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Amelia Islander

Caring Connections

Jul 31, 2014 11:47AM
In early 1985, a bank teller and parishioner at St. Michael’s Catholic Church, shared with her priest, Father Edward Booth, that she often cashed checks people brought into the bank from multiple churches. Some of those people told her they were struggling to make ends meet, and the churches gave them financial help. As a result of her conversation with Father Booth, he and a group of St. Michael’s parishioners considered creating a non-profit agency that would serve as a central place for people seeking assistance. The idea was that the agency could qualify and document the needs of people coming for help, and relieve them from having to approach multiple churches.

In 1986, that visionary group acquired their non-profit status and rented a small place where they could interview citizens experiencing crisis and in need of assistance. They named the agency “Barnabas” in honor of their patron, Saint Barnabas, who was known as “son of encouragement.” Soon, the Ministerial Alliance joined the effort, and several churches began contributing support for the agency. In 1991, Paul Burns, a longtime resident of Fernandina Beach, donated his building at 11 South Eleventh Street, and Barnabas began operating from that location.

Since the creation of Barnabas nearly thirty years ago, the Center has reached many milestones in its history of serving the needy in Nassau County. In 1994, Barnabas opened the “NEW to YOU” resale store in Fernandina Beach. Revenue from store sales helps provide income for assisting citizens in need. Additionally, the store serves as a program for providing clothing, household items, and furniture to those who don’t have the financial means to purchase them. In August 2000, the store moved to its new location at the corner of Jasmine and Fourteenth Street. The building was newly painted and updated this summer. A Barnabas West Side office opened in Hilliard in 2001, entirely staffed by volunteers. The Hilliard branch serves citizens from the far west part of Nassau County and saves them the one hour drive into Fernandina Beach when they are in crisis.

Barnabas, in partnership with the Nassau County Health Department, began the “Barnabas Samaritan Medical Program” in 2005 as an effort to provide urgent healthcare service for uninsured, low-income residents. The program started as a one-night-per-week, walk-in program for anyone needing urgent medical care. Volunteer health care professionals provided care to patients in the meeting room of the Barnabas crisis assistance facility on Eleventh Street. Baptist Hospital Nassau began supporting the program by offering diagnostic services such as lab work and x-rays. The Barnabas Samaritan Medical program helped alleviate the number of people visiting the hospital emergency room for non-emergency medical conditions.

With funding secured through a grant from the Sontag Foundation, the agency began the Barnabas Dental Program in 2007. When a local dentist moved to a new office, Barnabas rented the old site and began providing dental services for low-income, uninsured adults. The new space was large enough to operate the dental program during the day and the medical program in the evening.

But, even with its expanded services, Barnabas outgrew the spaces that housed its many programs, and in 2012, it launched its “Building More Room for Compassion” campaign in order to raise $1.2 million for a new facility at 1303 Jasmine Street in Fernandina Beach. The new building was needed to consolidate all the programs under one roof, and the building’s renovations were completed earlier this year.

Wanda Lanier, executive director of Barnabas Center, Inc., said the board of directors had been searching for the right building when the Jasmine Street site became available. “We really wanted to own the building,” said Lanier. “We needed a one-stop shop that would house all of our services under one roof. After we acquired the building, Jose Miranda was the architect who completely repurposed the space. Our vision was to have our crisis center, medical clinic, and food pantry in one building. And now we do, because of the generosity of our partners and donors.”

[heading style="subheader"]Medical Services[/heading]

Barnabas has expanded their medical and dental services, adding mental health services, vision and hearing screening, and chronic disease management. Baptist Medical Center Nassau and Baptist Health provide a strong foundation to ensure that uninsured adults in Nassau County have access to quality health care. Baptist Health has provided funding to support the expansion of health services, and Baptist Medical Center Nassau provides the services of a medical director. The Baptist Health system provides critical support by contributing lab services, x-rays, testing, mammograms, medications, and other essential services to patients.

The Florida Blue Foundation awarded Barnabas a three-year grant, which allows the center to hire staff and pay for other start-up costs. Mental health services are now available onsite through a partnership with Starting Point Behavioral Health, and include services specifically focused on women and girls, made possible by a grant from the Women’s Giving Alliance. Laureen Pagel, CEO of Starting Point, understands the importance of mental health care for people in crisis. “We know how important it is to identify a crisis situation and offer immediate intervention. We have two therapists, and someone is available at Barnabas every day to offer counseling.”

The Barnabas Dental Program is the only one of its kind in Nassau County. Quickly recognizing the connection between diminished physical health and poor oral hygiene, Barnabas has restored the smiles of nearly 700 patients so far. Stephen Lee, president of Baptist Medical Center Nassau, explains the how Barnabas’s medical, mental, and dental services improve the wellness of all Nassau residents. “We need to get people to a healthier place,” he says. “It is our responsibility to provide the means for a healthier community.” Baptist Medical and the Community Foundation of Northeast Florida, along with Florida Blue and other charitable organizations, have partnered with Barnabas to provide medical assistance for individuals and families who cannot afford to pay.

[heading style="subheader"]Crisis Assistance Center[/heading]

With the new building, people in crisis are able to come to one place for all their needs. Barnabas’s Crisis Assistance Center helps with rent and mortgage assistance, as well as paying utility bills. They also provide refurbished bikes for adults to help them get to work and connect clients with other resources to help them get back on their feet during a crisis. “Our goal and vision with Barnabas is to help move our clients toward self-sufficiency,” says Lanier. “When a crisis happens in someone’s life, we want to be the primary resource that a person can come to immediately for help.”

Barnabas provides clothing and household items for those in need, and also case management and budgeting assistance. “We also provide assistance in applying for benefit programs,” says Lanier, “plus referrals and information for additional services. Encouragement and crisis intervention is what people need to get them through that difficult time in their lives. We help people stay in their homes, avoid hunger, and eventually become self sufficient.” Crisis assistance is available at each of their Fernandina Beach, Hilliard, and Callahan offices.

[heading style="subheader"]Food Pantry[/heading]

The face of hunger in Nassau County includes working families, children, and the elderly. It is estimated that 1 out of 6 adults and 1 out of 4 children in our community is hungry or facing food-insecurity, which is simply not knowing when or how they will get their next meal. The largest growing population experiencing hunger or food insecurity is working families, “ordinary” people who work hard and live on an income that can’t stretch from paycheck to paycheck. The reduction in SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly known as food stamps) that took effect in 2013 has had an impact on individuals and families.

Within the new Barnabas building, their food pantry provides individuals and families with fresh, frozen, packaged, and canned food, and distributes it throughout the county. The pantry is replenished via community civic club and churches, along with Harris Teeter, Publix, Winn-Dixie, Target, local bakeries, the U.S. Postal Service, and others. The Coalition for the Homeless and Council on Aging are partners in Soup Train, which provides homemade soup meals for the elderly on the Meals-on-Wheels wait list. Food is available at the Fernandina Beach facility, but there is also a mobile food pantry that reaches families and individuals in Nassau County. With help from Nassau Humane Society, pet food assistance is also available.

A new program called “Cooking Matters” teaches clients how to prepare healthy, low-cost meals. Leana Gallagher, instructor and a major supporter of “Cooking Matters,” explains how important it is for families to learn how to cook economical and nutritious meals. “Our first classes began in July,” says Gallagher. “It is a six-week, hands-on course, taught by a chef and nutritionist. The class is free, and we show our clients how to incorporate more fruits and vegetables into their meals, foods that their families will enjoy, and are better for them than prepackaged foods.”

Bill Gower, board member of Baptist Health and president of the Boy & Girls Clubs of Nassau County, sees the impact that Barnabas has on the community. “I’ve developed an appreciation of what single parents go through trying to support their families and raise their children. I’ve seen what Barnabas has done, the families it has helped – these people are our neighbors. This all contributes to a healthier community.”

“Barnabas relies almost solely on charitable gifts, grants, donations of goods and services, and volunteer efforts,” says Lanier. “The support of our partners and community is as vital as ever as we strive to help our neighbors overcome crisis and attain self-sufficiency. That is our mission at Barnabas.”

Barnabas is the center of an integrated service network that assists people with a compassionate helping hand so they can become healthy, productive citizens, which strengthens the entire community. Through their partnerships and donors, Barnabas can reach even more people, thus minimizing duplicate services, and maximizing resources. For more information about Barnabas, or if you’re interested in becoming a donor or volunteer, call (904) 261-7000 or visit the website at