A Partnership with The Kingdom Impact Center

Lyn ‘Big Holy’ Masslieno in front of the community garden built by The Sonder Project at The Kingdom Impact Center in Panama City.

Sep 4, 2019

 

“LET’S GO!!!” 

If you know Lyn Masslieno, aka Big Holy, you’re familiar with this command. He uses it in closing with nearly every conversation – and with every social media post.  It represents the greater purpose of his ministry, both as a directive and as a reminder for us all to lead the change we want to see in the world. Big Holy is doing just that. A few days into our post-Hurricane Michael relief efforts, he was introduced to us as a strong partner and as a Panama City native. Ten months later, The Sonder Project has furthered its partnership with him and his hometown – planting a community garden and establishing the roots for a long-term relationship that will inevitably strengthen the surrounding area.

Five Days after Hurricane Michael, volunteers from The Sonder Project, and members of The Kingdom Impact Center, including Big Holy, (center with both hands up in the air) set-up a supply center outside of the remaining building.

Eight years ago, Big Holy was one of the founding members of the The Center, which acts as the outreach arm for the Kingdom Agenda International Ministry. Prior to the storm, The Center was a nexus for community-building – especially for youth development. They ran football camps, basketball camps, kickball games, fun days, track meets, movie nights, community meetings – and more – all on the grounds of The Center. One of the most successful programs was an afternoon program called “The Hangout.”  According to Big Holy, many of the kids came from single-parent homes and needed a safe environment where they would stay out of trouble. The Center became the place to hangout, with as many as 45 kids there on any given afternoon. Just before the storm, the ministry was looking to expand the program and were in talks with the local elementary schools to formalize a transportation plan for kids to and from The Hangout.

 

On October 10, 2019, Hurricane Michael put those plans on hold.  

 

Big Holy and his family, along with a few community members, chose to ride out the storm in the safety of their sanctuary building. They had blankets and pillows, and a few decks of cards to play as they hunkered down through the storm. A few hours in, however, the ceiling began to fail and the walls began to warp. The building was collapsing. They quickly realized they needed to evacuate, which meant Big Holy would have to run through the wind and driving rain to grab the van. Once everyone was aboard, he drove them to another building on the property about 40 yards away. They safely made it there and rode out the remainder of the storm. The sanctuary building, however, did not survive, which meant the home of The Hangout was lost as well. 

Lyn Masslieno talks to Brian Kelley of the Florida Georgia Line and CEO of The Sonder Project, Chad Zibelman, two weeks after Hurricane Michael.

Big Holy and his fellow ministry leaders didn’t let the destruction get them down. Nor did they let it slow their recovery response. Instead, The Center became a feeding and distribution center for the community where they helped to serve over 10,000 hot meals and distribute over $1 million in supplies. The Sonder Project supported their efforts by donating supplies and working closely with Big Holy to identify households that needed help in the recovery for lack of resources to do it themselves. We also responded by tarping roofs, restoring electricity to homes and undertaking major home repairs. A partnership between The Center and The Sonder Project was born out of a shared vision to support the local community – a clear positive from the Hurricane Michael tragedy.

Five Days after Hurricane Michael, volunteers from The Sonder Project, and members of The Kingdom Impact Center, including Big Holy, (center with both hands up in the air) set-up a supply center outside of the remaining building.

Fast-forward three months to January 2019. The Sonder Project held a meeting with Big Holy and the leadership of The Center to discuss how we may be able to further our partnership. Just before Hurricane Michael made landfall, The Sonder Project had established our first community garden in partnership with Food for Thought to support their Full Circle Kitchen program. We were now seeking a new partner for another community garden. 

The Sonder Project had become interested in community gardens as an extension of our global initiatives to support food security in Burkina Faso through irrigated community farms. In our opinion, community gardens are a cost-effective way to strengthen communities, support food security and promote food education. We also believe in gardening as an incredibly powerful therapy for a community still processing the trauma caused by Hurricane Michael. With The Center’s ability to bring people together, and The Sonder Project’s ability to make the garden a reality, it didn’t take long before we agreed to the creation of a garden. Big Holy shook our hands and said: “LET’S GO!” And with that the project was underway. 

The garden has been a very positive impact on the Impact Center itself, and the community...

A view of the completed community garden at The Kingdom Impact Center soon after the first planting.

Eight months later, The Sonder Project community garden, in partnership with The Kingdom Impact Center, has 25 members assigned to the 30 garden beds. We’re also just wrapping up its first harvest. “The garden has been a very positive impact on the Impact Center itself, and the community,” Big Holy recently said.

He went on to talk about the relationships that have been forged between people of different races, and different socio-economic backgrounds, as well as the fresh food that has been produced in an area defined by the Federal Government as a “Food Desert.” 

Finally, Big Holy told the story of two individual gardeners, each of whom were dealing with their own stresses beyond those caused by the hurricane. One woman had been battling health issues while another recently lost her husband of many years. Both had expressed the joy they experience while gardening and of having the opportunity to get out of their houses and interact with other gardeners. 

The Sonder Project is proud to be partnered with The Kingdom Impact Center on a community garden and we are appreciative of the supporters and partners who have helped make it happen, including the St. Joe’s Foundation, Arbor Barber Trees, the UF/IFAS of Bay County, 360 Blue, 98 Realty & Property Management Company, the Mid-Bay, Destin, and Niceville Rotary Clubs, as well as a number of individual donors. With your support, we hope to continue to establish community gardens around Northwest Florida in partnership with low income communities, schools and organizations fighting hunger. Please consider donating to these efforts HERE.     

As Big Holy would say: “LET’S GO!!!”

Members of the community garden and volunteers of The Sonder Project on the first official workday planting the garden.