From homelessness to helping hand: Woman giving back through Pinellas nonprofit after hardships

Pinellas County

PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – A local woman who has experienced her share of hardship in the past is now working at a Pinellas County nonprofit to help those in the community dealing with homelessness, hunger and domestic violence.

Jonita Lewis has been the vice president of community affairs and assistant to the president at Hope Villages of America in Pinellas County for a little more than two years.

The organization gives back through 80 food banks throughout the county, as well as through a family shelter for those facing homelessness and a safe house for those escaping domestic violence.

Lewis can relate to those she is helping, having at one point been homeless herself.

“Many years ago, I was experiencing hardship and I became homeless and I was actually a guest at the Grace House. So this organization has been near and dear to my heart for many years,” Lewis said. “And then fast forward to a few years ago, I finished college. My college professor happened to be the president and CEO of Hope Villages of America…I didn’t know, at the time, just being in his class, I was almost interviewing for a position.”

Lewis said she was offered a position with the organization the day before graduating.

She is responsible for community engagement, creating relationships with community leaders and other nonprofits to be able to help more people, as well as her work managing and assisting the president and CEO of Hope Villages of America, helping to grow the organization.

Her favorite part of the job is helping those in need, as she was once in their position.

“I was on the other end of that table where I needed those services. So I know exactly how a lot of our participants are feeling. They need a hand-up, not a hand-out, or they need assistance, a second chance at life, and to be in a position where I can give back, and help those that need it,” she said.

The pandemic has slowed things down for Lewis and she said has let her appreciate her life, family and opportunities, “because they’re here today and could all be gone tomorrow.”

Hope Villages of America has also adapted due to the pandemic. Lewis said the organization has thankfully been able to pivot and continue to meet the needs of the community in a safe way, including turning their food banks into drive-thru, where a person in need can have their trunk filled with food, as well as limiting capacity of the safe house and Grace House.

Ahead of International Women’s Day on March 8, Lewis offered advice for young girls.

She said to follow your dreams, no matter what kind of situation you may be in.

“Just because you’re experiencing a situation right now or hardship, it’s not the end for you. It’s not over. So once you get yourself together and hopefully those girls have a support system, because that makes a huge difference. Don’t give up,” Lewis said.

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April 24 2021 08:00 am

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