When someone comes to Metropolitan Ministries seeking help, Betty Garwood is often one of the first people to meet them.

For Garwood, this isn’t a vocation. It’s a passion.

“It’s giving back to the community, giving back with my heart,” she said.

Based in Tampa, Metropolitan Ministries provides a refuge for poor and homeless families. Through comprehensive care, it also helps survivors become self-sufficient.

No one understands the mission better than Garwood, who once came to Metropolitan Ministries seeking help of her own. She was a young mother, with young children, escaping to Tampa from out of state because of a domestic situation that left her and her family homeless.

Now she shares her experience with those who seek help, offering real hope from real experience.

“The young ladies, many are victims of domestic violence. I share my story with them. I couldn’t do it a long time ago, but now I’m free,” she said.

Each day, the volume of people positively impacted by Metropolitan Ministries grows.

“There are a lot of pretty intense stories of people that come in the front door of this ministry,” said Tom Cornett, a Regions banker and member of the Metropolitan Ministries board.

Beleaguered, often with nowhere else to go, people turn to Metropolitan Ministries for a lifeline. “Providing housing for them is critical,” Cornett added, noting that the ministry also offers additional resources, such as financial education. “By going deeper, it helps people prepare to go out and be truly be self-sufficient.”

James Dunbar is the Director of Outreach at Metropolitan Ministries.

“We make it a purposeful effort to serve individuals one heart at a time, and to listen to their stories to help guide them in their particular situation,” Dunbar said.

The approach works. Betty Garwood knows that better than anyone.

“I’ve had many clients walk through that door and tell me they need one service and, after we’ve had a conversation, (we learn) the service they came in the door for is not the service they actually need. So we try to sit down and try to find out what’s the root of the problem – and what can we do to help them better themselves.”

Patrice Parker is a Regions branch team leader and teaches financial education at Metropolitan Ministries. Like Garwood, she knows how quickly lives can change.

She was 9 years old when her father lost his job. “We lost everything,” Parker said. “I never want anyone to feel that emptiness or that uncertainty.”

For Regions’ Rob Lindsey, the nonprofit’s structure allows those who volunteer build relationships with the people they serve.

“In our branches, we don’t get to follow them around and see what they’re doing when they leave us,” said Lindsey, Regions’ Financial Wellness  Manager. “But in a setting like Metropolitan Ministries, we actually get to see the change occur, get to see the impact and follow them every step of the way.”

Betty Garwood learned about Metropolitan Ministries years ago and returned as a volunteer before joining the team as an employee.

“I feel that outreach is the heart of the ministry,” she said. “That’s where the clients come in. They’re traumatized. They’re looking for a (kind) word. We try to give them hope.”

Regions associates help Metropolitan Ministries teach financial education to young students, helping them understand concepts that will lead to better futures./GARY TRAMONTINA PHOTO