And so it began...
Back in 2004, a small group of farm owners decided to organize to help the farm workers and their families. Many racetracks have a workforce made up of mostly single men, however our workforce is predominantly comprised of people with families and children, many of whom are non-English speaking Hispanic workers. Chaplain Bob had a huge area to cover as he visited many of the employees and owners of the 500+ horse farms in our county. It quickly became apparent that he could not cover all the farms from his truck and seven acres was found and purchased directly across from a low income housing area known as “Little Mexico”.
A soccer field was created with a generous donation from the Florida Farm Managers and the FTBOA. We also purchased a modular building to house our community center, with two classrooms and a large central area for church services, Boy Scout meetings, consulate services, health clinics and a myriad of other programs. There are about one hundred and fifty kids in the soccer program and several informal adult teams, so the field is constantly in use. There is also a large playground structure, a fitness course and an open pavilion ‘weight room’. The Marion County Sheriff’s department has credited the community center and playing fields with reducing juvenile crime in the area by more than 20%. The campus is providing an outlet for their youthful energies and some friendly adult guidance.
In 2018 we were blessed with a generous donation which allowed the building of a concrete block building that became home to the after school tutoring program. It also doubles as a hurricane shelter as most of the homes in Little Mexico are older mobile homes. Chaplain Bob’s wife, Dee, is a certified teacher with 30 years of experience and heads up the tutoring program. She and her paid assistant have a steady stream of children arrive daily for tutoring. A high capacity broadband internet system with ten computers was installed to aid in homework help. During Covid it became obvious that many children were trying to complete their online schooling sharing a parent’s phone, with little or no internet connectivity. Dee and her program have an incredible success rate and ‘our kids’ have gone from failing in school to 90% on the A/B honor roll.
The Ocala Farm Ministry campus has become a great gathering place for the local farm workers and their families. Soccer season is September through November and Easter and Christmas both bring celebrations. The playground gives families an opportunity to get together, share a picnic, and watch their children have fun with their friends. The Ministry has helped to grow a
true sense of community.
Come visit with us!
The Ocala Farm Ministry is a registered 501 C division of the Racetrack Chaplaincy of America (RTCA). Unlike every other Chaplaincy under the RTCA umbrella, we are not affiliated with a public racetrack.
We are a farm-based chaplaincy.