The Tampa CW Story: Beginnings

This is the first in a series of posts by Dorothy Day Tampa co-founder Mike Doyle about his experience of starting a Catholic Worker community in Florida.

It all happened while we sat there talking, and it is still going on.”

– Postscript, The Long Loneliness

At Dorothy Day Tampa, it all happened while we sat there talking. In November 2022, we received an email inquiry: 

I am thinking of starting a Catholic Worker House in Mississippi. I wonder if you could share any knowledge or advice you have with me about such a massive undertaking. In particular, I am wondering:

  1. How you recruited volunteers.
  2. How you raised funds.
  3. How you found a suitable location.
  4. Pitfalls to watch out for.

Jessica R.

So, how did we start Dorothy Day Tampa? 

“We were just sitting there talking” when the idea surfaced to explore the possibility of a Dorothy Day House in Tampa, Florida. 

My wife, Ann, and I were on the road. Well into an 8,000-mile, multistate 2021 summer vacation — with ample windshield time together — a question emerged: “Would a Dorothy Day house of hospitality work in Tampa? Is there a willingness and interest to form a ‘Dorothy Day Tampa?’” What were we being summoned to do?

        Dorothy Day Tampa co-founders, Ann and Michael Doyle

Shortly after both Ann and I retired in 2020 from our ministry, Love INC (In the Name of Christ) of Metro Tampa—we were blessed to have an opportunity to decompress during an extended summer vacation to relax, unwind, and explore — all the while considering what, if anything, we were summoned to do next. As the image of Dorothy Day Tampa came into being, the thought occurred: at our ages (Ann, 70, and I, 76), did we have another nonprofit buildout in us?

In September 2021, near the end of our time away from our Tampa home, the question arose once more: “What about a Dorothy Day Tampa House?” How could we introduce Servant of God Dorothy Day to Tampa?

If you have similar inklings on setting up a Catholic Worker house in your community, see our tips below on where to get started.

How Do I Start a Catholic Worker Community? 

To quote from the CatholicWorker.org FAQ page:

Anyone can start a Catholic Worker house and there are many ways to do it. You do not need permission to call yourself a Catholic Worker. Before you do so, however, it’s worth reviewing The Aims and Means of the Catholic Worker to gauge whether your philosophy and activities are broadly aligned.

Here’s a summary of the suggestions offered in that FAQ:

  1. Begin with a needs assessment of your community
  2. Start small.
  3. Visit and live in an existing Catholic Worker house for a while to ensure this is a lifestyle for you. 
  4. Check out the zoning, occupancy, and public health laws of your community. 
  5. Build a network of people, religious institutions, and charitable organizations who can support you. 
  6. Learn to beg. 
  7. Know the laws and requirements governing tax exemption and charitable solicitation in your community. 
  8. Start a newsletter and mailing list. 
  9. Pray, pray, pray. 
  10. When you have started a Catholic Worker house, please send information about your new house to www.catholicworker.org.

How did these suggestions play out in the development of Dorothy Day Tampa? Glad you asked . . . read on to find out, keeping in mind that our experience may or may not fit the needs of your community.

1. We conducted an informal needs assessment of our community.
  • Unmet needs? Only one homeless drop-in center for Tampa. 
  • What services to provide? Hospitality work. We also scaled existing resources by embedding a QR code on our business card containing 30 of the highest-demand homeless resources. 
  • Other considerations: Many factors went into this consideration: the age of my wife and I (71 and 76, respectively) our temperaments, PATIENCE, inclination, the location we are in, the amount of support we could gather, fundraising experience, and many others besides.
2. We “started small” by studying Dorothy Day’s classic autobiography.

After deciding to start Dorothy Day Tampa, we pondered how best to introduce Dorothy Day to Tampa. Ann suggested forming a study group using Dorothy Day’s influential 1952 autobiography, The Long Loneliness, divided up into six virtual sessions.

While Dorothy believed in staying small and non-incorporated, times have changed and we have lofty plans that require incorporating, registering as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, and engaging fundraising efforts.

[While many Catholic Worker communities are tax-exempt, many others continue to refuse tax-exempt status; see Dorothy’s explanation of this principle. —Editor]

3. We had experience with other Catholic Workers.

We were blessed to have very positive experiences with Catholic Worker initiatives in Minneapolis — it was our home for twelve years before moving to Florida in 1993. Our vision was to replicate the successful Catholic Worker-inspired HOPE Community. Ann and I were 1990 co-founders of H.O.P.E. – Homes On Portland Enterprises — later renamed Hope Community. We also hoped to replicate the best practices of Dorothy Day Memphis.

4. We’ve checked out local regulations as we search for a house.

We continue to search for an opening location and will comply with regulations to model excellence in all we do.

5. We relied on our existing network of supporters to help us launch our new community.

As a result of forming and running Love INC, Tampa between 2013 and 2017, we came to our new effort with an extensive network of member churches, agencies, ministries, and donors willing to support us.

6. We aren’t afraid to beg.

I came to Dorothy Day Tampa with a deep background in fundraising. We are replicating the Benevon model of fundraising that we used with our Love INC ministry. It is a donor cultivation and community engagement tool focusing on multi-year sustainability funding. 

7. We started a newsletter…and a website.

We invested early on in our website — www.dorothydaytampa.org — and publish monthly newsletters that are emailed and bulk-mailed quarterly to our supporters. These channels have become our primary way of spreading the “good news” to the wider community alongside garnering donors and volunteers.

9. Pray, pray, pray.

Prayer is essential in all aspects of Dorothy Day Tampa. With our study group of The Long Loneliness, at the end of each session, attendees volunteer for opening and closing prayer for the next session. Also, study attendees share ‘God moments’ encountered the previous week as well as offering communal prayer requests. When opened, our house will have regular community prayer and Eucharist.

10. We contacted CatholicWorker.org to be listed in the CW community directory.

This has raised the visibility of our community and generated support from the wider Catholic Worker community.

That’s it for now. Here’s a schedule of the posts we plan in this series; we’ll release a new post on the 15th of each month:

  1. Introducing Dorothy Day Tampa
  2. How We Developed a Dorothy Day House in Tampa
  3. Conducting a Needs Assessment
  4. Securing Funds
  5. Strategic Messaging
  6. Refining Your Mission Statement & Telling Your Story
  7. Fundraising Nuts & Bolts
  8. Site Selection How-To’s
  9. Building and Managing a Volunteer Program
  10. Psalm 46:10 – “Be still and know I am God.” “Pray, Pray, Pray”
  11. Bonus: Lessons Learned – Reflections from Dorothy Day Tampa

Stay tuned for post #2: “Where There is No Love, Put Love and You will Find Love:” How We Developed a Dorothy Day House in Tampa.

To view all of the articles in this series, visit the The Dorothy Day Tampa Story page.

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