Rev. Mary Downey did not know affordable housing was going to be her calling when she moved to Kissimmee in 2006. She soon realized the growing need in Osceola County, where countless families call the hotels and motels along Highway 192 “home”. These families are working but unable to afford stable housing because of credit issues, past evictions, and a lack of affordable inventory. With the help of Community Presbyterian Church of Celebration, Rev. Downey started the Community Hope Center to provide assistance to all those in need in Osceola County. It’s because of this work she was named the 2019 Central Floridian of the Year.
The Orlando Sentinel Editorial Board has given this award annually since 1983, and Rev. Downey was among five other incredible finalists including a decorated D-Day veteran and U.S. Women’s Soccer stars.”I am the luckiest nonprofit leader in the world because I get to help so many amazing people who deserve to have housing, who deserve to have the dignity of a place to live that isn’t a hotel room, that isn’t their car, that isn’t poverty because poverty does not have to exist in our country,” Rev. Downey remarked while accepting the award, “We’re going to bring housing and hope and a new neighborhood to Central Florida…And when that happens, we’re going to do it again and again and again, because families and little girls like me do not deserve to live in their cars, and they do not deserve to not know if their lights are going to be on if they do have a house to live in.”
The Community Hope Center is working to build units of affordable housing on their shingle creek property aimed at creating an intentional community for families and individuals struggling to live affordably in Central Florida. The CHC team and Board of Directors is proud to have her as their leader and they are eager to continue providing hope and dignity to the clients they serve. To learn more about the work of the Community Hope Center and how to get involved, visit www.hope192.com.