.

“CWAH is a remedy for the gaps that our local nonprofits can’t fill. All of the assistance goes for those needs that are outside of the normal services available in our community,” said Karla Grimsley, CEO of Interfaith Emergency Services, one of the county’s largest social services agencies, who serves on the CWAH board. “For the families that receive assistance, it’s often their only hope.”

How to help CWAH:

To support the Community With A Heart campaign, make a donation online at ocalafoundation.org/community-foundation-funds/community-with-a-heart/ or mail a check to CWAH Fund, P.O. Box 1777, Ocala, FL 34478. Donations are tax deductible and go directly to help residents in Marion County.

 How to apply for CWAH assistance: 

To seek help from Community With a Heart, contact one of the following agencies for a referral to the program to receive assistance: Marion County Children’s Alliance, Brother’s Keeper, Interfaith Emergency Services, Marion County School Social Services, Salvation Army Ocala/Marion County, Community Legal Services of Mid-Florida Inc., Ocala Housing Authority, Isaiah Foundation, Central Florida Community Action Agency, Marion County Community Services, Habitat for Humanity and Cleve Butler and James Jackson, who are Community-at- Large members.

Ongoing needs for CWAH:

  • Marion County Children’s Alliance: Funds for emergency shelter in motel/hotel for victims and survivors of domestic violence, gas cards and new, unwrapped toys or gift cards for youth 12 to 18 years old. (352) 438-5993.
  • Brother’s Keeper: Gas cards, bus passes, non-perishable food items and unwrapped toys for children ages 1-12. (352) 622-3846.
  • Salvation Army Ocala/Marion County: Towels, twin-size sheets, blankets, bus passes and canned food items. (352) 732-8326.
  • Interfaith Emergency Services: Towels, gloves, bus passes, new underwear and non-perishable food items (352) 629-8868.
  • Monica Bryant, the chair of the Community With A Heart board, right, speaks with April Adams of Marion County Public Schools, left, during a meeting at the Emergency Operations Center at the Marion County Sheriff's Office in Ocala, Fla. on Thursday, Nov. 17, 2022. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette] 2022.
  • Davida Randolph of the Howard Academy, left, talks about a case as she sits by Angela Juaristic of the Ocala Housing Authority, right, during a Community With A Heart board meeting at the Emergency Operations Center at the Marion County Sheriff's Office in Ocala, Fla. on Thursday, Nov. 17, 2022. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette] 2022.
  • Stephanie Walker of the Salvation Army, right, talks about a case as Winnie O'Neill of The Isaiah Foundation, left, listens during a Community With A Heart board meeting at the Emergency Operations Center at the Marion County Sheriff's Office in Ocala, Fla. on Thursday, Nov. 17, 2022. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette] 2022.
  • Monica Bryant, the chair of the Community With A Heart board, speaks during a meeting at the Emergency Operations Center at the Marion County Sheriff's Office in Ocala, Fla. on Thursday, Nov. 17, 2022. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette] 2022.
  • A Community With A Heart board member looks over a case during a meeting at the Emergency Operations Center at the Marion County Sheriff's Office in Ocala, Fla. on Thursday, Nov. 17, 2022. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette] 2022.
  • The Community With A Heart board meets at the Emergency Operations Center at the Marion County Sheriff's Office in Ocala, Fla. on Thursday, Nov. 17, 2022. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette] 2022.
  • Jason Halstead of Brother's Keeper speaks during Community With A Heart board meeting at the Emergency Operations Center at the Marion County Sheriff's Office in Ocala, Fla. on Thursday, Nov. 17, 2022. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette] 2022.
  • Karla Grimsley-Greenway, the CEO of Interfaith Emergency Services, speaks during Community With A Heart board meeting at the Emergency Operations Center at the Marion County Sheriff's Office in Ocala, Fla. on Thursday, Nov. 17, 2022. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette] 2022.