Resident’s Heart For Hurting Becomes A Community Endeavor

Resident’s Heart For Hurting Becomes A Community Endeavor
By Carisa Biesecker
“I have always been someone who stopped to help homeless people since I was a kid,” says Apollo Beach resident Devon Woodward, leading to her present-day origination of The Joyce House, an organization aimed at helping those without homes, named after her own childhood home. Growing up in Philadelphia with four siblings, Devon reminisces about her home life as a “Joyce” – her maiden name – her mother always taking in any child who needed a place to sleep and her father being a prime example of giving back to the community. “I think my father was so devoted to community service when I was younger that it is just instilled in me to help people out whenever possible,” she comments.  Not yet incorporated, The Joyce House seeks to help those living on the streets in Tampa, with Devon, her husband, Eric, her sons, Thomas, 13, and Joey, 5, and 40 volunteers from the community and some 15 churches heading out to Florida Ave. to feed and clothe the homeless every other month. Devon, now president of her own direct hire staffing company, Woodward Search Group, took notice of the curbside residents on her former daily commute to work in 2002, deciding to take action on her own. She would arm herself with food and clothes, giving out what she could on her own income. With 100 bags in tow, she, Thomas and his friends headed down out to Tampa one day to help: “We didn’t have enough. There were way more people than bags,” she mentions. “My son, Thomas, and his friends, Jeremiah and Stevie, looked at me, each one had tears in their eyes, and asked me how in the world this could happen. They begged me to go buy more stuff for all the other people. I had to explain to them that we can only do so much. We don’t have enough money to feed everyone,” which led to their reaching out to the community for help through the creation of The Joyce House.   “The outpouring of support from our friends via Facebook has been such a blessing. We have been able to help so many more people through these volunteers,” states Eric, who works as a licensed massage therapist under the mobile massage company, Back 2 Basics Bodywork, adding that they are now able to provide hot meals. “God has truly blessed this project.” Besides helping the homeless, the Woodwards are keeping international students from the streets, working to find host homes for 25 French students through the Education Homestay Program, a division of Education First. Ranging in ages from 12-18, these students will need a home from Wednesday, July 21-Tuesday, August 10. Monday-Friday the students will attend English classes and field trips, spending evenings and weekends with the host family. Those families with children ages 13-18 are welcome to send their own children on some of the field trips alongside the students and high school students can also earn community service hours for their Bright Future scholarships.  Planning to expand The Joyce House’s efforts to Ruskin and forge a home where homeless residents can start over, offering courses, job placement, transportation and such, Devon adds, “Our goal as a family to share the love of Christ with those we come into contact with, whether it is through our homeless project, recruiting host homes or our other positions.” She continues: “We want the people we help to know that God loves them the same way He loves you and me. He doesn’t see them any different and that He will meet you where you are today. You don’t have to change for Him to love you, you only have to ask Him to forgive you and come into your heart. He will change your life and you will never be the same.”  Donations of food, clothes, shoes, toiletries, blankets, umbrellas, backpacks, suitcases, banquet tables and chairs are welcome. Contact Devon via e-mail at dev@woodwardsearchgroup.com or by phone at 671-2233 to donate or to be a host family, an unpaid endeavor, for three weeks this summer.  “We are also asking for prayer that we will continue to follow what God wants for this project and bring glory to Him while doing  it,” concludes Devon.