Reporter

Kissimmee nonprofit raises $75K at bowling event to help less fortunate

The Community Hope Center held a charity event Sunday at Disney Springs’ Splitsville.

Anne Giger admits she isn’t much of a bowler, but the Marriot employee couldn’t help flashing a big smile after landing a strike at Disney Springs’ Splitsville Sunday night.

“Who said throwing a granny-shot doesn’t pay off?” Giger said on return from her victory roll.

But the focus at the bowling alley that night wasn’t on high scores or bragging rights. It was about raising money for the Community Hope Center - a prominent Osceola County nonprofit dedicated to lifting families out of poverty.

Strike for Hope is the center’s fourth annual gala, pairing black-tie attire with bowling shoes and a catered deejay atmosphere.

It raised more than $75,000 to help the less fortunate.

Giger, who serves on the Hope Center’s board, said she looks forward to the event each year to give back to a mission she believes in.

“I’ve been an Osceola County resident for over 20 years, and during that time, I’ve seen many families struggle and the homeless population increase,” Giger said. “The Hope Center is a place where people can find the resources they need to get back on their feet.”

The center was founded in 2013 in partnership with Community Presbyterian Church of Celebration by Rev. Mary Downey.

Its founder promotes the center as an organization that uses case management, funds assistance and life skills in a holistic approach to restore stability and dignity to low-income individuals in Osceola County.

In the last six years, the center has served more than 27,000 individuals through a model Downey calls self-determined success.

“Instead of us setting a litmus test of what success looks like for a family, we allow families to choose that for themselves,” she said. “Let them determine what success looks like, and then we’ll walk beside them to help them achieve whatever goals they have.”

Downey has been an advocate for families in Osceola County for years. She recently worked closely with the director of “The Florida Project,” an award-winning independent film released in 2017 that spotlights the poverty of struggling families living in motels along Kissimmee’s U.S. Highway 192 corridor.

So, Downey admits she was weary about hosting a formal black-tie gala to raise money for the less fortunate.

“I felt uncomfortable at first with the idea of hosting an event the people we serve might not be able to afford to attend,” she said.

And there’s a special reason Downey chose to host the event at a bowling alley.

“The bowling shoes keep everyone humble,” she said. “You can’t take yourself too seriously in a black dress and bowling shoes.”

It can cost $2,500 to help house a single family, Downey said, so the money raised at Strike for Hope will benefit at least 40 families this year.

In addition to its “no wrong door” policy of connecting people with local resources, the center also housed over 100 families last year through continuum of care services for the chronically homeless, assisting with first and last month’s rent for families living in motels and a Homeward Bound program that helps people go back to where they have family connections.

The center also hosts regular iDignity programs to give low-income individuals state issued IDs.

“That ID opens numerous doors,” Downey said. “It’s impossible to get a job, rent an apartment or apply for benefits without one.”

Hope Village is the center’s next big project – a four-story, 256-unit complex on Old Vineland Road made from recycled shipping containers.

Center officials discussed preliminary site development plans for its unique affordable housing model with Osceola County officials in June.

The project would help bridge the housing gap in Kissimmee by providing low-rent leases to tenants to help them build or rebuild their credit history, Downey said.

The organization is still navigating lengthy permitting, zoning, funding and approval processes, but Downey said she wants to see progress made on Hope Village by next year.

“Everyone has told me this won’t be a quick project,” she said. “But when it’s done, we believe it can serve as a model to other communities struggling with housing issues.”

For more information about the center, call 321-677-0245 or visit www.hope192.com.