Pastor’s goal is a homeless center, not a church

BELLE GLADE — “By faith,” says Pastor Eric Payne, “this is the future Glades Family Services and Navigation Center!”

This building, at 572 S.W. Second St., will be that place if he and his helpers are successful in raising $206,000 by Jan. 1, 2020.

The Rev. Payne’s church, New Zion Assembly – The New Church, doesn’t have a sanctuary, so they have services in his family’s apartment in Belle Glade for now. But rather than get a home for their church, they’d rather have a home for the 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation the couple formed last February, Glades Family Services Inc. — and, through it, a place where they can shelter homeless families, who often come with children and only one or the other adult parent. But their congregation is very small, too, so this is a pretty ambitious dream.

Special to the Lake Okeechobee News/Eric Payne
From left, Pastor Eric Payne, his wife, Theresa, and Belle Glade Mayor Steve Wilson attend the fall festival earlier this month at the Belle Glade Chamber of Commerce.

Pastor Payne and his wife are preparing for their 40-mile awareness-raising and fundraising trek across the Glades region of western Palm Beach County that will begin hours before sunrise this coming Saturday, Nov. 30. Eric says he’s prepared to run, walk or crawl the 40-mile round-trip distance from their home to 20-Mile Bend and back.

In his spare time, he does have a career as a personal fitness trainer. “Been doing it for almost 30 years. I do personal training one on one and I do a Fitness Boot Camp at Okeeheelee Park and out here at Pioneer Park, and I charge only $7 a person.” He just opened a space called One on One Custom Fitness, installed some equipment and uses the rooms, “upstairs above Community United Methodist Church,” as a sort of office.

Glades Family Services has had only limited fundraisers so far, amounting to a few hundred dollars with which they bought some secondhand clothes and food. The pastor, his wife, family and some congregants distribute those during semimonthly ministry trips to Dreher Park in West Palm Beach.

“We preach out there, and then after we finish preaching, we feed whoever’s hungry. I’m not necessarily saying that they’re homeless, but most of them are who are out there at the park. So we feed them, and we give them toilet kits with washcloths, toothpaste, toothbrush, hygiene products, and we give them as much food as they can carry. Then, whatever’s left over from that, we come back to Belle Glade and we give it out in the community here.”

So about his quest to build the shelter and “Navigation Center,” he hasn’t gone out looking for cosponsors or similar organizations interested in getting involved. He has faith that support will come. He and his wife started Glades Family Services to provide housing aid and assistance, connections to community resources, counseling, help navigating the safety-net system and such services.

Pastor Payne says the building they found would be perfect. The first floor has an open reception area; office spaces that could be made into conference rooms and counseling chambers; a kitchen and laundry room; six bedrooms upstairs with common areas and a big central room with bookshelves that they’d convert to a family room with TV, a couch, tables and chairs.

Special to the Lake Okeechobee News/Eric Payne
BELLE GLADE — If Pastor and Mrs. Eric Payne can bring their dream to fruition, this building will become the future Glades Family Services and Navigation Center.

On Jan. 1, 2020, they need to fulfill their written agreement to buy the property from its owner at actual assessed valuation plus 15%, or about $206,000.

That’s a lot of money and precious little time. But he laughs that off.

“It should be told that you and I both know, whether it’s somebody from Palm Beach the island, or somebody in Boca Raton, Jupiter or Wellington, or whether it’s somebody out here in the Glades — somebody could literally write a check or make a few phone calls to their buddies and say, ‘Hey this is a great cause, you pitch in 50 grand, I’ll pitch in 50K, let’s get five of us…’ I believe that it can be done,” Pastor Payne declared.

But, he said: “I won’t beg anybody, because I feel like they know the need is there. They see it. If word gets to them, great!

“We don’t want to turn the message of trying to bring people to Christ, trying to encourage people and trying to bring them back … to be clouded by, every service we have, we’re trying to raise money to pay a lease or a mortgage.”

People have seen their GoFundMe and Facebook appeals, however, and have been sharing them widely. “We want them to post it more. So people are hearing of this, and lots are saying, ‘You know, let’s make this happen.’ Why can’t we?”

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