Over 100 Glimpse the Cost of Poverty in South Walton

Photo credit: Laurel Aikin

On Saturday, February 2, 2019, over one hundred people gathered at the South Walton Boys and Girls Club to get a taste of the daily challenges that families struggling to make ends meet face in a given month. The event was sponsored by the United Way of Walton and Okaloosa Counties, Caring and Sharing of South Walton, the SoWal Community Chaplain, Inc., and Communities of Transformation. Participants were assigned a role in a particular “family,” and asked to complete certain tasks over the course of a simulated month (four fifteen minute “weeks”), interacting with the community “resource centers” and “institutions” along the way (staffed by volunteers). At the end of the simulation, we all gathered in a large circle to share about our experiences and the impact it had on us. About a third of the participants were youth, ages 10-18. It’s hard to describe what this experience was like in generalities, so I will tell you about my experience as a participant.

My role was to play a thirty-two year old married female of a minority race, who worked part-time at a fast-food restaurant, suffered from low self-esteem and depression, and had just found out she was pregnant. My “husband,” (in real life a local youth director) worked full-time as a dishwasher in a local restaurant and was on probation. Our tasks for the month were to pay our $800 rent, $350 worth of utilities, $375 in debt, $400 to cover food, and $100 in household supplies. My husband was required to check in with his probation officer on weeks 1 and 3 and see the doctor for his chronic health issues on weeks 2 and 4. I was also supposed to pay a visit to the prenatal clinic to see about my newly discovered pregnancy. In addition to our low-wage jobs, we had about $80 in cash and a few items available to be pawned in case of emergency: a tv, an antique lamp, etc. Oh, and our nametags were bright red, which meant we were visibly members of a racial minority.

Our first challenge as a household was to figure out how to get to work without transportation (some families had car titles). We could have spent all our cash on a bus pass, but we needed that money for rent, so we went to the station where you had to wait three minutes in order to receive your walking voucher (to access any services, you had to show proof of transportation). What we didn’t know was that we only had four minutes at the beginning of each “week” to get to work on time. So by the time we got our walking vouchers and waited in the line at the employer’s station, we were “late.” I saw the manager glance at my nametag, identifying me as a minority, and I was told that if I was late again, I would be fired. I learned very quickly to cut in line. After I finished my part time job—another four minutes of waiting, I headed over to the bank to cash my paycheck but was told that I didn’t have an account, and upon further investigation learned that I also didn’t have the credit required to open one. So I headed over to the gas station, where I had been told that they would cash your checks for a 20% fee.

After collecting my $240 pay and doing math in my head, I stopped by a church, where I received $50 in food assistance, and then headed over to another assistance agency to apply for utility assistance. Before I could fill out my application, week one was over, and I had to return to my “home” and wait for the clock on week two to start. By the end of four weeks, we had pawned our TV and an antique lamp for a fraction of their value. My husband had stolen someone else’s identity, skipped work (risking getting fired if he was caught) to meet his probation officer, and accepted money from other players in exchange for letting them skip ahead of him in line. I was denied assistance at one place because I didn’t have the proper ID (later I learned that it had been stolen before the game even started by a criminal element that was part of the simulation); and we were dealt a “fate” card informing us that one of my husband’s on-the-side girlfriends had shown up at his work, causing a scene and getting him suspended for three days (and therefore halving our paycheck that week). I turned a blind eye to my husband’s emotional betrayal and illegal activity, whereas in real life it would have been the source of significant stress and would likely have interfered even more with our household’s ability to make ends meet. Also there’s no way I would have been able to pay all our bills if I had truly been functioning as someone suffering from depression and low self-esteem.                


As one participant shared in the debrief, most of us found that struggling to make ends meet while working low wage jobs was very stressful.   There was no wiggle room for mistakes or for an unexpected life event, and no time or money for fun. Another couple confided to me afterwards that they found that they weren’t smart enough to be poor. We were surprised at how quickly things normally important to us like education and healthcare fell by the wayside or how willing we were to break the rules (or turn a blind eye to others’ crime) in order to survive. Many of us were unable to pay all our bills or purchase enough food to feed our families. Those of us with minority nametags found ourselves questioning our treatment by those in authority. One teacher later shared with me that the experience gave her new compassion for the parents of her low-income students, whom she had previously judged harshly for their seeming lack of involvement in their children’s school life. Those running the agencies in the simulation noticed how the lack of coordination and collaboration between service providers left resources untapped and made life more difficult for participants.

For me the exercise highlighted some of the systemic challenges that low-wage earners and under-resourced families face in our area: lack of public transportation, the high cost of housing and childcare, and the abundance of part-time, seasonal and low wage jobs. The good news is that is has sparked some dreaming and energized conversations between local nonprofits about how we can better collaborate, potentially even sharing land or building space. And for those looking to find a way to put our new-found empathy for low-income families to good use, there is Caring and Sharing of South Walton’s new Communities of Transformation program, which is set to launch on March 19th, following a “Taste and See” open house event at Good News United Methodist Church on March 5. This program will be a weekly dinner (on Tuesday evenings) with childcare, programming, and relational support for participants looking to make positive changes in their lives in the areas of financial, relational, educational, physical, or spiritual health. For more information, or to get involved as a participant, volunteer, or donor, please contact me at emilyproctor.cot@gmail.com or 850-783-0237.

Chaplains Among Us: Sacred Heart Hospital on the Emerald Coast

Published on July 12 in South Walton Life.

While the idea of a SoWal Community Chaplain might be a new one, chaplains have actually been serving here for years. Chaplains, both paid and volunteer, play a vital role in providing spiritual and crisis care in our community in partnership with Sacred Heart Hospital on the Emerald Coast.

At Sacred Heart Hospital on the Emerald Coast there are two full-time chaplains on staff: Trisha Wiscombe and Jeff Carlton. Wiscombe is the new Spiritual Care Specialist for Sacred Heart Hospital on the Emerald Coast (Miramar Beach) and Sacred Heart Hospital on the Gulf (Port St. Joe). She grew up as part of a military family in Enterprise, AL, but most recently worked as a chaplain for Mercy Hospital in Oklahoma City. She finds a spiritual home in the Anglican faith tradition and is passionate about helping people see God at work in their lives. Jeff Carlton’s background is in the Presbyterian Church of America, and he has a particular heart for the plight of families battling cancer. Pastor Jason Scheler of Hope on the Beach serves in a part-time capacity, providing on-call coverage for the hospital during times when the full-time staff are not on-site, as do a number of other volunteer chaplains.

Although most chaplains are ordained as clergy in their faith tradition, serving as a hospital chaplain is much more about providing spiritual and emotional support than teaching or proselytizing. Chaplains don’t encourage membership in any one church or denomination, but attempt to minister to people from a variety of faith traditions as well as the non-religious. Chaplains in a hospital function in a supportive role, as part of a larger care team. Wiscombe describes the duties of a chaplain as follows:

  • provides active listening and comfort;
  • assesses spiritual needs;
  • helps people explore beliefs and values, clarify options and access hospital resources;
  • supports patient’s efforts to reconcile with God;
  • facilitates interpersonal communication;
  • communicates with patient’s spiritual community if requested;
  • supports people through codes, traumas, death, grief, and other life experiences.
  • Pastor Pete Hyde of Community Church in Santa Rosa Beach began volunteering as a chaplain for Sacred Heart Hospital on the Emerald Coast shortly after his arrival here fifteen years ago. “I really had no idea what I was getting into,” Hyde admitted. “I found myself sitting next to families that had just lost loved ones who had no church affiliation and offering the comfort of Christ even if the actual words were never said. I found myself in the ER after a multiple drowning offering crowd control as well as assistance to the families and friends and then staying for hours afterward helping the hospital staff deal with the situation for many days after. I found myself involved with the first responders and all levels of the hospital staff when the Air Heart chopper went down many years ago. I have stood by the crib of still born and held the hand of family members of those who lived a full and rich life and were making their way to heaven, most of whom I have not heard from again and only hope and pray that God was felt through my presence or words. I see the critical health issues in my past and the ones that continue, as places where God has enabled me to know more clearly what patients and families are going through.”

    So next time you give thanks for the great medical care we have access to through Sacred Heart Hospital, don’t forget to include the chaplains!

    News Herald: SoWal Community Chaplain

    Originally published in the Panama City News Herald and the Northwest Florida Daily News by Savannah Evanoff on July 14, 2018.

    When Emily Proctor couldn’t find a traditional church role in the community, she fulfilled a need many didn’t know existed.
    Proctor, a Presbyterian minister, moved to Santa Rosa Beach in 2015 so her husband, Richard, could take the rector position at Christ the King Episcopal Church. As they started a family, now with two children, Proctor recognized a need for a ministerial role not specifically dedicated to one church, but to the entire South Walton community instead.
    Proctor launched the nonprofit SoWal Community Chaplain Inc. to help people in need find community resources, minister to those with spiritual needs and connect ministries and other organizations. In this role, she also collaborates with Caring & Sharing of South Walton, an organization that provides food and assistance to the community.
    In February, the SoWal Community Chaplain received its nonprofit 501(c)3 status.
    “It’s so funny, on the website, I have some case study situations about why you might need a chaplain,” Proctor said. “I came up with those before I started doing it. I have seen all of those situations. It’s really confirmed everything.”

    On pursuing a non-traditional ministry

    I thought, “Well, maybe this is an opportunity to be open to a ministry outside the box.” With God, you have to be prepared to be surprised. I wondered if there was a non-traditional church ministry opportunity here, maybe a hospice chaplain, a hospital chaplain. What I kept noticing was how many folks worked the tourist industry — restaurants, retail — and the work was pretty low-paying and seasonal.
    I grew up coming to vacation here, and I wasn’t thinking about the people who were serving us at restaurants; I was just thinking about me and my vacation. I had vacation blinders on. Then we got down here and started getting to know the people who live here year-round. I became really aware of the psychological wear and tear of being treated like an invisible person for half the year, then struggling to make ends meet the other half of the year, and how many people were one crisis away from being in trouble.
    It seemed a lot of the people we knew who were working the tourist season were not particularly religious or affiliated with a church. I started to wonder, “Where do these people go when they have a crisis?” If you’re a member of a church and something goes wrong in your life, you go to your pastor. You say, “This is what’s going on.” Your pastor listens; they pray with you. They also help you figure out what your next steps are and if there are community resources within the church or outside the church that can help you get to a healthy place.
    If you don’t have that, what do you do?

    On why the community needs its own chaplain

    The hospital provides chaplains for people’s spiritual needs, knowing when you’re in the hospital that’s a particularly vulnerable time. But, there are a lot of people having crises that don’t land them in the hospital, but they’re still really vulnerable. The other folks I was meeting constantly were people who just moved here. It kept coming up how challenging it can be to find community in this place. I think because of the geography, how everything’s spread out, and all the come-and-go with tourists and snowbirds.
    Again, I thought there’s another population that probably could really use somebody who’s just there for them. I know from my experience and my husband’s experience that when you’re a full-time pastor at a church, that congregation’s pastoral, programmatic and worship needs are more than you have hours for. … The reality is your congregation’s needs take priority. I thought you really almost need somebody who doesn’t have that obligation, whose focus can be the community.

    On making it happen

    I kind of thought, “Oh, nice dream.” It would take years to develop the relationships and support to create something new like that. But, my husband and I were having lunch with a couple that spent their summers down here and had worshiped at Christ the King and wanted to get to know us better. They asked us, “You’ve been here a year. What do you see are the greatest ministry needs in this area? Do you have any visions or dreams for ministry in this area?”
    (My husband) was like, “I don’t know. What do you think, Emily?” Out came this seed of an idea that had been brewing over the last year. It turned out that couple — the Lord works in mysterious way — managed a family foundation based out of Texas. One of things they like to give their money to is entrepreneurial start-up initiatives. … I wrote them a proposal and they came back and said, “We’d love to fund this.”

    On what a day in the life of a community chaplain looks like

    It’s a combination of responding to calls and emails for people who need or want to talk, or want help connecting to resources. The more the word gets out in the community, the more that will increase. Over the past year, I’ve taken a little over 60 calls. Some of that is face-to-face meetings.
    The other piece is hoping to work with Caring & Sharing and other churches to help develop a poverty transformation program, so those folks who are living paycheck to paycheck, there’s a path out of that cycle for them. If we can work together to figure out how to get at some of those root causes, whether it’s financial education, job training classes, helping connect people to medical help, counseling. Usually if they’re coming for financial assistance, there are other needs there that need to be addressed.
    You really need to walk with people. If they’re in a situation of poverty or struggling with addiction, it takes a long time to get in the situations we’re in, so it takes awhile to get out. So to develop a program that has a more long-term relational aspect to it, so you’re not just coming in for a one-time service, but you’re really building relationships with people in the community.
    The third piece is being a liaison between the faith community and the larger community.

    On why you might need a community chaplain

    If you’re going through a time of struggle or transition and you need someone to talk to, to figure out next steps. You feel like you need some kind of help, but you’re not sure what kind of help. I can listen and help you figure out what your range of options are and your resources. Certainly, if you have something spiritual you’re wrestling with and you would like prayer or some spiritual counsel. Sometimes people aren’t super religious and something happens to them and they find themselves thinking, “How could God let this happen to me?” It feels like a spiritual crisis.
    If they’re looking for help connecting with a church, I’m trying to get to know all the local pastors, visit the local churches. I’m trying to figure out who takes what insurances, who specializes in what, what people’s religious backgrounds are.

    On why she enjoys her new role

    It’s heartbreaking and also really rewarding to meet with people and hear their struggles. Even just talking to someone who comes to the conversation assuming the best about this person, seeing this person as a fellow human being, a child of God, someone who deserves to live a healthy, whole life.
    I’ve helped a number of people get into therapy, just connecting with therapists. Some of these people just need someone to sit down with them and help them think through, “OK, let’s go to the Psychology Today website and look at these counselors. What is it that’s important to you?” Instead of being overwhelmed with 17 different counselors, I can ask them a few questions, then they only have two or three to look at. That’s really rewarding. If they’re OK with it, I’ll follow up with them. “How did that go? Were you able to connect with the person?”
    There was one woman who needed some counseling to deal with some trauma and she couldn’t afford it. The counselor was willing to charge her a reduced rate and the church was able to pay for six sessions. There was one man that was really missing having a church home. I worked with a couple of churches to come pick him up. He tried out a couple of churches and ended up finding one he really liked. Now he has a church home. He has a pastor. He has a place of worship.

    The Destin Log: A vision in the making

    Originally published on TheDestinLog.com on June 22, 2018.

    Almost three years ago, Emily Proctor moved to Santa Rosa Beach when her husband was called as a priest to Christ the King Episcopal Church. It was then she noticed that the people of South Walton struggled to find support and assistance in times of need.

    Proctor began SoWal Community Chaplain Inc. to reach those who live, work or vacation in South Walton.

    “The cross-section in South Walton of new residents and vacationers from all over the country and lower income employees makes for a unique context for ministry,” Proctor told The Sun.

    Proctor also said that in South Walton there is a need for more awareness of available resources and greater collaboration between faith-based and community-based organizations and service providers.

    “I am also very part-time at Red Bay Presbyterian Church, preaching to the ‘Metho-Bapterians’ there every third and fifth Sunday,” she said.

    Proctor defines her job in SoWal Community Chaplain as having three parts. First, as an ordained Presbyterian minister, Proctor is able, in partnership with Caring and Sharing, to provide pastoral care to those who may not have a home church to help them through times of crisis.

    “I visit grief and caregiver groups, volunteer as a chaplain with the South Walton Fire District, participate in the South Walton Ministerial Association’s community events, and help organize occasional events such as a Service of Remembrance and Healing with Santa Rosa Beach Community Church last December,” she said.

    The other parts of her ministry include helping increase public awareness of available community and faith-based resources and working with Caring and Sharing and other organizations to increase access to services for people in South Walton.

    “This is a long-term process of building relationships, assessing community needs and opportunities, participating in existing collaborative initiatives and perhaps initiating new ones,” Proctor said.

    Proctor grew up Presbyterian in Dothan Alabama, and spent time vacationing in South Walton with her grandparents.

    “I went through a period of agnosticism at the end of high school and the beginning of college before I had a ‘Holy Spirit’ experience and encountered Jesus at my denomination’s General Assembly, where I was a Young Adult Advisory Delegate in 2000,” she said.

    This experience led her to begin her ministry work with people struggling with disease, mental illness and homelessness. She followed that with a year working in New Hampshire with low-income students.

    While at Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Georgia, she also spent a year as an intern, focusing on outreach and pastoral care.

    “I met my husband, Richard Gillespie Proctor, in seminary and we got married in 2010, a year after graduating,” Proctor said. “We have both served churches in Baltimore, Maryland, and Jacksonville, Florida. We have a two-year-old son Julian and a three-month-old daughter Madeleine.”

    Proctor’s goal is to have the work she is doing become a part of the ministry of Caring and Sharing of South Walton.

    “I could also lead workshops or trainings in areas such as conflict mediation, how to find the help you (or your employee) need, helping without hurting, etc.,” she said. “This ministry has so much potential to serve so many different community needs.”

    SoWal Life: Becoming a SoWal Community Chaplain

    Originally published on SouthWalton.Life on June 9, 2018.

    A New Ministry Evolves

    How a ministry got started:

    Emily Rose Proctor is on a mission. Emily moved to Santa Rosa Beach three years ago with her husband, Richard, who accepted a call as priest at Christ the King Episcopal Church. “I grew up vacationing on Hwy. 30A,” said Emily. “But when we moved here, it didn’t take me long to begin seeing things from a different perspective. First, I began to notice all the everyday people who served the tourist industry. I saw many of them working long hours from May-September and then struggling to make ends meet in the off-season. Few of those I talked to attended church regularly, and seemed to be one crisis away from really being in trouble. “I began to wonder ‘where would these people go for support in times of trouble’.” Emily also met many families who had just moved to the area and were doing well financially, but still struggling to find community and establish networks of support. “Even people living here in paradise experience crisis and sometimes struggle to adjust to their new life here,” she said. “Where and to whom would they turn to for help?”

    That’s when the idea of a community chaplain began to take shape. “ I was familiar with the role of a chaplain in a hospital and knew that Sacred Heart Hospital had chaplains on staff for those experiencing medical crises, but what about those whose crises and struggles didn’t send them to the hospital?” And, while the church community focused on members of their church and visitors, she wondered about the many “unchurched” in our community. What would it be like, she wondered, to have a community chaplain—someone trained to provide pastoral care, but who could also help connect people to the existing resources in the community—both community and faith-based?

    In January of 2017, with the help of Christ the King Episcopal Church, the South Walton Ministerial Association, the Joyful Blessings Foundation, and in collaboration with Caring and Sharing of South Walton, the SoWal Community Chaplaincy was officially launched. Emily says her dream for the partnership with Caring and Sharing is for the community chaplain to provide assistance to anyone who lives, works or vacations in South Walton County by providing pastoral care, information and referrals to community and faith-based resources. This also includes working with other nonprofits, churches, civic groups, individuals, and businesses to provide opportunities for rehabilitation, with the goal of helping more people who live or work in South Walton achieve financial independence and well being, and ultimately make South Walton a better place to live, work and visit for everyone. “I’d love to see Caring and Sharing become a kind of community resource hub where people could come, not only for a bag of groceries or utility assistance, but also for prayer, financial education classes, job training, AA meetings, and to meet with other service providers who might serve south Walton County, but not have an office here, such as Shelter House or the Homeless and Housing Alliance,” she said.

    Week of Blessings

    The South Walton Ministry Association is a formation of pastors and church leaders from the area’s local churches all with the collective purpose–to unite and make an impact on the community of South Walton and the town of Santa Rosa Beach.

    Our annual community-wide event in May, “The Week of Blessings,” is an opportunity for all the churches to unite as Christians for the purpose of blessing our community, much like the early church did.

    week-of-blessingsEach day during the week we will carry blessing to a different group—Sunday to families as we celebrate Mother’s Day in our churches:
    Monday—to bless the community in its entirety through prayer and fasting.
    Tuesday—participating pastors will visit several locations to pray over our community leaders and those who serve our community, especially our first responders.
    Wednesday—to bless the area business leaders, county government, and community leaders by hosting a luncheon to encourage them and gather around them in prayer for and over them
    Thursday— to bless our students through a baccalaureate service in which our area pastors will send our graduates off with the Lord’s blessing.

    Thanks to all those who participated in this year’s events!