When it comes to helping the homeless, she’s not too proud to beg

In her previous role, Carol Scheckler delivered warm greetings to people when they dropped in at the Greater Zephyrhills Chamber of Commerce.

But she stepped away from her job as administrative assistant at the chamber in May, and has since become president of The Samaritan Project, based in Zephyrhills.

Carol Scheckler, president of The Samaritan Project, said helping the homeless is her passion and mission. (B.C. Manion/Staff Photo)

Carol Scheckler, president of The Samaritan Project, said helping the homeless is her passion and mission.
(B.C. Manion/Staff Photo)

The chamber job, she said, was her paycheck. The Samaritan job doesn’t pay Scheckler a dime.

“Now, I don’t have a paycheck, just a passion and a mission,” Scheckler told members of the East Pasco Networking Group at its July 8 breakfast meeting.

In fact, there are no paid positions in The Samaritan Project organization, she said.

“None of us get anything other than the reward of knowing we are helping some people,” said Scheckler, who became acquainted with the charitable organization when she was working for the chamber.

She learned about it through Tim Mitchell, who was president of the Zephyrhills chamber at the time, and president of The Samaritan Project as well.

“I met a lot of unique people, coming into the office, applying for assistance,” Scheckler said.

She felt compelled to get involved.

“My dad is a minister. I was raised that we were to help those less fortunate,” Scheckler said. “Not to turn our backs on them, not to stereotype them, but to help them.”

The Zephyrhills woman understands how it feels to struggle.

“When my husband and I moved up in 1982, we did it for a reason. We were losing everything,” she said.

Her husband, a semitrailer driver had been through two major gas wars.

“This was our fresh start,” Scheckler said. “That’s why this project is so important to me. I have been there. I know firsthand what it is to lose everything.”

The Samaritan Project has been helping people since 2008. It operates on donations and fundraisers.

“We assist people with past due rent and utilities,” Scheckler said.

The organization keeps its operational costs low.

“We do not pay rent. We have one overhead (cost), that is our Internet, because as you know in this day of technology, everything relies on the Internet.”

The project has spent more than two years in the St. Joseph’s Catholic Church Education Building in Zephyrhills in 500 square feet of space, including the bathroom and air-conditioning room.

“My private office is the bathroom,” she said, noting whenever she has to make a private call to a landlord or utility company or somewhere else, she steps into the bathroom to do it.

But the organization is moving to much larger quarters at 5722 Eighth St., in Zephyrhills. Last week, the Samaritan Project signed a two-year lease, rent-free lease for the 1,400-square-foot home, thanks to the generosity of a local couple.

In addition to its own fundraising efforts, the organization received a $76,000 Emergency Solutions Grant earlier this year from the Florida Department of Children and Families and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

“With this grant, we are able to get them into housing,” Scheckler said. “We can pay their first month’s rent, we can pay their electric deposit, water deposit, the security deposit.”

There is a drawback, though. The organization must raise matching funds for the grant money it spends, Scheckler said. The grant also requires applicants to fill out a form that’s about 20 pages long.

“We don’t make the rules. We strictly abide by the rules,” she said.

Still, the project is thrilled to be able to help more people, Scheckler said. The grant is aimed at preventing homelessness and getting people without housing back into homes.

Sixty percent of the grant is earmarked for getting people back into housing, she said, and the need is great.

“We had 151 homeless, registered students, just in Zephyrhills,” Scheckler said. At any given time, there are 1,500 to 2,000 registered homeless students in Pasco County.

One of the biggest challenges is finding a place for these people to live thanks to past evictions and credit issues, she said. “Landlords won’t step up.”

“If you know landlords who own property, ask them to trust us,” Scheckler said. “Our organization is backing these people. We follow them for six months. I do a case management every 30 days on everyone that we assist.”

Despite challenges, Scheckler said her volunteer work has moments of sheer joy.

“The biggest thing is, when you walk up to this client and you go, ‘Here’s your lease,’” she said, with her voice breaking and tears in her eyes, “I do get real emotional.”

A couple of weeks ago, the organization moved a young woman and her father into an apartment. The woman has special needs and the pair had been living in a truck.

“Habitat for Humanity stepped up and donated the furniture,” Scheckler said. “When I walked them in the apartment, I told (them), ‘This is yours. This is all yours. The furniture. The TV. Everything.’ How do you put a price on something like that?”

While many youths are couch-surfing to keep a roof over their heads, there also are elderly people who are in desperate need, Scheckler added.

“We have an 87-year-old woman who couldn’t pay her water bill. She was living off of pool water, drinking water out of a pool,” she said. “Did we step up and help her? Absolutely.”

After telling the group about The Samaritan Project’s mission, Scheckler went into her fundraising mode.

“Any of you women in here wear jewelry?” she asked, to set up a pitch for a fundraiser planned for Aug. 10. She also urged them to get involved in the Harvest Festival, another fundraiser on Nov. 1, or to hit the links on Feb. 7, at its annual golf benefit.

Scheckler frequently speaks at churches and civic organizations to drum up support for the cause.

“What we really, really, really need is support of the community,” she said. “Our motto is ‘Working together to make a better community.’ That’s what we want to do.”

And Scheckler said she’ll do whatever she can to make that happen.

“I am not too proud to beg,” she said. “I can cry. I can do whatever it takes.”

For more information
To help The Samaritan Project, based in Zephyrhills, or to get help from the organization, call (813) 810-8670.

Published July 16, 2014

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