TARPON SPRINGS — The Shepherd Center, a faith-based nonprofit group that helps the homeless, in conjunction with Florida Hospital North Pinellas, held its sixth annual Prayer Breakfast in Theofilos Hall on Oct. 5.
More than 250 people attended the two-hour event at the Spanos-Pappas Community Center, which featured several guest speakers. The list of speakers included Florida Hospital President and CEO Jason Dunkel, Tarpon Springs High School Principal Leza Fatolitis and Maj. Jeff Young of the Tarpon Springs Police Department.
Mayor Chris Alahouzos and U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, R-Palm Harbor, were among those in the audience during the prayer breakfast, which featured live performances and prayers dedicated to a variety of groups and causes.
Shepherd Center President Beverley Graham kicked off the buffet style breakfast at 7 a.m. by thanking Dunkel and the hospital for “working closely with the outreach community” before dedicating the event to a Bible verse that addresses homelessness.
“Matthew 25 states, ‘For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me,’ ” Graham read, before adding, “In order to end homelessness, it truly takes a village.”
Prior to introducing the Tarpon Springs Police-Fire Department Honor Guard, Dunkel, later dubbed the “Singing CEO” for his musical talents, told the audience “you are here today for spiritual solidarity. I believe in the power of prayer, and a day like today gives me hope our community understands the power of prayer.”
The Florida Hospital network is part of Adventist Health System, a nonprofit unit of the Seventh Day Adventist Church.
Dunkel was joined by the hospital’s director of spiritual care services, Gregg Aguirre, in reciting the “National Anthem” before Shepherd Center Executive Director Ada Del Gais began the prayers with one for the homeless.
“Lord, hear our prayer today for all women and men, boys and girls who are homeless this day,” she read. “We pray for those if us with warm houses and comfortable beds that we not be soothed into smugness and forgetfulness.”
Other speakers who recited prayers included: Salvation Army of Clearwater Maj. Ted Morris, for Our Country; businessman and philanthropist Ron Haddad, for Victims of Hurricanes Maria and Florence; the Rev. Melody Kidd of the Crystal Beach Community Church, for the military and veterans; the Rev. Milton Smith, chaplain of the Tarpon Springs Fire Department, for First Responders; and Monsignor Joseph Pellegrino of St. Ignatius of Antioch Catholic Church, for the sick and needy.
The prayers were interspersed with several musical performances, including a stirring rendition of “Alabaster Box” by Vicki Paraskevi Rollins and a couple of roof-raising numbers by Clearwater artist Angela Hunsicker, capped by “Dance like David Danced” to close the show.
Afterwards, several attendees and participants spoke about the event.
“This is one of the highlights of the year for Florida Hospital North Pinellas,” said Dunkel, who took over as the hospital’s chief administrator earlier this year. “We’re all about serving the community and taking part in this Prayer Breakfast is following our mission to the community.”
Alahouzos said the event “was a nice way to bring everybody together for a good cause.”
“The Shepherd Center is doing a great job helping the community, providing food and clothes and services for the homeless, and this was a great opportunity for us to show our support for them,” the mayor said. “This is an organization that has provided so much over the years and I’m glad I was here to support it.”
Shepherd Center Marketing Director Fred Howard said the breakfast was “such an encouraging experience to have the people of Tarpon Springs come together in this environment, with everyone donating their time, money and effort.”
“It’s one of the joys of the year for us at the Shepherd Center,” Howard added.
Del Gais agreed.
“Praise God. What an amazing turnout,” she said. “I am thrilled to see so many people from our community including church members, businesses, donors and organizations gathered at this Prayer Breakfast to pray for the challenges our country and community are facing.”
After thanking a list of people, including Dunkel and the Shepherd Center board of directors, Del Gais said, “last, but not least, we are sincerely grateful to the prominent leaders who took the time to come to our event. I am so thankful of all the support. God’s blessing be with everyone.”