Family Renew Community’s decision to expand into the DeLand area after a decade of offering a hand up to families experiencing homelessness in coastal Volusia County was a leap of faith back in 2001. The organization received from Tom and Linda O’Quinn the gift of an apartment building in which to house seven homeless families. Three local churches — St. Peter Catholic Church, First Presbyterian Church DeLand and St. Barnabas Episcopal Church — committed to help in equipping the families for self-sufficiency. But Family Renew and the congregations went about that mission in West Volusia quietly and largely alone — until Chuck and Mary Ellen Early made it their personal mission to gain attention and widespread community support in their adopted hometown for the cause they loved.
For their cumulative efforts over more than a decade, the couple was recognized recently as Family Renew Community’s Agency Champion and nominee for Philanthropist of the Year by the Volusia/Flagler chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals.
Chuck and Mary Ellen founded Family Renew Community’s DeLand Ice Cream Social in 2011, and have chaired the annual fundraiser every year since, building a team that has turned it into a staple of the city’s charity-event calendar. The family-friendly, Sunday afternoon social has netted well over $200,000 in its 10 years, including nearly $20,000 in sponsorships this year — even though the festivities were canceled because of the pandemic. Chuck and Mary Ellen didn’t stop there. With contagious enthusiasm, they’ve shared Family Renew Community’s story of hope for homeless families in their far-reaching social and civic circles. In large part because of their efforts, Family Renew Community now receives annual support from a host of DeLand-based service clubs and businesses and personal donations from many DeLand residents. Once considered a gamble, Family Renew Community’s presence in West Volusia is now funded substantially from within DeLand. Though Family Renew Community’s DeLand fundraising is very much a team effort, in many ways, Chuck and Mary Ellen Early got the ball rolling.