- South Carolina
Polk Ecumenical Action Council for Empowerment (PEACE) was founded in 2001 when two local clergy, one Catholic priest and one African American Baptist pastor, came together and began voicing concerns about overwhelming problems in the community. PEACE exists in Polk County as a vehicle for congregations to do effective and powerful justice ministry. Currently, PEACE has 19 member congregations that are located throughout Polk County, representing over 10,000 residents and are diverse in their socio-economic, racial, denominational and geographic backgrounds. Congregations in PEACE work together to build relationships with one another, listen to common concerns, research community problems, and then take action to see that systems in the community are held accountable to principles of justice and get to the root cause of serious problems. PEACE also strengthens leadership among minorities, low-income individuals and others suffering from prejudice, oppression, and neglect as it provides an avenue for those who are usually voiceless to take a powerful role in transforming their community.
Since PEACE’s beginning in 2001, we have taken successful action on several community issues. Listed below is a sample of some of the issue victories of the organization.
Healthcare: Polk County has the first and third busiest emergency rooms in the state of Florida and there are over 100,000 people without insurance or insufficient insurance coverage.
In March of 2004, PEACE and other allies worked hard to get a ½ cent sales tax referendum passed that would increase funds for indigent healthcare. It initially had a very slim chance of passing but, with the diligent work by PEACE leaders and other allies, it passed with 62% of the vote. The tax brings in about 30 million dollars a year.
At the 2005 Action, PEACE received a commitment from the majority of county commissioners to open five primary care clinics.
- The Lakeland Primary Care Clinic, operated by Central Florida Healthcare, began accepting patients in November 2007; in 2013, the clinic treated 6,195 unique patients and had a total of 18,584 visits.
- The Winter Haven Clinic, operated by Central Florida Healthcare, began accepting patients on May 9, 2011; in 2013, the clinic treated 4,759 unique patients and had a total of 9,517 visits.
- The Lakeland Family Health Center, operated by Lakeland Regional Medical Center and across the street from the Emergency Room, began accepting patients July 10, 2012; from 7/10/12 – 12/31/12, the clinic saw 1,927 unique patients registered and a total of 5,113 patient visits. There were 1,863 patients diverted from the Emergency Department for this same period to Family Health Center because they did not require emergency care.
- Two Health Department clinics also expanded services to include primary care in Haines City and Lakeland, beginning in 2013, which impacts underserved parts of the county.
Drug Rehabilitation: Over 40,000 people are addicted to drugs and alcohol in Polk County. 10,000 people leaving the jails every year would seek treatment if it were available to them. However, when we began to look at the problem, there were only 25 in-patient rehabilitation beds and all were reserved for women.
In 2009, Commissioner Bob English and the County staff committed to adding 100 in-patient drug rehabilitation beds to help people break the cycle of addiction. In 2011, 50 beds were opened for men and an additional 48 beds were opened for women in 2012 through the Hope Now program. In 2013, Hope Now served 750 families and had 31 graduates with a success rate of 87%.
Beginning in 2001 and continuing on in the years 2008-2010, PEACE also prevented funding for the in-jail substance abuse program (JASA) from being cut from the budget. In 2013, JASA had 336 admissions for treatment services and 151 men and women graduated the program.
Education Just over 65% of Polk’s students graduate from high school. Of those who graduate, 60% are below grade level in their reading abilities. In 2011, over 12,000 students were given out of school suspensions.
In 2011, Superintendent Dr. Sherrie Nickell implemented Positive Behavior Support at a higher level in 9 additional middle schools, as a means to begin addressing the out of school suspension rate in the county. The rate of out of school suspensions has steadily decreased since implementation.
Transit: Many families in Polk County are transportation disadvantaged and cannot get to doctor’s appointments, jobs, school events, etc. In parts of the county, taxi services charged extremely high rates to families that had limited transit options.
In 2013, Tom Phillips, Executive Director of Polk Transit, committed to expand routes in underserved parts of the county. Two new bus stops were added to route 416 in Haines City in August 2013, including one at the health department clinic; since its founding, there have been over 70,000 rides. Route 32/33 S. Florida/Carter Road was converted to a flex service, which picks people up from their homes, serving those with physical limitations. Route 39 Bradley was also created as a Flex Service and began accepting riders in January 2014.
PO Box 1928
Lakeland, FL 33803