United Church Homes is continuously searching for opportunities to serve communities in need of affordable housing. At present we serve residents with some distinctive demographics, most notably on two Native American reservations. Yet another distinctive demographic can be found at Cypress Run in Immokalee, Florida, where the resident population is principally comprised of Haitian immigrants.
UCH began serving the Immokalee community because of persistence and vision. Part of its history can be simply described as seeing a need and filling it. That element always rings true wherever UCH has developed its affordable housing communities. What’s different about Cypress Run is the role that Rev. Glenn Royer, a former member of the UCH Board of Directors, played in having UCH establish an affordable housing community near the Everglades in Florida.
Rev. Royer used to spend the winter months in Naples on the Gulf Coast. While there, he often worked with Habitat for Humanity to build houses near Immokalee for families who were in desperate need of better living conditions.
The surrounding area was full of pineapple plantations and other large farms. He noticed that many migrant workers were working well past what might be considered a normal retirement age. Some were 80 years old or older! While working conditions on these farms were not ideal, it was the living quarters that most troubled Rev. Royer. It was not uncommon to see six people living in mobile trailers, crammed into small, decrepit, run-down spaces.
Rev. Royer immediately recognized the need to build affordable housing that did not otherwise exist for Immokalee residents. He shared his concerns with the UCH Board of Directors, who agreed the issue was immediate and acted quickly. United Church Homes built Cypress Run. The community is currently at full occupancy, and frequently has people waiting to move in.
Noujny Evariste, the service coordinator at Cypress Run, is of Haitian descent and provides support services, including translation, to better serve the resident population. Mary Jane Salinas, office manager, and Mitch Flores in maintenance also assist residents. Word-of-mouth promotion works exceedingly well in such a tight-knit community, which enjoys a unique camaraderie and sense of togetherness among its residents.
“Haitians are well-known for being caring,” said Noujny, “so it’s natural for residents to feel protective about each other. This is especially true in a community like Cypress Run, where there may not be any family members nearby. The younger or healthier residents become a surrogate family for the older ones, and vice versa.”
In an organization where one core value is hospitality, with a focus on welcoming everyone, Cypress Run is special. Rev. Royer recognized a need to help people who otherwise were being overlooked, who needed a safe place to live. United Church Homes saw a greater need and met it, showing support and care because that’s what was called for. It’s part of our mission to transform aging.