Robert V. Lee
The Rev. Dr. Robert Vernon Lee, III is a humanitarian, Episcopal priest and is chairman and CEO of Jacksonville, Florida-based nonprofit FreshMinistries and its international arm, Be The Change International. Dr. Lee is responsible for the creation of a number of unique and successful global initiatives and partnerships addressing issues of poverty worldwide. In the United States, efforts began with programs vital to the restoration of core-city Jacksonville. He has also spearheaded partnerships in Africa designed to combat HIV/AIDS and to address the United Nation’s Millennium Development Goals, uniquely addressing all goals at once.
- 1 Biography
- 2 International Partnerships
- 3 Revitalization in Jacksonville
- 3.1 6-Point Community Initiative
- 3.2 Crime rate drop in Jacksonville's Eastside
- 3.3 Recognition by Jacksonville Sheriff's Office
- 3.4 FreshMinistries formally recognized by U.S. Treasury
- 3.5 Jacksonville chosen for Financial Access Pilot
- 3.6 Jacksonville Hospitality Institute
- 3.7 Beaver Street Enterprise Center
- 3.8 Florida State College at Jacksonville
- 3.9 Klutho building restoration
- 3.10 Operation New Hope
- 4 Sermon to President George W. Bush
- 5 References
- 6 External links
Dr. Robert Vernon Lee, III, was born January 14, 1951 in El Paso, Texas to Colonel Robert V. Lee, Jr. and Cynthia Warren Lee. He is a renowned Episcopal Priest, Humanitarian, and Founder/CEO and Chairman of FreshMinistries and Be The Change International.
He earned his bachelor’s degree from Vanderbilt University and continued graduate studies in journalism at the University of Georgia. Upon accepting his calling into the ministry, he earned a master’s of divinity from Yale University and a doctorate of theology from New York Theological Seminary.
After serving as rector of Church of Our Saviour in Jacksonville, Florida, Dr. Lee was called to establish a new kind of ministry. Having created the concept for FreshMinistries in 1988 and incorporating it into a working 501(c)(3) in 1989, Dr. Lee elevated the organization to a full-time ministry in 1994.
It was his dream to bring his ministry out of the church and into the community to serve all faiths and races. His interfaith, interracial outreach unites people in need and the people who have resources to share with the less fortunate. Dr. Lee’s mission for FreshMinistries and its partners is to utilize all available resources as tools to empower individuals in need with opportunities to improve their lives and those of their families. These opportunities, provided through the many programs of FreshMinistries, work through education, economic redevelopment, health initiatives and housing in communities throughout the world.
He has served as the Chairman of the Interfaith Sub-Committee of the 2005 Super Bowl Host Committee in Jacksonville and as a director for: St. Mary’s Outreach Ministry in Jacksonville, the Samaritan Center, Dignity-U-Wear, Christian Healing Ministries, and the Florida Council of Churches.
By appointment of Governor Jeb Bush, Dr. Lee currently serves as a member of the Governor’s Faith-based Advisory Board for the state of Florida.
As a mayoral appointee he also serves on the Mayor’s Faith-based and Community Advisory Board for the city of Jacksonville. Dr. Lee is also the first head of a not-for-profit organization to serve as a Director on the Board of the Jacksonville Regional Chamber of Commerce.
He also serves on the board of directors for the Jacksonville Interfaith Council, Habitat for Humanity of Jacksonville (HabiJax), and the Jacksonville Urban League. He is also a member of the Compass Rose Society, an organization of the Anglican Communion serving the Archbishop of Canterbury.
He currently resides in Jacksonville, Florida with his wife, Mirte de Boer Lee, and his two children, Robert V. Lee IV and Rebecca A. Lee.
Dr. Lee is responsible for creating several important and unique partnerships to extend the FreshMinistries vision globally.
FreshMinistries' track record of positively affecting poverty-related problems and administering grants led to a 5-year, $10 million USAID grant in 2004 for HIV/AIDS education in South Africa, Mozambique and Namibia. Dr. Lee helped initiate a partnership between FreshMinistries and the Church of the Province of Southern Africa to utilize the Anglican Church's presence and existing infrastructure to administer peer-based HIV/AIDS prevention programs. Siyafundisa had a 2009 annual target reach of 32,340 youth.
Global Action Partnership
In 2009, The Anglican Communion approached Dr. Lee about bringing worldwide the 6-Point Community Initiative, a holistic approach to community improvement that has been successful in Jacksonville, FL. Dr. Lee began talks with Hellen Wangusa, Anglican Observer at the United Nations; and Olara Otunnu, president of the LBL Foundation for Children, winner of the German Africa Prize in 2002 and the Sydney Peace Prize in 2005, and 2011 Uganda presidential candidate, about creating a Global Action Partnership (GAP) that would address all of the United Nation’s Millennium Development Goals at once, the first program of its kind. In November 2009, GAP was signed into existence in New York City.
The creation of GAP was given a boost within the Anglican community by receiving the approval and support of the Archbishop of Canterbury, The Most Reverend Dr. Rowan Williams, at a dinner during the Episcopal Church's General Convention in 2009.
Response to 2010 Haiti earthquake
In the wake of Haiti's devastating earthquake in 2010, FreshMinistries/Be The Change International (BTCI) was asked by the US Department of Health and Human Services to coordinate a major aid and relief operation there. When Dr. Lee visited Haiti soon after, he saw that Haiti wasn't in need of just immediate aid, but also long-term, holistic improvement to positively effect every aspect of Haitian society. Soon, the concept for "Tomorrow's Haiti" was on paper and partners began to sign up.
“Tomorrow’s Haiti” will create initiatives in Haiti that will simultaneously address education, economic development, health, safety, safe shelter and clean water, and family foundations. The program will be the first of its kind, addressing all of the UN’s Millennium Development Goals at once, modeled on FreshMinistries’ successful HIV/AIDS education program in South Africa, "Siyafundisa", in which it partnered with the Episcopal Diocese in South Africa, as well as FreshMinistries/BTCI’s thriving holistic approach to creating long-term sustainable change in inner-city Jacksonville.
Currently, the program is using the Episcopal churches and 254 schools within BAEH’s network as community centers from which to distribute relief aid to the Haitian people and introduce the community to the “Tomorrow’s Haiti” empowerment plan.
By starting with education – including vocational and life skills training for young adults, as well as HIV/AIDS health curriculum introduced into the BAEH schools – “Tomorrow’s Haiti” will empower Haiti’s people to lift themselves up. From there, “Tomorrow’s Haiti” will become a holistic initiative, based on UNICEF’s Child-Friendly City model, which will address the needs stated by word leaders and the Haitian Prime Minister during the United Nations Haiti Donors Conference in 2010.
So far, BTCI as signed memorandums of understanding with: The Rt. Rev. Jean-Zache Duracin, Bishop of Episcopal Diocese of Haiti; and The Honorable Jacques-Edouard Alexis, former Haitian Prime Minister and National Director of Centre National de Recherche et de Formation (CENAREF).
To date, BTCI’s emergency relief effort has shipped to the Haitian people many supplies, including three ambulances (one of which was delivered to the Haitian government), emergency aid, food, water, water purification systems, clothing, school supplies, large generators, and 147 large tents to serve as temporary schools and shelter. BTCI plans to ship more than 100 additional large tents to serve as schools and shelter, as well as medical equipment such as surgical beds. 
Revitalization in Jacksonville
As the chairman of FreshMinistries, Dr. Lee is responsible for a number of initiatives that have dramatically affected the urban core of Jacksonville in positive ways.
Former Jacksonville Mayor John Delaney said, "FreshMinistries is one of the best things going on in Jacksonville. They're living proof of the power of the spirit in our political and economic life."
6-Point Community Initiative
Dr. Lee created the concept of a holistic model for community revitalization that simultaneously addresses all areas of needed improvement at once. For Jacksonville’s Eastside, these areas are education, affordable housing, economic development, family strengthening, safety and health. The initiative works in a number of ways, including focusing on partnerships with local, state and national organizations and government agencies. At times, FreshMinistries becomes the lead agency in managing a project. Other times, it is a partner with other agencies working toward similar goals. Notable partners include former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, Jacksonville Mayor John Peyton, Duval County School Superintendent Ed Pratt-Dannals, and Jacksonville Sheriff John Rutherford.
A unique aspect of the initiative is that it works toward developing other programs, initiatives and improvements that will be self-sufficient and community-owned, constantly customizing and updating the needs based on what the community says it needs. According to Dr. Lee:
"If a community doesn’t want to help itself, you can’t force the help upon them. We know that only when a community champions its own cause and takes ownership of the potential improvements can this be truly successful."
"Small grassroots efforts are more effective in working with individual communities than large-scale efforts because they are able to customize and personalize their approaches and adapt quickly to changing needs."
Crime rate drop in Jacksonville's Eastside
In late 2009, Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office Officer Stephen Gallagher announced at a community meeting on the Eastside that violent crime in the area was down 34 percent and property crime was down 32 percent from 2008. Gallagher credited the Eastside Neighborhood Association, an initiative of FreshMinistries, as an “extremely important” part of the drop in crime.
Also responsible for the drop in crime were neighborhood cleanups and several neighborhood anti-crime walks organized by FreshMinistries to include Jacksonville Sheriff John Rutherford, local council persons, area patrol officers and neighborhood leaders.
Recognition by Jacksonville Sheriff's Office
In August 2008, Dr. Lee and FreshMinistries Communities Empowering Youth (CEY) director, Michelle Hughes, were awarded for their work in the community by the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office (JSO). This recognition, according to JSO, was for their neighborhood anti-crime walks, CEY’s efforts in assisting the Police Athletic League (PAL), and the rest of FreshMinistries’ initiatives that focus on community improvement and safety.
FreshMinistries formally recognized by U.S. Treasury
In September 2005, the U.S. Treasury awarded the John Sherman Award for Excellence in Financial Education to FreshMinistries for its Individual Development Account (IDA) Partnership and its work in providing financial education to Jacksonville, FL communities.
Jacksonville chosen for Financial Access Pilot
In April 2008, Jacksonville, FL was chosen as one of eight cities in the U.S. to participate in a new pilot program to “increase financial education and bank and credit union accounts for Americans currently outside of the financial mainstream.” The pilot was recommended by several members of the President’s Council on Financial Literacy, including Dr. Lee.
Jacksonville Mayor John Peyton said, "We're honored to have Jacksonville chosen to participate in this worthwhile new initiative. Our existing efforts, under the leadership of FreshMinistries, recognized in 2005 by the U.S. Treasury for Excellence in Financial Literacy … will be able to reach more low-to-moderate income families and help them save for the future."
Jacksonville Hospitality Institute
The Jacksonville Hospitality Institute (JHI), a FreshMinistries initiative, is a 9-week free hospitality training program for underemployed and unemployed adults. The program includes hands-on training, life skills training and job placement assistance via partnerships with local hotels. The program is generally considered life-changing for most of its students.
Beaver Street Enterprise Center
The Beaver Street Enterprise Center (BSEC), a FreshMinistries initiative, is a full-service core-city small business incubator, the only one of its kind in Florida. In 2008, the incubator’s clients created 366 new jobs in Jacksonville and generated $16.5 million in taxable revenues. Its tenants have won a number of awards for their success. One of its graduates, A. Harold & Associates, grew to 38 employees and $6.2 million in revenues while at BSEC. Florida Governor Charlie Crist visited the incubator in September 2007, calling BSEC “an excellent model for other communities to follow.”
Florida State College at Jacksonville
Dr. Lee was responsible for spearheading a partnership between FreshMinistries and Florida State College at Jacksonville (FSCJ) to create a tuition-free, accelerated welding training program for Eastside neighborhood adults who are unemployed and underemployed. The program's first cycle has successfully trained 25 adults, with all graduates of the program guaranteed jobs through Atlantic Marine as they become available.
Klutho building restoration
In 1998, the City of Jacksonville asked FreshMinistries to take over the restoration of an important historical landmark, The Klutho Apartment Building, designed by Henry John Klutho, as part of a city-wide effort to revitalize economic growth in the Springfield neighborhood. The building now houses nonprofits and small businesses that are also working to restore Springfield.
Operation New Hope
In 1999, FreshMinistries launched an initiative, called Operation New Hope, to train "forgotten" adults (those with troubled backgrounds) in Jacksonville in the construction industry, leading to employment opportunities. Aside from restoring individuals the program also restored neighborhoods and provided low income housing opportunities for core city residents. Operation New Hope is now no longer affiliated with FreshMinistries, having become its own separate, sustainable entity, and has since expanded its reach and operations in Jacksonville to include the re-entry and training of recently incarcarated individuals.
Sermon to President George W. Bush
In 2000, Dr. Lee delivered a sermon to President George W. Bush during his visit to Jacksonville, FL. In the sermon he charged President Bush and world leaders to establish justice through compassion.
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