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Multidimensional nonprofit announces plans to expand

Mark Parker

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Kirk Ray Smith, CEO of Hope Villages of America, speaks to students about bullying. Photos provided.

According to its CEO, Hope Villages of America touches the lives of 150,000 people throughout Pinellas County; now, he plans to offer the myriad of services it provides to the entire Tampa Bay region.

Established in 1967, and formerly known as RCS Pinellas, Hope Villages of America (HVA) utilizes a network of 2,500 volunteers and 80 employees to address hunger, housing and abuse throughout Pinellas. Kirk Ray Smith, president and CEO of HVA, said the organization now serves about 15% of the county’s population throughout its 24 municipalities. Nearly half of the people HVA supports with its housing programs hail from St. Petersburg.

Smith said the organization’s mission is to provide programs and services to help people along a path to self-sustainability with dignity. It takes a village to overcome major obstacles, said Smith, and he now hopes to provide that village to residents of Hillsborough, Pasco and Manatee Counties.

“More and more people are in need of our services, unfortunately,” he said. “And we’re good at it. We’re good at what we do.”

Smith said HVA has a 90% success rate with finding permanent housing for the homeless. According to its website, the organization assists with 3,800 domestic abuse calls and feeds 60,000 people annually.

Smith said the nonprofit takes pride in offering multidimensional services and believes its wraparound programs are the key to its success. He used a food-insecure family in need of groceries as an example.

“In the intake process, we may discover it could be a domestic violence issue,” he said. “It could be a workforce development issue. There could be a bullying issue with their kids.

“Whatever it is, we can assist them.”

Smith said HVA utilizes around 90 food banks and pantries across Pinellas, some on college campuses. The organization provides shelter and affordable housing, rental and utility assistance and a domestic violence safe house. He said it also operates an abuse hotline.

Smith delivers groceries to a food pantry. According to its website, HVA feeds 60,000 Pinellas residents annually.

The hotline, said Smith, supports those experiencing domestic and elderly abuse and bullied children. He added that HVA also visits schools throughout the county to spread bullying awareness programming.

“Workforce development, financial literacy – and again, all up to 150,000 people,” said Smith. “And it’s funny because our greatest threat existentially is obscurity.”

Much to his dismay, Smith said HVA is often overlooked, despite providing such a wealth of resources. He said HVA is a $13 million organization, and its leadership must raise $3.5 million annually “just to keep the doors open.”

The organization, said Smith, struggled when he took the helm six years ago. To speak generously, he said, HVA was about six months away from insolvency at the time. Smith created a trademarked business model called VIVID that helped eliminate mistakes, control expenses, and increase revenue to fuel expansion. VIVID is an acronym for viability, impact, visibility, inspiration and deliverability.

Smith said volunteers now comprise 90% of his workforce, enabling HVA to put 85-90% of every dollar towards its mission. He added that instead of trying to accomplish 10,000 things 10 times, the focus became achieving 10 things 10,000 times.

“Whatever you’re good at, do it a lot,” he said. “We went from a $9.9 to a $13 million organization since I’ve been here, we got out of the deficit, we delivered two audits in the black – and that hasn’t happened in 20 years.”

As HVA grows and expands its support throughout the region, Smith hopes to increase the number of people it serves by about 25,000 per year. He said he would love to see the total reach expand to 250,000 in the next three to five years – and, he noted, that includes children, the elderly, families and individuals.

The most pressing need in the area, said Smith, is housing. Not just stable, affordable housing, but somewhere clean and safe. He stressed that a lack of a decent home and economic struggles leads to increasing crime, domestic violence and mental health problems.

“There are two types of people on earth – those in need and those in a position to meet the need,” said Smith. “We just happen to be on the side that meets the need.

“So, if you have a need, give us a chance to help you out.”

For more information on Hope Villages of America, visit the website here.

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