Winter Haven Church Pledges $10,000 to Polk State’s My Brother’s Keeper

Posted on by Polk Newsroom

Polk State College’s My Brother’s Keeper has received a $10,000 pledge from Winter Haven’s Hope Presbyterian Church.

It is the largest monetary donation in My Brother’s Keeper’s three-year history.

“I am ecstatic, absolutely, positively ecstatic,” said Casmore Shaw, My Brother’s Keeper’s student supervisor. “The church saw the need to help students who are trying to finish their degrees but face true adversity.”

Added Hope Presbyterian Pastor Owen Carriker:

“This is what the church should be about. Jesus commanded us to go out and help people in need. This is our greatest witness,” he said.

Several years ago, Carole Toney, the College’s coordinator of veteran services, became aware of students sleeping in their cars and subsisting on cereal bars she gave away in her office. Several College employees united behind Toney’s efforts to help needy students, and the result was My Brother’s Keeper.

Now housed in a modular building on the edge of Polk State’s Winter Haven campus, My Brother’s Keeper serves hundreds of needy students each year, providing them with free meals and personal hygiene items, resume-writing assistance, help in navigating social services, and other aid.

As a service-learning initiative, Shaw and a small team of other students carry out the day-to-day operations at My Brother’s Keeper.

Hope Presbyterian learned of My Brother’s Keeper through Ron Hatley, president of the church’s chancel choir.

Hatley, a trained musician, does not attend Polk State College, but he has lent his voice to its chorus for the past five years. Through that connection, Hatley got to know a talented music student who, he was shocked to learn, is homeless.

The student could not be reached for comment. Most students who receive assistance through My Brother’s Keeper prefer to remain anonymous.

“It was heartbreaking and shocking to learn this young man, who is also a very fine musician, is homeless,” Hatley said. “It blew my mind.”

Hatley invited the student to perform at the church. Other members were equally impressed with  the student’s talent and resolve.

Earlier this year, when the church received a large bequest, members of its newly formed Mission Committee immediately thought of the student who had so touched their hearts — and the initiative organized to help others like him.

The donation to My Brother’s Keeper is the second-largest the 375-member Hope Presbyterian has ever made.

Shaw said the $10,000 will provide scholarships to students My Brother’s Keeper serves. Recipients will be selected based on financial need and essays.

During a recent visit to My Brother’s Keeper, Carriker, Hatley and several other church leaders discussed their $10,000 pledge of support — but also the bigger gift they hope they are able to pass on to students.

“We want them to know that they are cared about,” Carriker said. “When people know they are cared about, and when they are offered love, people respond. We hope the students who are helped here will pay it forward.”

My Brother’s Keeper is Open Monday-Friday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., and can be contacted at 863.297.1010, ext. 3423.