For Citrus Church Lead Pastor Brian Johnson, the best days include the simple things in life.
Sitting down with members over a cup of coffee, hearing their life story, praying with them or hearing what God has been doing in their life — these are true privileges, he said.
Now, Johnson is using his passion for people in a new way — through an organization called Embrace Families, which seeks to keep struggling families intact and improve outcomes for children, teens and young adults beyond the scope of traditional children welfare services.
Through the help of several influential members in the community, Johnson has assisted in raising more than $400 in a food drive hosted by the Rotary Club of Horizon West. He also hosted a special Mother’s Day offering at the church to help those in need.
“My job is to serve them (the people) and help them grow in their faith and in their spirituality and to find ways to connect that to their everyday life and then to use that to make a difference in their community,” Johnson said. “I love being a part of people’s lives who want to dedicate themselves to God but also find a way to love their neighbor and getting to be there to walk them through those journeys of life is really inspiring to me.”
Esma Dennis, foster care recruiter for Embrace, said she met Johnson when she spoke at the Rotary Club.
“When I reached out to him about the possibility of sharing the need for foster homes, having our material within his church organization, he, without a hesitation, let me do a class for foster parents there as well as put brochures and business cards within the church,” Dennis said.
Johnson said it was inspiring to see how the church could provide the much-needed space the organization needed to share the important information with the community.
The two kept in touch, and when Mother’s Day approached, Johnson said he had an idea.
“We didn’t want to do the traditional stuff that churches do for Mother’s Day, and our children’s director, who also has a passion for fostering and adoption care, said, ‘Why don’t we take up an offering for Embrace? We’ll share a little bit of information about what they do with our congregation and kind of use Mother’s Day as an opportunity to help people do something good in the world as opposed to just handing them a flower,’” Johnson said.
Crystal Holic, children’s ministry coordinator who helped organize the effort, said not all women are moms, and Mother’s Day can be difficult for those without a mother or who desire to be a mother. Supporting foster care allows people the opportunity to feel and provide the love of Mother’s Day.
“I love that our church is eager to support organizations like Embrace to ensure children know love and (are) loved,” Holic said. “On a personal note about Embrace and fostering, it is incredibly heart-wrenching that any child faces abandonment, lack of needs, homelessness, hunger and more. No child makes the decision to be in that situation. I feel very strongly to do all that I can to support those children and ensure they are safe, happy, healthy and loved.”
SUMMER FOOD DRIVE
According to the Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida, one in seven adults — and one in five children — is food insecure, meaning they don’t know how they will get the next meal.
With this in mind, the Rotary Club put together a two-week summer food drive in mid-May to provide hunger relief to the families facing difficult decisions.
“Everyone in the room was ready to do something tangible for the community,” Johnson said. “We shared the need, and it was one of those things where I was kind of overwhelmed at how much they raised and how quickly it happened.”
The club collected the gift cards as well as shelf-stable supplies, including canned vegetables, meats, spaghetti, soup, fruits, beans, jelly, peanut butter, pasta, water and rice.
“Esma is an incredible representative for Embrace Families,” immediate past president Terri Hatfield Dull said. “They do so much to help kids in need during such a vulnerable time in their lives where they are often experiencing neglect or abuse.”
Dennis said the best way for a community to show support for the nonprofit is to help connect Embrace with different businesses and organizations.
“We have children (who) are in care who have been abused, neglected and abandoned, and we need you,” she said. “If you are not the one (who is) going to do the fostering, you may know somebody, or you may be able to share the information and help us to provide education.”
In the future, Johnson hopes to partner with Embrace and others to take the donations from a one-time event to form a partnership through which the church can offer continuous support.
“What we really try to do as a church is to find what the actual needs are and try to ask questions of our community … so it’s less of that whole, ‘We’re here to rescue you’ mindset, and more of, ‘We want to be kind of with you in your life and in service,’” Johnson said. “Rotary’s whole goal is similar: ‘How do we support the people in the community who are doing great work already?’”