GraceWay Village
At GraceWay Village, both staff and volunteers pitch in wherever they are needed to provide food, clothing and encouragement to local families in crisis. RUSTY DURHAM PHOTOS

GraceWay Village celebrates 15 years of helping


Volunteers of all ages are welcome at GraceWay
Volunteers of all ages are welcome at GraceWay, but adults undergo a thorough training to more effectively meet the needs of clients.

Most folks head online or to the store when they want new clothes. They drive to the grocery store to restock the kitchen, park their cars in garages before heading inside to enjoy an evening’s rest. Yet, close to 12 percent of the population of St. Lucie County lives below the poverty level — a number that more than doubles in the 34950 zip code of Fort Pierce. Many others live paycheck to paycheck. 

GraceWay Village, one of the most active and effective local organizations helping the people behind these statistics, celebrates 15 years of service in February. To celebrate, they’re planning the Big Dreams and Great Expectations special dinner event on Feb. 10 at the 500 Orange Event Center in Fort Pierce. Invited guests include Congressman Brian Mast, acclaimed musician Miqueas Lopez and stand-up comedian Jose Sarduy. Proceeds will help fund GraceWay’s innovative new facility to combat homelessness: the Family Restorative Living Facility.

GraceWay Village began in 2009 when the First Presbyterian Church congregation merged with Indian River Presbyterian Church, leaving its Hartman Road property vacant. Everyone agreed the land and buildings should be used for the good of the community. But in what capacity? Recognizing that clothing insecurity is a health, as well as basic, need in society, church member Linda Chastain and director Fred DiFruscio spearheaded a clothing initiative called Hope’s Closet — now renamed the Clothing Boutique. Since then, the boutique has helped outfit more than 24,400 children and teens.

Clients can shop for clothing every four months, provided they attend at least one of GraceWay’s workshops between visits.


A clothing ministry was the first program launched at GraceWay in 2009 as Hope’s Closet. Today’s Clothing Boutique provides for thousands of children annually. RUSTY DURHAM PHOTOS

Board member Jolien Caraballo had never heard of GraceWay Village when she was invited to tour the facility, about three years ago. The boutique “spoke to my heart,” she says. “To give children a shopping experience the same as their peers, when they’re used to hand-me-downs they didn’t choose — it’s a point of pride for them.”

Chrystal Netherton is GraceWay’s CEO. “Last year, the boutique had 2400 clients,” she says. “We advertise birth to 18, but if they’re still in school or handicapped, we definitely work with families.”

Clients are paired with trained volunteers who help them locate correct sizes and items in the extensive clothing rooms. In addition to expertise, Netherton says volunteers offer encouragement. Hugs. The personal touch. “That’s the best thing,” Netherton says. “They’ve experienced so much trauma.” 

GraceWay added Matthew’s Café — now The Café — in 2010. Meal delivery to home-bound residents was added in 2016. Today, GraceWay’s chef, Maria Sanchez, and staff serve up hot meals four days a week. Meals are also provided at satellite locations. 

“The needs aren’t going away,” Netherton says. “Nights that we used to see clients in the 300s, we’re seeing 450.” 

Volunteers pack meals for delivery and take them to drive-through or offsite locations. They also cook, serve and clean up at the cafe. Caraballo enjoys participating in “thank you” events for the army of helpers who come from Fort Pierce, Port St. Lucie, even Indiantown and Okeechobee. “They need love too,” she says.

The purchase of the property in 2020 — thanks to a $1 million matching grant from Port St. Lucie supporters William and Estelle Turney — made GraceWay a completely independent enterprise. Also in 2020 — the COVID-19 pandemic. In response, meal service was extended to four nights a week, with meal delivery increased from two sites to seven. As parents and grandparents struggled to cover their family’s food and clothing in the COVID economy, GraceWay Village volunteers and staff worked continuously to expand services.

“Things just skyrocketed,” Netherton says. “From 2021 to 2022, needs went up 30%. From last year to this year, we’ve gone up another 12%. Economists said it would take six to 10 years for low-income families to get back to where they were pre-pandemic, and we are definitely seeing that.”


GraceWay Village
GraceWay Village has benefited from the community’s generosity, especially that of major donors Estelle and William Turney of Port St. Lucie, right, shown with Cathie Mouring, who was executive director of GraceWay Village from 2014 to 2023. MaryAnn Ketcham Photos

A decade ago, when Netherton dropped off a donation bin to GraceWay Village for a friend, she knew little about the organization. “I was so naïve. I actually had the thought that it would be a fun activity for my two kids, not knowing there was so much poverty in my community — even being born and raised here.”

Seeing that need, however, Netherton says you can never unsee it.

Signing up to volunteer, Netherton began her journey with GraceWay, eventually joining the staff. “It’s given me a true understanding of the ins and outs and how it all operates,” she says. Netherton became CEO in 2023, as well as a fierce advocate in Tallahassee and a passionate communicator to whomever will listen. Although GraceWay benefits from many church-affiliated volunteers and supporters, Netherton says her own journey resulted from personal commitment. “This is my true call and obedience to what God has me doing.”

Because of a lack of affordable transportation, most of GraceWay Village’s clients are from Fort Pierce. Some drive; some bicycle. Others take public transportation as close as they can, then walk or bike. Supporters and volunteers, however, hail from all over the county and beyond. Lee Holley, the vice chair of the board of directors, is also executive pastor of operations at Calvary Port St. Lucie Church. Caraballo currently serves as the City of Port St. Lucie’s vice mayor and District 4 councilwoman. Treasure Coast churches and businesses also pitch in, supplying finances, nonperishable food, clothing and muscle. 

“Volunteering together is a great way to get to know each other and team build, while giving back to the community,” Netherton says.

GraceWay Village has received numerous awards from the 211 Helpline and the St. Lucie County Chamber of Commerce. It partners with groups, including Lil Feet of St. Lucie County and Rotary Club of Port St. Lucie. GraceWay also offers workshops and guest speakers on topics such as parenting, nutrition and relationships.

Chef Maria Sanchez, left, and CEO Chrystal Netherton with her husband, Aaron, attended the 10th annual Butterfly Kisses event in 2023, a father-daughter [or granddaughter] dance, that raised money through ticket sales, sponsorships, raffles and a silent auction.
Chef Maria Sanchez, left, and CEO Chrystal Netherton with her husband, Aaron, attended the 10th annual Butterfly Kisses event in 2023, a father-daughter [or granddaughter] dance, that raised money through ticket sales, sponsorships, raffles and a silent auction.

The Cafe at GraceWay Village
The Cafe at GraceWay Village serves nutritious meals on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Sundays at the facility and at several off-site locations. The meals are prepared and served by volunteers from throughout St. Lucie County and beyond. RUSTY DURHAM

Hidden behind the statistics are the faces of people in need. “I’ll never forget Justin,” Netherton says. “He just had the look of homelessness. We fed him, gave him [food for his dog]. He got a job, a place to live we were able to furnish. The transformation and attitude was just ... everything.”

Taking meals to homeless camps or assisting individuals like Justin is rewarding. But for years, GraceWay Village has dreamed of targeting homelessness in a greater capacity. In 2024, the hope is to break ground for the Family Restorative Living Facility, the only residence of its kind in the county. “It will set a great example for the community,” Caraballo says. “A blueprint for making a unique difference while diversifying services.”

Families in crisis may live at the fully staffed facility for up to18 months, while participating in a structured program. More than 2,000 children are registered with the St. Lucie County School District as homeless. “It’s not just about a roof over their heads,” Netherton says. “It’s an opportunity to break the cycle of homelessness, empowering families to build brighter futures.”

RK Davis Construction, long known for helping churches and other nonprofits, has been involved from the start. Once the property was paid off, GraceWay felt confident to move forward. “The design will be built in phases,” Doug Davis says. “We work with clients to create a conceptual layout that clients can afford.”

The Family Restorative Living Facility will consist of 20 family units, each with bedrooms and a bathroom, as well as a communal living area, communal laundry facility, classrooms and offices. The initial phase is more than 13,000 square feet; phase two will add an additional 4,000-plus square feet. February’s event kicks off a new capital campaign for the facility, with completion cost estimated at $7 million. The anticipated annual operating budget is $850,000. 

It will be a huge project — for a growing need. GraceWay Village knows that it will take the proverbial “village” of supporters to tackle homelessness in this way, but its staff and supporters truly believe in not only big dreams but great expectations.

staff and volunteers
On any given day, visitors encounter staff and volunteers combining efforts for the greatest impact; from left are: Jenn Luss, Pat Bonner, Annie Frey, Sylvia Parmelee, CEO Chrystal Netherton, Shelitta Lammers, Jane Klug, Operations Mgr. Chrissie Hoeffner, Programs Asst. Tina Vasquez and Vickie Rivers. RUSTY DURHAM


1780 Hartman Road, Fort Pierce, FL 34947 | 772.925.3074 |

The Clothing Boutique is open Tuesdays and Wednesdays, 10 a.m. – 2 p.m.

[Donate gently worn clothes or new underwear and socks.]

The Cafe serves meals Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Sundays, from 5-6 p.m.

Weekly workshops are offered Tuesdays at 11 a.m., with complimentary lunch.

See the original article in print publication

Jan. 8, 2024

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