Scholarship House Offers Polk State Students a Safe, Welcoming Home
Heart 4 Winter Haven, Rotary Clubs Join Together to Help Homeless Students
Last updated 4/22/2020 at 10:48am
Since September Raymond had been living in his car. The music education major at Polk State College said he had two blankets for cold nights, but if he didn't remember to tape his car's door gaps on rainy nights the water poured in and woke him.
Raymond stayed committed to his studies despite spending most nights in a WalMart parking lot. Two weeks ago he left the ranks of the homeless and moved into the new Lenfestey Scholarship House at the Manse on Avenue Q in Winter Haven.
The Scholarship House, formerly the parsonage at Living Word of Faith Assembly, is a project of Heart 4 Winter Haven and Polk County Rotary Clubs. Since September more than 75 volunteers and about two dozen businesses have donated time, money and labor, valued at more than $65,000, to get the house open. The church is leasing the house to Heart 4 Winter Haven for $1 per year, and assistant pastor James Arnold has stayed very involved as a project volunteer.
"We were fortunate to get the house in enough shape to take in our first few men before the most recent round of restrictions," said Heart 4 Winter Haven Executive Director Brad Beatty. "I am so proud of how this community came together to make this happen. I cannot thank everyone enough."
Two of the three student bedrooms are ready to house up to six young men. In addition to Raymond, house manager Dexter Thomas and Polk State student Sean, a chemistry and philosophy major, were able to move in the second week in April. The third bedroom, which will house two students, and the second bathroom still need finish work and two outside doors need replacing, but getting the young men into a safe and welcoming environment was the top priority.
Due to family circumstances Sean dropped out of high school, but at age 22 he was given a second chance and completed his regular diploma at New Beginnings High School in Winter Haven. Since then he has completed his associate's degree at Polk and is taking some additional classes as he applies to colleges and universities to complete his bachelor's degree. His dream is to attend an Ivy League college or university.
Sean was volunteering at The Mission in Winter Haven when he met Beatty. Sean was losing his temporary housing and wanted to serve as a mentor and tutor for other college students, so Beatty felt he was a good fit for the new Scholarship House.
Beatty said Heart 4 Winter Haven is now taking referrals for new admissions. When the project began Polk State estimated at least 15 of its students were homeless or didn't have a stable housing situation.
"We will take it slow due to the current pandemic, but we are committed to ending homelessness among our local college students," said Beatty, noting he also would like to develop a scholarship house for young women students sometime in the future.
Rotary on the Ridge President Herbert Gillis said he wanted to connect Rotary Clubs from throughout Polk County for a group service project and the Scholarship House was the perfect opportunity. The first work day was scheduled on Sept. 28 to begin the renovation project, which involved stripping the house bare, scraping windows, painting and landscaping.
"Looking back, I cannot believe this project started with Rotary adopting the kitchen. On the first countywide work day 65 Rotarians arrived at the Scholarship House and it was clear this project was so much more," Gillis said. "So many Rotarians worked with unwavering commitment to move this project forward. With the support of our community partners, Rotary was able to remodel, landscape and furnish the Scholarship House."
In addition to Rotary on the Ridge, a regional after-hours club serving several communities in East Polk County, other area clubs that supported the project include: Bartow Rotary Club, Rotary Club of Winter Haven Rotary Club of Lakeland North, Rotary Club of Auburndale, Rotary Club of Lakeland South, Lake Wales Breakfast Rotary and Rotary Club of Lakeland Christina.
It truly became a community project and as each new challenge arose people stepped forward to meet the needs.
Lowe's Home Improvement at CitiCenter in Winter Haven offered materials at cost, donated paint and provided free installation of purchased flooring. The Badcock Home Furnishings & More corporate office donated $5,000 in furniture, and Adams Homes and the Six/Ten Group donated kitchen appliances. Other businesses and organizations that supported the project include: Big House Properties, Brock Industrial Electric, Capo Security, DOC Electric, Doors 2 Change, Flying Locksmiths of South Tampa, Gator Pressure Cleaning and Custom Painting, Golden Marble and Granite, Hartley Farms, High View Tree Service, Horne Construction, Ideal Refuse Service, Jouppi A/C, Heat and Refrigeration, Kitto Sheds and Equipment, MAC Plumbing of Central Florida, Metro News, Paradise Lawn Care of Central Florida, RightWay Landscaping Pros & Tree Service, S&W Supply, State Farm, Walmart Supercenter #3347, Wheat Painting and Winter Haven Police Department. (We apologize if we left anyone off this list, as so many did so much.)
The Scholarship House is being named in honor of the late Fred Lenfestey, the first president of Polk Community College (now Polk State). When it was used as a parsonage it was called The Manse, so the official name will be Lenfestey Scholarship House at The Manse. Once COVID-19 restrictions are lifted a ribbon cutting and open house to recognize donors will be scheduled.
Additional funds and volunteers are needed to complete the project. Tax-deductible donations can be made online at https://www.heart4wh.org/donate
Beatty can be reached by calling 863-291-6270 or emailing [email protected]