The Christian Community Development Fund was formed of a theory.

The Christian Community Development Fund was formed of a theory.

A proposition that there was an unmet need for a bridge from the community to the elderly and those on fixed incomes.

Whether that bridge was a wheelchair ramp, assistance with a utility bill or a visit to ensure safety and good health.

More than a decade later, the theory has proved prescient.

More than 600 homes rehabilitated or renovated.

An ongoing partnership with the Gulf Coast Workforce Board and Washington Improvement Group established the North Port St. Joe Community Resource Center which offers a wide range of assistance, from utility bill assistance to food to job assistance.

Two times a year a group of students from the University of Auburn arrives in the community to perform home rehabs, interact with the community through church and faith.

Not only do they boost the community spiritually, physically, emotionally, they do so economically.

Two years ago, during the four days in March the students were here, they spent, conservatively said Diana Sealey Burkett, executive director of the CCDF, whose staff must track such items, $32,000 in the community on rent, food, gas and other living expenses.

And the student count has grown since that March.

The CCDF has accomplished all that on a shoestring.

With a staff of four, the non-profit has relied almost exclusively on grants, the largest from the Jessie Ball DuPont Foundation.

There are also dollars from the Tapper Foundation, Alfred I. DuPont Foundation and donations from the Lions Club, Centennial Bank, First Baptist Church, Oak Grove Church and others.

“Centennial Bank is committed to the local community and we pride ourselves on building strong community relationships,” said Port St. Joe Centennial Bank manager Hiram Nix. “We are honored and proud to support the Christian Community Development Fund and the work they do in our local community.”

But to rehab 600 houses, to serve those coming to the Resource Center located on Peters Street in Port St. Joe, the organization heavily relies on volunteer labor to do much of the heavy lifting.

“We saw a need in this community to help the elderly and those on fixed incomes,” Burkett said. “Primarily, we wanted to help keep them in their homes. I think we fly under the radar.

“Our organization is not only helping people … but we contribute to the economy. The money is spent locally. We help local residents.”

As the organization has bloomed, its reach has extended, from exclusively Port St. Joe to now serving folks from Wewahitchka to Mexico Beach and places in between.

Between November 2012 and June 2013 the Community Resource Center has assisted 220 families with utility bills, referred 50 people to the First Methodist Church Care Closet for clothes and referred 25 people to the Lions Club for eye care.

The Center has cooperative relationships with the Gulf County Health Department and Sacred Heart Hospital on the Gulf in identifying medical care for the needy, according to Midge Askew, an emergency assistance coordinator at the Community Resource Center.

“We have been very successful working with the community to find furniture and appliances for those in need,” she added.

The end of the Christmas holiday will bring planning for projects to be undertaken in 2014, with the first key window the spring – in March – arrival of Auburn students.

 Burkett will also begin an outreach campaign to promote the community aspect of her organization as it sees the Jessie Ball DuPont Grant wind down in the next several years.

Changes in how the state funds and distributes dollars for the State Housing Initiative Program (SHIP) have also impacted the CCDF, which has worked through local SHIP program coordinators to fund many rehabilitation projects.

During the first quarter of 2014, Burkett said she will speak to any organization or civic group that will provide an audience in order to bring more local economy stability to an organization that has stabilized so many over more than 10 years.

Burkett said she always envisioned CCDF that did not have to rely so heavily on filling out extensive and time-consuming grant paperwork each year to survive, an organization that could receive as good as it gives locally.

“I really need the community and businesses to step up,” Burkett said. “I need Gulf County and Mexico Beach to pull together to keep this program going. My hope is that the community will pick up some of the slack.

“I think it is a good time to ask the community to step up and help us with what we haven’t asked for in 10 years.”