Hello SLP Blog! 

One of the most unique things about Lakeland is its philanthropic spirit, and yesterday was designed specifically for the participants to get an idea of the opportunities to serve in our community.  

We kicked things off with breakfast pastries from Catapult graduate Haven Coffee Roasters while we heard City Commissioner Chad McLeod speak about overcoming adversity. For Chad, that came in the shape of a cancer diagnosis right when he felt like he should be “climbing the corporate ladder.” What he felt like should have been a career-driven season of life ended up being defined by chemotherapy and hospital stays. Chad encouraged the participants to walk through their life with an open mind, and that we all have influence, no matter where we are. How we use that influence is what defines us, not what we’ve faced in the past. He’s exemplified that in his own life. He’s competed in the Boston Marathon and the Ironman World Championship. He ran his own communications consultancy firm. He’s a city commissioner and recently started his new role as a global communications partner with Compassion International. His experience with cancer hasn’t defined his life, but it has informed it, and he encouraged us to do the same with whatever roadblocks we encounter. Between his entrepreneurial spirit and his experience with civil service, Chad’s story exemplifies so much of what the Lakeland community represents. It was a great way to kick off a day focused on one of the most important parts of the Lakeland community – service.  

Before we carpooled over to Parker Street Ministery for the bulk of our day, we got a crash course on Lakeland’s economic development from Katie. There is so much more that goes into the behind-the-scenes than I ever realized. Whether it’s education, the arts (more on that next week), or targeted industrial clusters, everything comes together to create the environment that you see when you walk outside. I was impressed by the participant’s engagement during this session, and we actually had to cut the Q+A session short so we weren’t late to PSM.  

Once we arrived, we heard from Tim Mitchell, the executive director of Parker Street. He told us the story of how he and a few other motivated people moved into the struggling neighborhood in the late 90s and started to befriend the community. It wasn’t easy at first, but he slowly gained the trust of the community. It became clear that the ministry wasn’t leaving, and that they really loved their new neighbors and friends. He became an advocate for his neighborhood and has slowly built-up programs to help the surrounding area.

Hearing about the impact PSM has had on the neighborhood was amazing, but it really highlighted just how much work there still is to be done. Tim also emphasized the importance of setting aside differences and learning from everyone. He made the point that if he had just kept doing what he had been doing in the 90s, he never would’ve made any progress. He didn’t know how to do what he set out to do, but through listening to his new friends and neighbors, he slowly learned how to serve his community.  

After Tim’s presentation, we had the chance to serve the campers lunch and get to know some of the kids better. I ran into some familiar faces from session 1’s carnival, and we caught up about their summer and the upcoming school year. They are not looking forward to it. I tried to stay positive about their upcoming imprisonment, but they weren’t having it. I guess I understand. I love school, but I also remember being 6.  

The kids went out to recess after lunch, and SLP set up the carnival. We blew up the bounce house, started spinning cotton candy and popping popcorn, and set up art stations, face painting, and some games for the kids to play. The face paint station was particularly popular, but the older kids preferred to get “tattoos.” Overall, it was a great opportunity to give back just a little bit after hearing for weeks how connected and caring the city is. 

Once we headed back over to Catapult, we heard from representatives from VISTE, EMERGE Lakeland, One More Child, United Way of Central Florida, and community volunteer extraordinaire Kim Elmhorst. The most impressive part of the panel discussion was the sheer range of services provided to all sorts of communities in need. From VISTE’s services that work to keep seniors independent, to One More Child’s work with trafficking victims and single mothers, to all the work EMERGE and United Way do to educate the region’s youth, there are opportunities to work for any cause you’re passionate about. It also stuck out to me how collaborative the organizations were. Most of the panelists knew each other or had worked together before, and there are entire programs that wouldn’t exist without the work being done between them. There are over 3,000 charitable organizations in Polk County, and they’re all looking for help. I was once again reminded that the philanthropic spirit of Lakeland is one of the most amazing parts of this community, and that we can all help in our own ways, we just have to start. 

After official programming wrapped up, the participants walked over to Revival to spend a few hours decompressing and continuing to strengthen friendships that have been built throughout everyone’s time at SLP.  

Next week you’ll hear from me again about our arts and culture day, but until then have a great one! 



SLP Intern