Florida Senators Gayle Harrell and Darryl Rouson Visit First-in-Florida Rural "Open Table" Poverty Transformation Initiative in the Glades

Senators learn how Glades faith community and local government are partnering to support people experiencing poverty acheive the lives they envision for themselves and their children. 


West Palm Beach, FL – Florida Senators Gayle Harrell, District 25, and Darryl Rouson, District 19, recently visited with Palm Beach County community leaders who are at the forefront of launching Open Table, a national model that brings together faith organizations, government, business, healthcare, non-profit and other sectors to help individuals and families experiencing poverty.  Mayors of Belle Glade, South Bay, Pahokee and Jon Katov, CEO and founder of Open Table, joined with other leaders to share with the senators how the model brings together a “table” of approximately ten individuals to invest their time, personal connections, and skills in the life of an individual or family on a weekly basis over the long term, becoming a team of advocates to move them out of poverty, permanently.  It is the first time the Open Table model has been launched in a rural, low income Florida community.

The idea to bring Open Table to Palm Beach County emanated from the Southeast Florida Behavioral Health Network as a promising practice.  It was first embraced in the Glades by Veree Jenkins, CEO and founder of the Federation of Families and Reverend Willie Lawrence, Pastor of St. Matthews Missionary Baptist Church in Belle Glade who also co-chairs Palm Health Foundation’s Healthier Glades initiative. The two brought the concept to community leaders throughout the Glades, including Mayor Joe Kyles, City of South Bay, who became the first mayor in the U.S. to sponsor an Open Table in his community.  Mayor Wilson, City of Belle Glade and Mayor Babbs, City of Pahokee quickly joined as well.

Also key to the initiative’s success has been the involvement of the faith community, with pastors of ten African American churches unifying in the Glades and signing on to commit their support.  Funders include Children’s Services Council of Palm Beach County, Quantum Foundation and Palm Health Foundation.  Palm Health Foundation serves as the “backbone” organization for Open Table, providing managerial and administrative oversight, and is the first foundation in the U.S. to take on a funder and leadership role as an active partner with senior staff members serving on Tables in the Glades. The foundation itself is launching a Table.

Community leaders at the meeting with Senators Harrell and Rouson shared their early experiences about their own training for becoming a “table member,” one of approximately ten people who will come together weekly to form a table with an individual or family who needs personal guidance and support to help them develop connections and tools to succeed.  Guidance is provided for education, employment, behavioral health or other areas of need where the table members have expertise to provide a comprehensive, integrated system of support. 

Andy McAusland, director of grants and evaluation for Palm Health Foundation, became one of the first members of a table and shared his thoughts with Senators Harrell and Rouson at the meeting.  “Open Table gives us a proven model for creating a network of support and pathways out of poverty,” said McAusland.  “All members of a table come with the sincere desire to give of themselves and help that one person or family develop a life plan for their vision of a successful life.  We help them get there.  It’s love thy neighbor—it’s no more complicated than that.”

The first Open Table in the Glades launched June 2019.  Individuals or families for Open Table are selected by members of the Glades STAR, the children’s mental health partnership group.  Table members come largely from the Glades community and have been trained to serve.  Forty people have been trained to become table members and have started tables.

Senators Harrell and Rouson heard of the great promise of Open Table and wanted to know more for their own communities.  Their interest and that of the Glades is how the Open Table model can provide wraparound supports—from mental health to employment—to develop their own strengths and transform their lives from poverty to self-sufficiency and stabilization.

“The Glades is a demonstration of how our country can reclaim the human potential of all people, said Jon Katov, founder and CEO of Open Table. “A nation where human potential is divided – one part powered through economic mobility and the other using its energy to battle poverty – will never end poverty. But the fruit of combined human potential will transform it.”


About Palm Health Foundation

Palm Health Foundation is Palm Beach County's community foundation for health. With the support of donors and a focus on results, the foundation builds strong community partnerships, respects diverse opinions, advocates for its most vulnerable neighbors and inspires innovative solutions to lead change for better health now and for generations to come. The foundation supports health equity for Palm Beach County residents of all backgrounds, heritage, education, incomes and states of well-being. Palm Health Foundation has invested more than $80 million in Palm Beach County health since 2001. For more information about Palm Health Foundation, visit palmhealthfoundation.org or call (561) 833-6333.