March 15, 2013

I’m coming back for a cup of coffee

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sign: Lacoochee Loves HUDToday I was able to drive slowly by that block and then stop and smile. Up until yesterday I had to look away and wipe the tears. Not that I didn’t want to stop and knock on each door. I wanted to stop. I just didn’t have anything in my hands for the families in the area, besides the promise of a dream for better days to come, given and repeated for almost ten years. In my heart I know we could do it. How, was the dilemma.

Call it serendipity or an answer to prayers, but today I saw this sign near the elementary school: “Lacoochee Loves HUD” and I knew we are finally moving forward.  Lacoochee, one of the most impoverished communities in Pasco County in Central Florida, is rising today as a testament of what can happen when a community works together and partners with local, state and federal officials.

What would seem standard in most societies – a health clinic and community center – has been nonexistent in Lacoochee. Finally, the community is preparing to break ground on a center to offer healthcare services for a hundred kids. This means that children will be cared for while their parents work.  The process has taken a few years. Loans and grants from HUD and other federal agencies have made possible to build houses with the help of their future owners, to redirect sewer lines and create a new water infrastructure.

 The residents of Lacoochee had a vision to improve their future. They found the way to work with their government and to get grants to provide the resources they need. Such grant, recently awarded by HUD, will be crucial; it will help the community plan it’s future in an organized and sustainable way. Other efforts are also paying off: the Department of Agriculture declared Lacoochee the Rural Community of the Year; and the Department of Justice is also offering more services in the area.

 Being part of this transition has been pretty special and I hope to come back soon, and stop in for a cup of coffee.

Karen Jackson Sims is HUD’s Deputy Regional Administrator in the Southeast and Acting Field Office Director in Tampa

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