After 10 years of ministry, New Beginnings of Central Florida has a new leader, Stephanie Harris. “Looking back,” Harris says, “I believe God has been preparing me, in my career and life, for my current role as Executive Director of New Beginnings of Central Florida.
Harris worked many years in the non-profit sector, including the Salvation Army, the March of Dimes and the American Heart Association. She’s quick to identify a passion to empower those who are under-served in our community.
“That passion stems from a personal place,” Harris explains, “as I experienced poverty firsthand in my childhood. I watched my mom overcome all odds. Moreover, as a mother of two girls, I care deeply about equipping families to succeed.”
In 2017, New Beginnings adjusted their outreach strategy to include services to families fighting homelessness, Harris explains. According to a 2017 report from the United Way, 44% of working households in Florida cannot afford basic living costs. These are the people labeled “the working poor.”
“Frankly, they may live next to you, even though you might have no idea of their desperate needs,” Harris says.
Typically, homeless programs cannot accommodate families. They usually can only assist women with children or single adults. Last year, when Harris joined the ministry, that changed because, she says, the face of homelessness has changed.
She tells the story about Sabrina and Dennis, a family of three who moved from New York to Florida in search of a better life. They planned to stay with family, but that didn’t work out. With nowhere else to turn, they moved into New Beginnings’ supportive housing program, which New Beginnings calls “Selah” (a Hebrew word that appears in the Bible and means, “pause here.”)
It is different than the homeless rehabilitation housing still available for single mothers and single adults, yet still comprehensive.
Harris says, “Our initial 90-day contracts with families in Selah housing require residents to meet with our case manager for accountability, our licensed mental health counselor because everyone needs someone to talk to, and a financial mentor to help establish and manage a household budget.”
The strategy is working. While at New Beginnings, both Sabrina and Dennis have increased their income, moved from part-time work to full-time work and one of them was promoted to management. According to Harris, the family will move out of Selah housing at the end of this month, focused on their dream to continue to save towards buying their own home.
“Since we started the Selah program less than a year ago,” Harris explained, “we have housed 9 families and empowered 4 to move on to permanent housing, while 5 are still with us today.”
The mission of New Beginnings is to empower neighbors in need to live a responsible life, which directly aligns with Harris’ core beliefs. Last year, including singles and families, New Beginnings housed 63 people. Through their social services offices and weekly outreaches in 3 cities, they assisted 5,792 families and 12,541 individuals in 2017.
Harris was hired in 2016 by New Beginnings’ founder, Steve Smith. He has stepped down from leadership at New Beginnings, though he still offers consulting to the ministry he began with his wife, Linda Smith. Most recently Smith helped start a different non-profit agency called Provident Housing Solution, Inc.
“In 2018, New Beginnings has and will continue to serve our community through our mission,” says Harris, “collaborating with leaders and community partners. I will continue to move us forward.”