LoveLakeland’s August 2017 CityMaker
By Zoe Trout
Pictured: CREATE at Catapult, Gillian Fazio
Our August 2017 CityMaker, Brian Seeley, moved to Lakeland nine years ago to attend Southeastern University. He thought he was coming for a traditional college experience: to make friends, join a few clubs, and learn. What he found, however, has shaped his life since: a relationship with God and a powerful call to serve the homeless members of the community around him.
Seeley first encountered Christ at 19, an experience that he said changed his life. Following a call to enter the lives of people who are marginalized in society led him to the homeless community in Lakeland. This call to ministry has been at the center of Seeley’s life ever since, and has taken different shapes over the years, from hitchhiking and sleeping with the homeless while living in New Zealand, to living on the streets with and opening his home to the homeless of Lakeland, and even moving to the Parker Street Neighborhood, where many of his less fortunate friends resided.
Fueled by Passion, Carried Out by Faith
After completing his Bachelor’s degree in Theology and Master’ s degree in Counseling from SEU, Seeley knew that his work with the Lakeland homeless community was not yet complete. While he had been following his passion in what he calls the most “clear and simple path,” he wanted to create something more sustainable.
From this passion and with help from those with his shared vision, a business was born. “My primary purpose during college and after graduation was to be an extension of God’s love to the homeless community here in Lakeland,” Seeley said. “I spent most of my days on the streets talking to people who eventually became regular friends of mine. I did not initially intend to establish an organization; I was just wanting to minister to people.
”However, as more people wanted to get involved with his vision of walking alongside the homeless and helping them, Seeley decided that he would be able to make the most of this positive energy by creating an official ministry. Thus, Gospel, Inc. was born in 2011.
Providing a Home of Opportunity
Though perhaps an entrepreneur by nature, Seeley did not see himself as such prior to founding Gospel, Inc.
“I was less focused on the business side of things and more concerned about the people to whom God was calling me,” he explained.
However, Seeley’s role as a small business owner and entrepreneur in the Lakeland community is undeniable, as he is now the founder of not only Gospel, Inc, a non-profit, but two for-profit businesses, Looks Great Enterprises and Neighbors of Lakeland, both of which have become large donors to Gospel, Inc.
Gospel, Inc. is a Christ-centered men’s home, primarily serving men in recovery. The home is a place to help residents achieve their goals as they find employment and work towards becoming stable enough to eventually live on their own. All residents participate in a bible study once a week and attend meetings or groups of their choice that help them stay accountable.
Gospel, Inc. also offers an affordable permanent housing option for the men who are ready to move into a place of their own. The home boasts success stories, including one of Seeley’s favorite memories of a young man who spent a year in the men’s home, got his GED, went on to receive a full scholarship for trade school, and moved into permanent housing.
In conjunction with Gospel, Inc. is RePurpose Art Studio, a safe place where women from the homeless community come together to learn how to sew, paint, make jewelry and simply create. RePurpose provides a paid internship to women learning how to sew and, upon completion of the internship, connects them with local businesses in need of seamstresses. The products that the women make are also sold in local stores and at the farmer’s market.
“Everyone is really responsible to all men, for all men, and for everything.”
“Everyone is really responsible to all men, for all men, and for everything.”
Cultivating a Positive Culture
Looks Great Enterprises, Seeley’ s first for-profit business endeavor, was initially established to provide work for the men living in the Gospel, Inc. men’s home. Starting as lawn care jobs that Seeley offered to the homeless people staying in his own home, Looks Great now specializes in holiday and event lighting and provides property management.
Seeley saw that there were surrounding community members who wanted to become involved and wanted to create a space for people hoping to make a positive impact on their neighborhood. Neighbors of Lakeland was thus established with this goal in mind. Seeley leases apartments in the Mass Market Project to tenants wishing to make this positive impact. Tenants often become regular volunteers, cleaning the streets and beautifying the neighborhood during what Seeley calls “monthly serve days.”
Seeley describes Gospel, Inc. as his passion project, his “main thing.” Looks Great Enterprises and Neighbors of Lakeland were both created in conjunction with the nonprofit to provide Seeley with a salary for the meaningful work he is carrying out and provide Gospel, Inc. with funds to carry out its mission.
What Makes a CityMaker a “City Maker”?
When asked what inspired Gospel, Inc. and his passion for working with the homeless, Seeley simply responds, “Jesus.”
“The way that Jesus stands in solidarity with people is what inspires me every day to break down the social barriers that separate us from one another. Jesus inspires me to enter into a relationship with the homeless and to simply be with them in the midst of the many challenges that they face” he says. “The homeless were once an anomaly to me. Now they are people just like me and I’ve come to identify with them. I don’t reduce them to a project. The more I stepped into my call from God the more I realized it wasn’t about outcomes, it was about loving the person in front of me the same way God loves me. Don’t get me wrong, I get excited when one of the guys from the house overcomes addiction, moves into his own house and is reunited with his family. But if that never happened again, I would still do what I do.”
Steve Scruggs, Executive Director of the Lakeland Economic Development Council, met Brian before he was aware of his ministry, entrepreneurial endeavors, and his passion to serve his community. But it didn’ t take him long to recognize this humbleness and sincerity, and he says
people like Brian, who wake up every single day asking, “What can I give?”, are what makes our City truly unique.
“He’s using his time, talents, and treasures to make our City more approachable, sensitive, and caring towards our neighbors,” Scruggs said. “He has created programs that give people hope and skills. Isn’t that what ‘City Making’ is all about?”
Creating a Better Lakeland
This drive and set of values is described in a favorite quote of Seeley’s by Father Zossima, in Fyodor Dostoevsky’s book, The Brother’s Karamazov: “Everyone is really responsible to all men, for all men, and for everything.”
“It is important to recognize the way that we as a society participate in a broken system that places blame on various constituents, specifically the homeless,” Seeley elaborates. “In some ways, we are all to blame for the problems that we see in the world. We must problem-solve with that in mind.
”This sense of humility is clear when Seeley reflects on being chosen as a Lakeland CityMaker. What resonates most is the idea of being “part of the solution.”
“I seek to learn where I need to learn and to offer advice where I have something to give. I do not think I have all the answers,” Seeley says. “On the contrary, I have a lot to learn. Lakeland is a place where I am given the opportunity to learn from others who have gone before me and to make an investment. I want to make quality contributions in the context of where the city is headed.”
Seeley is thankful to have found Lakeland as the place to call home and grow his business, citing the small town feel and supportive, a close-knit community as reasons that he has been able to find success here.
“I have made many relationships here that would not have been possible elsewhere. People are actually paying attention to one another and care about local business,” he says glowingly. “It is also really wonderful that the city of Lakeland is seeking to honor people who are doing good in the community. It is a community that wants to do great and supports people that seek to make positive contributions.”
In a future vision for the city, Seeley hopes for long-term, sustainable solutions to homelessness in a way that cares for both the community at large and the homeless population as they fit into that community. He hopes the city will continue to be attentive to what people are saying, and go further in connecting people who want to make a difference with organizations that are championing the cause they care about.
“The city could even go into high schools or colleges and invite young people to get involved in various organizations that exist,” Seeley suggests. “This would be an encouragement to those organizations and also draw young people into causes that better the city.”
When it comes to speaking of his own influence on the Lakeland community, Seeley remains humble, citing the hard work of his homeless friends, his wife Kari, and others along with his own.
“As a ministry, we have learned the value of considering the community at large as we engage with the homeless. We do not see things merely from a homeless perspective, but also from a community perspective, and understand the tension that exists. I believe that the leaders are interested in doing this well and working towards a positive solution for the community as well as the homeless specifically.”
In following a passion, Seeley emphasizes the power of hard work and commitment. “Implement your dream slowly and show that you are committed to your vision,” he says. “Many people have ideas but to carry them out is hard work. Be prepared to put in the hard work required to make a long-term, quality contribution to your community.”