This year, Shepherd’s Hope traveled back in time to the 1920s for its annual Famous Faces Masquerade Ball, in celebration of 20 years of service.
WEST ORANGE The story of a local, volunteer-staffed health care clinic for families in need begins 20 years ago on the beaches of Sanibel Island.
It was the summer of 1996, when Dr. William S. Barnes — the pastor of St. Luke’s United Methodist Church — received the calling from God to reach out to families in need of health care that otherwise didn’t have the means to obtain it.
Upon his return to the church, he and the congregation began to piece together a plan to bring the vision to life.
Twenty years later, that vision — Shepherd’s Hope — continues to thrive and provide health care to uninsured or underinsured Central Floridians.
“No one could have anticipated the true community impact,” said Marni Stahlman, president and CEO of Shepherd’s Hope. “Everyone involved back at that point at inception knew they were in a compassionate, heartfelt mission to try to create access to health care services for the uninsured. (Today) the need is still the same — the folks that need our services need them today as much as when we first started. It’s as pertinent and resilient as it was from the beginning.”
Shepherd’s Hope first opened its doors in 1997 and runs on donated time and finances to provide necessary medical care to low-income families. At its inception, the demand was so overwhelming that families would make long treks to be seen for free.
Today, the organization runs five medical clinics. It also just broke ground on what will be its first permanent, 10,000-square-foot medical facility, to be located near Maxey Elementary in Winter Garden.
“We had our first patient on Valentine’s Day (in) 1997,” Stahlman said, tracing back to Shepherd’s Hope’s first day in operation 20 years ago. “It was at the West Orange vocational tech center, and that’s one of the cool parts about the new building coming around, because it’s a block from where we saw our first patient.”
MAKING THE DREAM WORK
When Shepherd’s Hope first opened, the concept of a free health care clinic in the state of Florida was virtually nonexistent, Stahlman said.
Barnes received God’s calling while walking along the beach line, but the direction as to bringing it to fruition took a little more thought.
“The community coming together in this elaborate array of partnerships among hospitals, individual providers, nurses, businesses, schools, faith partners — everybody embraced this,” Stahlman said. “Today, there are 92 free clinics, including Shepherd’s Hope, across the state.”
Those eligible for services have income at or below 200% of the poverty level, are uninsured and not eligible for government-assisted health care programs, according to the organization’s website.
Doctors, nurses and other volunteers donate their time to regularly staff each of the organization’s five health centers, which typically are open several evenings each week. Area hospitals partner with Shepherd’s Hope to provide routine laboratory and radiology services, and some health agencies provide specialty services for patients needing more advanced care.
“Shepherd’s Hope leads Florida both in the number of patients we see annually and the number of clinics,” Stahlman said. “I think everyone (involved at inception) envisioned they would make an impact and the mission was designed to help anyone that needed access to health care, but I truly believe they couldn’t have foreseen how extensive and far reaching and impactful that walk on the beach that day would be 20 years later.”
This year’s theme for the Famous Faces Masquerade Ball — the organization’s largest annual fundraiser — was the Roaring ‘20s, in honor of its 20th year in operation.
While the gala itself is in its 17th year, it served as both a fundraiser and a celebration of Shepherd’s Hope’s two decades of service.
Responsible for raising 30% of the organization’s operating budget, the masquerade is a significant event each year. Without it, Stahlman said, they wouldn’t be able to extend their mission as far as is needed.
“It really is a very essential component of our operations every year,” she said. “There really is a purpose, and while they’re there enjoying the festivities, we never lose sight of the fact that the purpose of us gathering together is to raise the dollars to support the mission.”
This year’s gala featured a gourmet dinner, fine wine and spirits, costume contests, live and silent auctions, dancing and more. Guests were encouraged to dress in their jazz-age best and take a trip back in time to the era of “The Great Gatsby.”
“We want to to be able to keep doing what we’ve been doing, because we know it works, and it saves people’s lives,” Stahlman said.
Click here to view photos from Shepherd's Hope's Roaring '20s gala.