"There's this 13-year-old girl whose family took off with her because she got pregnant," Pastor David Houck said.
"Nobody knows who the father is but rumor has it, it's her brother.
So they took off to avoid the authorities.
In this neighborhood we've had 11-year-olds who've given birth-11-year-olds."
Several years ago, Villager JoAn Suttle heard similar stories from Pastor David about at-risk children living in the Ocala National Forest.She knew she had to get involved.
"The pastor talked about his nonprofit, The Help Agency," JoAn explained.
"It provides a variety of assistance programs geared to help break the chain of poverty that exists in the forest.
He told us about the mentoring centers that were helping improve the children's grades and getting them into high school and later, college."
As JoAn and others like her have observed, when Pastor David speaks, people listen.He's an imposing figure of a man. Broad shouldered and standing more than six feet tall, his kind face sports a beard sprinkled with grey, and he has a booming voice that quickly demands attention.
However, his compassion-filled eyes grab you and pull you in, eyes that have seen it all.
These eyes have witnessed more atrocities and misfortunes in a week than many people see in a lifetime.
The good pastor is married and lives in the Ocala National Forest in a modest doublewide trailer next door to Camp Sozo (a children's summer camp that was his brainchild).
He has 10 children of his own, six of them adopted, some might say rescued, from less-than-desirable homes in the forest.
His youngest is 18, and all have graduated from college or still in college, an amazing accomplishment for a family whose income averages around $25,000 a year.
After hearing the pastor speak for the first time, JoAn volunteered to help.
"He told us he had been praying for a long time that he could come down here and speak to groups in The Villages," JoAn explained.
She and her husband, Don, vowed to make that happen and soon Sozo Kids Club at The Villages was created.
"We figured we could hold four informational sessions each year and invite Pastor David to speak," the Tennessee transplant said.
-Pastor David Houck, CEO/President of The Help Agency, Turning Point Mentoring Centers, and Camp Sozo
The club has 600 names on its mailing list and recently added an advisory committee.
"People involved with Sozo Kids are really passionate about it," JoAn continued.
"One man discovered Pastor David needed a bush hog to clear brush from Sozo Camp land and donated money to buy one.
Another couple raised money for a washer and dryer."
JoAn said amazing things happened when Pastor David began giving tours in the forest.
Recently, Pastor David conducted a tour for JoAn and several other interested parties."The biggest problem I have when speaking in The Villages is the misconceptions," Pastor David explained as he carefully eyed the one-lane dirt road.
Without warning he quickly changed subjects, yelling to his guests, "How are your backs-they good?
"Kids around here are told they'll probably never make it beyond eighth grade," Pastor David said.
We take them outside the forest and they see things they've never seen before," Pastor David said.
"There are more than 6,500 children in the forest," Pastor David said.
"If you ignore the kids, in 15 years we'll be yelling at those same kids [as adults] because they are making the same bad decisions their parents did."
The mentoring program is often the key to unlocking the potential in those children.
"One little girl is now in 11th grade," Pastor David said as his face lit up with parental-like pride.
"We got her when she was in second grade without any possibility of passing.
Now she's flourishing.
She's making great grades.
She wants to be a pediatrician and has every possibility of making that happen."
It's easy to believe Pastor David was with her every step of the way.
Pastor David echoed John's words later as he ended his tour.
"These people aren't bad people," he said.
ENGAGE Ocala, FL, is in partnership with the Houck family, (David, Tammy and 9 children) who have been in ministry almost 20 years.
David Houck is the founder of Help Agency Inc. which includes Turning Point mentor centers, Food Bank, and Camp Sozo.The Help Agency has been serving the rural poor since 1993.
Providing food, financial help, mentoring, teen pregnancy help and prevention, and much more.
David Houck, Executive Director of Help Agency of the Forest, will be guest speaker at Christian Life Assembly of God on Sunday evening, Dec. 11 at 6 p.m. Help Agency of the Forest serves tens of thousands of underprivileged and impoverished families that live in the Ocala National Forest.
You are invited to come and hear Rev. Houck tell about his work with the families of the Forest.
Christian Life Assembly is currently collecting toys for impoverished children of the Forest.
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