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The Tampa CW Story: Conducting a Needs Assessment

This is the third in a continuing series of articles about how to start a Catholic Worker community, told through the lived experience of the Tampa Catholic Worker.

In two previous posts, we examined how the Catholic Worker vision, its mission, and values inspired us. We also shared some of the considerations we took into account before developing Dorothy Day Tampa. In this third post, we will explain our thoughtful, prayerful, discernment process to verify a fit for developing a Dorothy Day House in Tampa. Feeling summoned to bring Dorothy Day’s radical hospitality to our community, our experiences with H.O.P.E. in Minneapolis and Love INC Tampa led us to recognize the need to prayerfully discern both a need and a fit in our community, then to ‘plant the seed’ by assembling a vision carrying team to “harvest the seed” – creating a Dorothy Day House in Tampa.

We started the development process with this community-wide inquiry: Is there an interest and willingness to form a Dorothy Day in our community?We were careful to remain vigilant to have a combination of both interest (attitude) and willingness (action) to transform vision to reality in our community.

Lead Individual:
Any such process requires at least one person of passion and commitment – a high-energy, community vision carrier who owns this development process. In our experience, it is critical not to start without this individual in place.

Personal, community, and agency assessment exercises helped us determine not only interest and willingness, but also the likelihood of success in delivering a fully functional Dorothy Day House. This roadmap process started with:

1. Personal Assessments

We asked ourselves: What skillsets are necessary for the development process? Which do we have, and which are we missing? We identified the following:

  • Leadership – To build a fully operational organization.
  • Strategic Planning – To move from vision to reality.
  • Accounting – To manage money and numbers.
  • Operational Management – To organize division of responsibilities.
  • Vision Carrying/Communication – To network with the community and share House good news.
  • Technical/IT – To develop a website and manage outside links to our information.
  • Direct Guest Services – To serve our future House guests.
  • Volunteer Training and Management – To educate and ensure the well-being of direct service workers.
  • Site Selection – To find a location for our House.
  • Fundraising – To secure start-up seed, operational, and sustainability funding.

Following this assessment, we were in a position to begin making plans for acquiring missing skills, securing development Board of Directors members, permanent BOD members, etc.

2. Community Assessment

The next step was to describe the community in which our Dorothy Day House would operate, taking into consideration:

  • Population size
  • Demographics
  • Portion Spanish speaking
  • Homelessness levels (static or increasing)
  • Homeless services offerings
  • Transportation options
  • Missing resources (family shelter, affordable housing, etc)
3. Informal Agency/Ministry/Faith Community Assessment

Once we had assessed our skillset and community, we made in-person, scheduled visits with the leading organizations currently serving our nearly, newly, and chronically homeless neighbors, and asked:

  • What is their focus population?
  • Individuals and/or families?
  • Services offered?
  • Any missing resources they can identify?
  • Would a Dorothy Day House fit in our community?
  • Any overlap or duplication of services?

Optional: We found it very helpful to engage with an existing Catholic Worker-inspired community as a sanity check for our planning – we looked to Dorothy Day Memphis. (If you, too, would like to start an organization in your community, you can find a model in your area here on

“Be still and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10)

With our assessments complete, it was time to pause and prayerfully await His signs and nudges. We watched and listened for “God moments” and “aha” revelations to guide us to proceed or hold for His further direction.

Once we were at peace with our “yes” and elected to proceed, we needed to select a development model. For Dorothy Day Tampa’s strategic planning, including future affordable housing, we selected to:

  • Legally incorporate as an IRS 501(c) (3) legal entity for fundraising and providing donation receipts.
  • Secure an accounting and a bank relationship.
  • Assemble a four-person development BOD that delivers a fully functional nonprofit.
  • Plan, after 12-24 months, to hand over the nonprofit to a permanent BOD.

Next in this series: Communicating our vision to our community.

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

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