pinellas hope

My Dad: Leading by Example

I have learned many valuable lessons from my dad.  He taught me how to pour a beer, so you get just the right amount of foam, and how to check the tire pressure on my car.  But he also taught me that I can do anything I want in life.  That I have been given the gifts needed to make a change in the world, and I have the responsibility to do so.  Those are hefty values to instill in a child.  How did he do it?  By setting expectations and leading by example.

An Expectation to Perform

I don’t know when it started, but for as long as I can remember, my dad would sit down with me a few times a year to discuss my personal goals.  The goal setting was comprehensive, considering all aspects of life: physical, social, educational, and spiritual.  We would reflect on how the past few months had gone and where I want to be in the future.  He stressed the importance of holistic development and a balanced life.

My dad made it very clear that he had high expectations of me; he expected me to perform.  Notice I didn’t say achieve or succeed.  It wasn’t about being top of my class or winning awards.  He taught me to continuously improve, to believe in myself and constantly strive to do more and give more. 

Leading by Example

As a parent, I know there’s a tightrope to walk with your kids and motivation.  You don’t want to overwhelm them with pressure, but you also want them to know you believe in them.  I think the best way my dad managed that was leading by example.  He never asked more from me than he ever expected from himself.

Dad strives to do his best for his family, in his career and in his faith life.  He believes in hard work and sticks to his values, even when it’s not the most strategic move for himself.  He continuously strives to do more and give more.

After a long and successful career as a healthcare administrator, what did Dad do?  He went back to work, of course.  Joining Catholic Charities in Florida, he was able to nurture his spiritual life and give back to the community.  It was with this organization that he achieved what I believe is one of his greatest contributions: the establishment of Pinellas Hope

Turning Hardship into Hope

In the fall of 2007, the Chief of Police in Saint Petersburg, Florida, ordered his officers to slash the tents of a community of homeless people.  The dramatic move was supposedly to protect the homeless people, as there had been recent injuries sustained after fires were lit in tents to provide warmth during cold nights on the streets.  But the result was scores of displaced homeless people and a community horrified at the insensitivity of the act.

The community sprang into action.   Bishop Robert N. Lynch, one of the co-founders of Pinellas Hope, facilitated the donation of 10 acres of land from the Dioceses of Saint Petersburg for the project.  He eloquently explained that Pinellas Hope was the perfect example of how sometimes it takes a hardship to create an opportunity for something beautiful. 

Catholic Charities, led by my dad, worked with the Diocese of Saint Petersburg, the City of Saint Petersburg, Pinellas County, and the private sector to create a haven for homeless people, a place to come for a second chance.  On December 1, 2007, Pinellas Hope opened.


More than Just Tents

Pinellas Hope opened with modest operations, but it had a mission to change lives.  What started out as a collection of tents has blossomed into a real community, providing a pathway of support to help people reintegrate into society.

Joseph Pondolfino, Director of Pinellas Hope, explained to me how the project is more than just a way to get out of the elements.  It is a comprehensive program that nurtures the holistic growth of each resident.  Pinellas Hope meets the basic needs such as shelter, meals, and showers.  But so much more than the basics is needed to make a lasting difference.  The clients that come to Pinellas Hope are people with real problems, not just down on their luck.  “All the people who come in here have experienced trauma – one form of it or another,” Mr. Pondolfino explained.

Beyond the Basics

Case managers help residents identify in which areas they need assistance.  They have access to medical, educational and financial assistance, psychological, behavioral, drug and alcohol counseling, and even workforce development training.

Pinellas Hope Medical Respite Clinic

The residents at Pinellas Hope have access to medical care such as dental services, eye exams and medical screening.  BayCare Health System provides a medical respite program complete with a full-time nurse and 3 exam rooms.  They are trying to reduce Emergency Room visits for homeless people and provide them a place to recover from procedures when needed.

Continuous Improvement

The land, zoned for 470 people, has grown from a collection of tents to three different types of housing to meet varying needs.  Pinellas Hope currently has 145 tents offered free of charge which serve as a point of entry to the community.  They also have 90 ‘Hope Cottages,’ which is a small room with a bed, air-conditioning and electricity available for residents for a program fee.  And finally, they have 156 Permanent Support Housing Apartments for a low rental fee.  All of the housing options provide residents with case management support and resources.

The average stay is approximately 90 days, and there is a 45-50% success rate at placing residents in permanent housing after their stay.  Mr. Pondolfino explained that this is considered a good result due to the lack of affordable housing and the fact that they serve about 1000 people each year.

People Helping People

Pinellas Hope is a unique demonstration of the government, private sector and faith-based community working together.  The staff, volunteers, and donors are all united by the purpose of serving others. 

Mr. Pondolfino has spent the last 30 years working in behavioral health, drug treatment, and child welfare programs, with community outreach, homeless programs, and mental health hospitals.  As he’s seen throughout his career, he now witnesses at Pinellas Hope:  “Everyone that works here does happy dances when someone finds an apartment, when somebody just improves.  We feel good when someone else succeeds,” he explained.

Kindness and the Ripple Effect

In my article, The WHO of My Pursuit, I discuss how kindness can spread exponentially – a ripple effect.  “Acts of kindness change people’s lives and research has shown that those receiving acts of kindness are likely to respond by doing the same for others, creating a ripple effect that washes out over all the people it touches.”

Acts of kindness inspire more than just the receivers of those good deeds though.  Individuals, organizations, and communities can serve as examples for one another, and Pinellas Hope is doing just that.  In December 2021, Tampa Hope was opened for the homeless population of Tampa. Once again, the faith-based community, partnered with government and the private sector, came together to serve. 

tampa hope opening

Continuing to Lead

My dad retired from Catholic Charities last year.  But don’t think for one moment that he’s sitting around idle.  He already has a full schedule, and his work continues with Pinellas Hope, driving residents to medical appointments and job interviews.  He will always give his time and energy for others; it’s what keeps him alive and brings him joy.  As he said in his speech at the Pinellas Hope 10th Anniversary celebration, “The story that is really important is the people…work hard and relate to people.  It’s all about human beings taking care of each other.”

Thank you, Dad.  You’re an inspiration.  Happy Father’s Day.

I’d like to extend special thanks to Lou Ricardo for providing me with a treasure trove of information, videos and photos and Joe Pondolfino for taking his time to share with me his experience and answer my endless questions.

“The story that is really important is the people…work hard and relate to people. It’s all about human beings taking care of each other.”
-Frank Murphy


  • Lisa says:

    Patty – thank you for sharing this inspiring story. Your father is an incredible man and I see so many of his qualities in you. I’m fascinated by the Pinnellas Hope initiative. Truly impressive.

    • Patricia Makatsaria says:

      Thank you for taking the time to read about him and his work with Pinellas Hope. It is an amazing project.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *