A Center of Hope in Spring Hill by Eli Witek

Originally published in the West Volusia Beason on March 20, 2019.

HOW CAN WE HELP?  — Spring Hill Resource Center Administrator Shilretha Dixon, left, and Administrative Assistance Wanda Raulerson are ready to help clients who visit the Resource Center. Behind them is a wall of information to help clients navigate various programs to help them find healthcare, housing, jobs, and more.  BEACON PHOTO/ELI WITEK

HOW CAN WE HELP? — Spring Hill Resource Center Administrator Shilretha Dixon, left, and Administrative Assistance Wanda Raulerson are ready to help clients who visit the Resource Center. Behind them is a wall of information to help clients navigate various programs to help them find healthcare, housing, jobs, and more.

BEACON PHOTO/ELI WITEK

There is no such thing as a typical day at the Spring Hill Resource Center. The modest building at 910 S. Adelle Ave. in DeLand is many things to many people: a notary, a food bank, a résumé coach, a diabetes tester, a credit coach, a job hunter, a computer lab, a place to learn how to understand your water bill, and a place to sit and stay out of trouble.

Once a temporary police substation — which made many neighbors feel targeted as criminals — the Resource Center stands now as a nexus of information, a key to understanding the byzantine world of public services.

It offers a literal lifeline to the tangled web of public programs intended to serve those in need.

Students— Students from nearby grade schools also use the Resource Center. Some, like middle-school students Cameron Doby, left, come by every day after school. “We’re like mentors,” Administrator Shilretha Dixon said. At right is DeLand High School sophomore Soraya Gonzalez.  BEACON PHOTO/ELI WITEK

Students— Students from nearby grade schools also use the Resource Center. Some, like middle-school students Cameron Doby, left, come by every day after school. “We’re like mentors,” Administrator Shilretha Dixon said. At right is DeLand High School sophomore Soraya Gonzalez.

BEACON PHOTO/ELI WITEK

In February, the shortest month of the year, the Resource Center provided 882 people with some 2,026 services. In one five-day week, Monday through Friday, more than 200 people came in for one of 100-plus services that are provided there. The center is open to anyone who needs it, which includes residents of cities other than DeLand, like Deltona and Orange City.

The Resource Center is behind much-loved Spring Hill events, like the Mayor’s Backpack Giveaway before the beginning of school, the TURN Festival in September, which unites neighborhood and nonprofit organizations for a day of celebration, and the Christmas toy drive, among others. But the heart of the Resource Center is in meeting everyday needs, from explaining paperwork to simply providing a friendly face.

“We give a little TLC. A meal, encouragement, that’s just as important,” Administrative Assistant Wanda Raulerson said.

Some residents struggled to put into words what the center has done for them — and what life would be like without it.

“I’d be lost,” Donna Rene’e Bess said. “I wouldn’t know what to do.”

“They help you a lot” — Donna Rene’e Bess is one of those who rely on the Resource Center, ad the knowledge of the administrators, to understand the complicated paperwork associated with life in the modern world, search for jobs, or simply use the computer.

“They help you a lot” — Donna Rene’e Bess is one of those who rely on the Resource Center, ad the knowledge of the administrators, to understand the complicated paperwork associated with life in the modern world, search for jobs, or simply use the computer.

The 1,100-square-foot building would just be a building if it weren’t for the people inside, members of the community said.

Spearheaded by Shilretha Dixon with assistance by Raulerson, the Resource Center oversees a network of volunteers, and cares for people’s most sensitive information. Daily, the Resource Center makes a positive difference in clients’ lives.

“It’s my calling; I truly believe that,” Dixon said. “If God didn’t want me to be right where I am, I wouldn’t be here. It’s my passion.”

“I come up here to get my paperwork down, assistance, all the things I didn’t know about,” Diana Layne said. “You can be sure it’ll get done. Some places you call, and they say they’re going to send it in, and you find out they never did it. Here you know they’ll do it. You can go home and rest easy.”

Accordingly, the Resource Center is one of the most important and successful creations of the decades long attempt to lift up poverty-stricken areas of Spring Hill.

The small building at 910 S. Adelle Ave. was never intended to be the center’s permanent home and, finally, after 13 years, the City of DeLand and the County of Volusia have matched funds to build an improved 3,000-square-foot facility with more than twice the space, named in honor of former state legislator and former Volusia County Council Member Joyce Cusack.

Officials will break ground for the Joyce M. Cusack Spring Hill Resource Center in late April on West Mathis Street — a short distance from the existing center.

But the good news is clouded by the threat of a funding shortfall. The cost of operating the Spring Hill Resource Center at its new location was budgeted before the city got wind of an unexpected property-tax exemption for the Woodland Towers retirement community.

The result is a $97,000 shortfall in the Spring Hill Community Redevelopment Agency budget.

That fund will now plummet from a projected $147,000 income this year to $50,000 — just when its revenue had started to grow along with property values.

DeLand was depending on that fund to pay for operations at the new Resource Center.

Administrator Dixon remains confident.

“I would like the new Resource Center to set the precedent for the new Spring Hill,” she said.

Positivity is always part of the message, Dixon added. She pointed to a sign displaying the Spring Hill motto: A New Horizon on the Hill.

What are some of the services the Spring Hill Resource Center offers?

RÉSUMÉ ADVICE

Stetson University student Jordan Joseph examines a resume. Joseph, a volunteer at Spring Hill Resource Center, is a certified resume coach.

Stetson University student Jordan Joseph examines a resume. Joseph, a volunteer at Spring Hill Resource Center, is a certified resume coach.

Jordan Joseph is a junior in accounting at Stetson University, and a certified résumé coach. Working through Stetson’s Career Services program, he volunteers at the Spring Hill Resource Center several times a month — coaching clients and editing and printing their résumés.

On a recent day, a woman needed to print her résumé. She didn’t have time to wait for Joseph to edit the document, which can take up to half an hour. He offered to email a professionally formatted version to her.

“I originally came to make my hours to become a certified résumé coach,” Joseph said. “Now I just come to volunteer.”

Students from Stetson University come to the center four times a week to provide the free service. The Career Services program is one of several Stetson has in partnership with the Resource Center.

COMMUNITY SERVICE

Strict parameters are required to qualify for cash assistance, offered by Florida’s Department of Children and Families. To receive a little more than $200 a month for a child, the applicant’s income must be no more than 185 percent of the federal poverty level.

In addition, the DCF requires the child’s adult caregiver to work at least 82 hours of community service a month.

To qualify for cash assistance to help her raise her young children, Megan Cooper does her hours at the Resource Center.

“I’d love to do it as a job,” Cooper said. “They know me here, and they like me.”

Cooper is one of several who choose to fulfill their community-service hours at the Resource Center.

CREDIT CLASSES

The Resource Center also hosts other community-outreach programs, like the ones offered by the Mid-Florida Housing Partnership. On a recent Saturday, some two dozen people arrived at the center before 9 a.m. for a four-hour credit workshop. Among them were Linda J. Strong, Luz Elena Caro and Caro’s husband, Roberto Gonzalez.

Like others attending, the trio hoped to find help from the multi-class program to improve their credit scores so they can qualify for a mortgage, an essential step to buying a home.

“Absolutely, the Resource Center has been a big help,” Caro said. “That’s how we found out about this.”

Strong has taken advantage of other offerings at the Resource Center.

“I’ve been coming to the Resource Center for some years,” she said. “You know, it’s not about the color of your skin — it is for everybody.”

VOLUNTEERING

Many people who have used the Resource Center later become volunteers and donors. One of them is Alicia Gonzalez. The help she received at the Resource Center when she first moved to Central Florida prompted her to give back, she said.

“Through the years, I’ve come for everything: to use the computer, to find out about programs,” Gonzalez said. “Now I come to volunteer, and so does my daughter.”

She complimented the staff.

“Ms. Dixon has her thumb on the command center. The things she does here… I’ve never seen something so amazing,” Gonzalez said.