Salt Life Church is getting a new home

Pastor Dave Houck stands inside the future location of Salt Life Church. The building, a former bar along State Road 19 north of Salt Springs, was purchased with the help of an anonymous donor in The Villages.

Even in the middle of a pandemic, Christmas has come early for Salt Life Church thanks to mysterious generosity coming from someone in The Villages. The church and its SoZo Kids ministry, aided by a Villages group, currently are in the process of renovating a building that will become their new church home. The project got its start thanks to an anonymous donor from The Villages. She contacted Pastor Dave Houck, founder of The Help Agency Inc., a nonprofit organization working with children who live in poverty in the Ocala National Forest. The donor asked whether Houck was still looking to purchase a new building for a church for the SoZo Kids. When Houck said he had a location in mind, the donor provided money to purchase the building, an old bar that would be renovated to become a church. Houck bought the building and his team got started on the work needed.

“This new church will give us more area to reach and serve the children in the forest by giving them better facilities,” said Pastor Houck. “The main building can also be used for a lot of outreach programs including GED and parenting classes.”

So far about $250,000 has been donated toward the purchase of the building located on State Road 19 near Fort McCoy and the beginning of renovations, but Houck said more is needed to complete the project.

“We are very frugal and are putting in as much labor as we can, so we never know how much is needed until the end,” he said. “Right now, we are just hoping the air conditioning pulls through because that is going to be what costs the majority in repairs. As long as that survives and is in good standing, we will only have to raise about $30,000 to $40,000.”

Friends of SoZo Kids Inc., a nonprofit organization in The Villages that helps raise funds and provide volunteers for SoZo Kids, is doing what it can to assist in the renovations.

“We are working on multiple projects to assist the SoZo Kids, from collecting new clothing and helping children get ready for school to also collecting food for the food pantry,” said Village of Dunedin resident, LaRae Donnellon, president of Friends of SoZo Kids Inc. “In addition to these projects, we are raising money and helping with the renovations as much as possible by sending out volunteers to see where additional help is needed.”

David Berlan, assistant professor of public administration at Florida State University, said seniors typically are in the position of their lives to assist with more philanthropy projects.

“As people have wrapped up their careers, they have so much experience to draw from and the time to give back,” he said. “This is why we see so many getting more involved with their community.”

As Houck continues work on the building, he is thankful for the help his team provides.

“We have begun the gutting of the interior and started painting the outside,” he said.

John Jamison, a volunteer with the Friends of SoZo Kids Inc., said the new building is going to be a wonderful place for the SoZo Kids to continue to grow.

“I try to work with these kids because maybe I can help guide them,” the Village of Dunedin resident said. “With this new building, more children will be able to come and learn, and be able to pass on their knowledge to others. Any time we can help others means we are doing things right and can continue helping others.”

Staff writer Andrea Davis can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5374, or