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Day 2: Catching up with Councilmember Darden Rice

Megan Holmes

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Councilmember Darden Rice has taken National Volunteer Week to shine a light on the work of nonprofit organizations throughout St. Pete. As previously reported, Rice has spent the week with local non-profits, volunteering and looking to understand their stories and their missions.

The work is hopeful, says Rice, “Whatever your political stripe, we live in cynical times. Volunteerism is social capital, and we need to tell that story.” Seeing the work that local nonprofits are doing to make the city just a little brighter helps Rice to see that the city can’t – and doesn’t have to – do it alone.

Previous Coverage: Following Council Member Darden Rice for #NationalVolunteerWeek

“Americans are problem solvers at heart,” she said, “We can solve serious challenges and tackle very serious issues. It’s amazing to see what these non-profits are taking on.”

The most eye-opening part? Their origin stories, said Rice.

Metro Wellness Center, where Rice volunteered on Monday, sprang up as a fundraising group to help out in response to the growing AIDS epidemic in the mid ’80s. Now, they serve upwards of 15,000 people per year in 7 different counties in Florida.

On Tuesday, Rice visited Pinellas Hope, which came to fruition in response to one of the darkest spots in St. Pete’s recent history. In 2007, the St. Pete Police Department slashed and destroyed the tents of a homeless encampment in downtown St. Petersburg. Later that year, the Catholic Charities Diocese of St. Petersburg opened Pinellas Hope on 10 acres of land provided by Bishop Robert N. Lynch and the Diocese of St. Petersburg.

Pinellas Hope now serves around 400 people, providing innovative shelters, tents, and cabins as well as access to food, counseling, substance abuse treatment, and medical care. They’ve also been able to place 52% of the people they serve back into the community with jobs and housing, just shy of their goal of fifty-five percent.

Rice hopes that we don’t take the powerful work of these organizations for granted, “We talk about these services as if they’ve always been there, but it’s good to know that in a Margaret Meade-fashion, a small group of citizens can come together with a solution, a vision, and a will, and change the world. It’s inspiring.”

Check back in for our story on Councilmember Rice’s work with Friends of Strays Animal Shelter on Thursday. 

Check out Councilmember Rice’s experience in her own words here.

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