By Reggie Connell
Hope made a rare appearance in South Apopka last week at the Seminole County/Greater Apopka Habitat for Humanity's "Apopka Townhall for Homes" breakfast. Over 100 residents, community leaders, and elected officials attended and listened as Habitat laid out a plan for bringing new homes and new life to the community.
America isn't in an agreeable mood these days. A contentious election, poisonous tweets, fake news, screaming matches at townhalls and nationwide protests are the highlights of a bickering nation. To a lesser degree and smaller scale, Apopka seems to be in an ornery mood as well. Take a look at the blogs, news sites, and Facebook pages or visit a City Council meeting and you will see a lot of arguing and a lot of people who don't agree. The pursuit of common ground seems almost like an exercise in futility.
But just when you are ready to throw in the towel, common ground is located on a 4.3-acre piece of land that sits between 12th and 13th Streets in South Apopka.
They call it Juniper Bend.
Along with its accompanying development Arbor Bend, the project will account for a 58-home community. The site location was previously known as Hawthorne Village Apartments, an 84-unit farmworker complex located on 12 acres that had become dilapidated. Habitat will break ground on this project in March.
Orange County Commissioner Bryan Nelson welcomed guests to the John Bridges Community Center. "Thanks to everyone for coming to this great event," he said. "I'm going to challenge everyone in this room to build a house. I'm proud to say that Orange County will contribute $724,000 of INVEST funds for construction activities."
Sister Ann Kendrick remembers Hawthorne Village and is thrilled to see this project take its place, especially because its Habitat spearheading it.
"I think the world of Habitat. I'm glad to see what was the old Hawthorne Village is coming back to life. It will make a big difference in the lives of the people here."
Kendrick, the founder of Hope Community Center, also brought life back to Hawthorne Avenue when HCC bought the Apopka Family Learning Center building last year.
Commissioner Billie Dean also remembers Hawthorne Village Apartments but looks to the heavens when describing this project.
"It's a God sent endeavor to do something on this side of the city. Affordable housing in South Apopka is what I have been fighting for as long as I've been a commissioner. Habitat taking the reins is just what we need.
Commissioner Doug Bankson attended the event and is especially impressed with the applicant's participation in the process.
"I was very pleased to be a part of the Habitat for Humanity program this morning and support the program wholeheartedly. I believe this is the best and most efficient way for a community to come together and lend a "hand-up, not a handout." I'm hopeful that the community and various community organizations and churches will come together to help those in need. I especially like the format of the program that gives dignity to the individual by requiring their involvement, as well as setting them up for success through teaching. This empowers them to break the grip of poverty, and the poverty cycle as well for the next generation."
Commissioner Diane Velazquez was particularly pleased with the attendance for the town hall event, and the idea that it could create a unified effort to help South Apopka.
"The Habitat for Humanity breakfast this morning had a strong turnout of business leaders, elected officials & community residents, all embracing a project which plans to bring affordable single family homes to families in need. This scheduled project is a result of private/public partnership working together toward a goal to strengthen a community and to give the families, who qualify an opportunity to own their home. The American Dream. 'Not a handout but a Hand up.' It lifts my spirit to see a project of this magnitude, 58 homes, coming to this Apopka community, in my opinion, neglected for so long. It is the beginning of revitalization. A celebration indeed, and when we can all come together for a cause greater than individuality but instead to build a community. Today, was a giant step forward for all of Apopka."
Mayor Joe Kilsheimer was not at the event but sent a letter outlining his excitement over the project. In his letter to Habitat Executive Director Penny Seater, he writes:
"I have seen first-hand the passion that you, your board and the members of your organization have for Habitat's mission: Seeking to put God's love in action, you bring people together to build homes, community, and hope. I can think of no more worthy example of that mission than the project you are announcing today. The community of South Apopka has suffered from economic and institutional neglect for too many years. To correct that neglect, we must plant today the seeds of revitalization to assure the community's future success. The community you are announcing is just that kind of seed."