Chuck Seaver, South Lake Tablet

We, at the South Lake Tablet, have found that our community is the home of people with blended backgrounds, possessing an assortment of talents, interests, and experiences. Many of these unique people go far beyond their normal, everyday routines to make life better for their families, neighbors, and friends.

Each month, the South Lake Tablet will place a “spotlight” on one of these local residents who selflessly devote time and effort to make a positive impact on his/her community.

This month’s community spotlight shines on Evelisse Bookhout. Evelisse’s honorable discharge from the United States Army in 2012 coincided with her mother’s retirement date from the Corrections and Rehabilitation system in the State of New York, where her mother served as a law enforcement corrections officer. Evelisse began her military career shortly after the 9/11 attacks in the United States on September 11, 2001. After basic training and specialized training, she was deployed to Afghanistan during “Operation Enduring Freedom”. The operation was the official name used by the U.S. Government for both the first stage of the war in Afghanistan and the larger-scale global war on terrorism. Her battalion was sent to replace a battalion that suffered heavy casualties during a gas line explosion that resulted from enemy explosive devices. Evelisse also served in the 10th Mountain Division, an elite light infantry division based at Fort Drum, New York.

After her discharge, Evelisse wanted to continue her education and obtain a degree. From starting with a GED, she has worked her way through the college levels to obtain a master’s degree in clinical social work. She is also currently working in an internship program as a practicing therapist in mental health. Evelisse plans to begin her pursuit of a doctorate degree in organizational leadership soon.While pursuing her education goals, the need for community outreach and organized community care in the Four-Corners area of South Lake County became not only evident but were at near crisis levels in some areas. With a vision of helping children, her focus was on children at risk of many things, including malnutrition and sexual abuse. “These children needed help and there was nowhere to turn in the community. You see the glory of the community, but you don’t see the story,” says Evelisse.

With that dream in mind and her determination to help others, Evelisse opened the doors to Hands of Hope America of the Four Corners (HOHA). Hands of Hope has a mission to equip, empower, and restore underserved individuals, families, and communities in Central Florida. The vision is to provide accessible resources to restore self-sufficiency and dignity to all people. The facility located at 9230 US-192, Suite C and 16605, Suite 3, Sunrise Boulevard, both in unincorporated Clermont (Four-Corners), offers a food pantry and numerous types of social service programs, including resources for foster care.

Plans are in the works to add youth sports programs to teach teamwork, confidence, and camaraderie. Youth Director Fred Wellington is a relatively new addition to the HOHA Team and is currently working hard to establish such programs in the Four-Corners community. “We also offer family support, prayer, and free counseling through the Lutheran Christian Services. Walking a mile in my shoes is different than walking a mile in someone else’s shoes. Don’t judge the book by its cover. Everyone has a story, and everyone’s story is different,” says Evelisse.

Evelisse quickly admits that her mom, Maritza, is her biggest advocate and cheerleader. “My mom’s support is what started the food pantry here. She was the one that pushed me forward along with God’s empowerment,” says Evelisse.

Programs at Hands of Hope have grown to include food pantry outreach in the community, second language lessons, financial literacy workshops, workforce partnerships with Dwyer Workforce Development, and GED educational opportunities through Lake-Tech. After-school programs are offered and will soon be replaced by summer programs when schools recess in May for the summer. A program focusing on children titled RISE will kick off in June. The goal is to teach Resilience, Inspiration, Self-Discovery, and Empowerment to help young children discover their talents and how to overcome obstacles not only in the present but the future as well. Plans are also being orchestrated to collaborate volunteer programs with other organizations in the area to allow teens in need of community service hours for graduation and scholarship requirements to meet those needs. The program will also include a focus on younger children with a goal of enhancing the importance of helping others and instilling a sense of community among the youth.

When asked what motivates her to do what she does, Evelisse is quick to respond with “I love people and I love to see people accomplish their goals and aspirations. God creates each of us to have a purpose. People are valued, loved, and worthy of way more than they can see in themselves usually. With God as my foundation, I try to help people to see that in themselves and help them to the next step in achieving their goals,” says Evelisse.

Unlike many organizations in the not-for-profit category, Evelisse “volunteers” 60+ hours a week to her organization with no fiscal compensation or other HOHA related income. “I am a volunteer of my own organization. I get paid from my heart when I see the people getting the help that they need,” says Evelisse. She is also an active member of the Kiwanis Club of Clermont, partners with Lake Technical College, Red Cross, Southeastern Food Bank, Lutheran Counselling Services, and Freedom Tour.  

If there was one thing that Evelisse could change in the Four-Corners community, it would be the development and construction of a community center complete with services and capable of meeting the needs of the community. A place for youth to gather and thrive in a safe environment. A place where senior adults can socialize with others and feel that they are a part of the community. A place that emulates inclusiveness for the citizens that call the Four-Corners area home.

“The Four-Corners area needs a better infrastructure that includes a hub for the needs of the people to be met. Four-Corners is estimated to soon be the home of 50,000 families. Not just people but families. That’s an estimated 150,000 people if you estimate each family to have three people within it. That is 150,000 people with no community-based infrastructure or recreation programs in the Four-Corners area,” says Evelisse. “We (HOHA) distribute on average, 20,000lbs. of food a month to families, including children from a 2,800 square foot building. It’s simply not enough to meet the growing needs and population of people who are experiencing food insecurities right now, much less when there will be an estimated 150,000 people living here. Florida tax dollars for summer food programs to public schools have been cut by the state this year. The domino effect of mental health connected to hunger is a huge concern this summer when school children are in recess,” says Evelisse.

A recent study conducted by No Kid Hungry- Florida revealed that a staggering 72% of Floridians report finding it more difficult to afford groceries than just a year ago. This burden is not limited to lower-income households; 60% of middle-income families, earning between $50,000.00 to $99,000.00 are also feeling the pinch. The results are glaring that amidst a growing affordability crisis, putting nutritious meals on the table has become a daunting task for many. Another interesting study revealed that an overwhelming 92% of respondents believe elected officials should do more to end childhood hunger, emphasizing that this should be a shared, bipartisan goal and commitment. “We currently receive no governmental aid other than grants and we receive no help at all from the local governments,” says Evelisse. The Four-Corners area of South Lake County is a unique community as the community is geographically and jurisdictionally located in sections of Lake, Orange, Polk, and Osceola Counties around the US-27 and US-192 highways.

“I will keep doing what I’m doing by the Grace of God regardless of what our governments do or do not do. It’s my passion and it’s my calling. I get tired sometimes but the smiles that I see the next day make it all worth the challenge,” says Evelisse.​

Visit for a full listing of services offered, food pantry hours, and educational opportunities.

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