Riding around in the back seat of her parents’ station wagon as a young girl, helping to look for people in the community who were in need of help, Erin Minor never imagined she would one day be Chief Executive Officer of an organization serving and enriching the lives of more than 1,000 people annually. A native of Sarasota and graduate of Booker High School, Erin Minor grew up as the only girl in a family of five children. Her parents, Pastors Jim and Peggy Minor believed that the church should be a part of the solution in a community, and not a part of the problem or division. “My parents went from offering rides in the 1980s, to opening the Harvest food pantry in 1990, to personally purchasing a home to establish a safe place for our first program, Freedom Recovery,” she recalls.

In 1992, the Minors opened Harvest House with just six beds for men in recovery from drug and alcohol abuse. Young Erin witnessed the birth of what would become one of the area’s greatest nonprofits serving homeless families, veterans, at-risk youth and adults with a history of incarceration, substance abuse and joblessness. “At a very young age, I was around the dining room table during founding discussions. I watched the organization grow as I grew up,” she says.

At the University of South Florida, Erin had no intention of working in the human services field, but as fate had it, she graduated in 2004 with a BA in Psychology and became a Certified Addictions Professional, a Certified Mental Health Professional, and an Internationally Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor through the Florida Certification Board. At age 22, she started at Harvest House as a case manager in the Freedom Recovery program for women. Within a year, she became the program manager.

After several years of proving herself and providing strategic plans for growth, in 2009, at age 27, she had the opportunity to continue her parents’ legacy as the Executive Director of Harvest House. Eventually, she moved into the CEO role. Over the last 13 years, Harvest House has grown from 100 beds across one program and two campuses to 380 beds across five programs, 10 campuses, and 25 affordable rentals. Today, as one of the largest human services providers in the region, Harvest House serves 1,000 men, women, and children through programs uniquely designed for three overarching populations: families and young adults (ages 16-24) experiencing or at-risk of homelessness, and adult men and women with a history of incarceration and substance abuse. Harvest House offers case management, life-enrichment classes and programs, hunger relief, and clean, dignified housing.

Over the years, 25 positions have been added to the organization, intentionally hiring employees with different backgrounds and experience levels to help broaden views and enrich services. They’ve put an emphasis on fundraising as a dimension of growth, making the Harvest House mission and vision known to local donors and foundations and receiving numerous federal, state, and local grants that helped make dreams a reality.

There are countless success stories of lives that have been changed by Erin and the work done at Harvest House. Madeline, age 28, was living in a domestic violence shelter. After leaving her abusive partner with her young daughter, she applied to Harvest House and received the help she so desperately needed to create a better life for herself and her child. Now a preschool teacher and pursuing an associates degree in education, Madeline calls Harvest House her “rainbow after the thunderstorm.”

Another client shares that before he came to Harvest House, he had two choices: death or prison. After being incarcerated at age 16 and spending 12 years in prison, he came to Harvest House, where he’s been for the past eight years. “I’ve been running all my life,” he says. “Where I come from, I never had anyone looking out for me the way they do here. I’m not running anywhere now.”

Perhaps one reason Erin has been drawn to and remained in the field for over 18 years is because she herself is no stranger to hardship. “The struggle of being a victim of sexual violence at a very young age and being gay in an evangelical pastor’s home and in the homophobic American culture, I can’t identity with all traumas, but I can identify with many of the symptoms of trauma – depression, anxiety, hypervigilance, and chronic physical pain due to unrelenting high stress,” she shares. “This personal experience compels me to break barriers to human prosperity. We must be free in our body, mind, and spirit to be completely free. Generations before me fought for my existence and healing and I must fight for today and for the generations who are coming up behind me.”

Erin is grateful for the partnerships made in the community that have enhanced the services provided by Harvest House. “I am proud of the progressive changes in the Freedom Recovery program as a result of understanding brain science and the importance of bonding and connecting. I am proud of our work as a founding agency in the homeless response system for families experiencing and at-risk of homelessness. And I am proud of opening a first of its kind Youth Drop-In Center for youth ages 16 to 24 experiencing or at-risk of experiencing homelessness, and the specialized transitional and supportive housing for young adults ages 18 to 24,” she says. “We work toward creating places of belonging, connection, and freedom. A place where no matter who you are, where you’ve been, what you have or haven’t done, who you love, or what you believe or don’t believe, you can say, ‘I belong here, in this diverse family of joyful, loving people.’ A place where all people can share the human experience without fear and can step confidently into their destiny,” she adds.

If there is one word that people would use to describe Erin, it would most likely be “tenacious.” Her mom likes to say, “nevertheless, she persisted” when speaking of her daughter. “This work is in my DNA,” says Erin. “I know we can’t save the world, and I am not trying. My goal is to do good in every interaction with people and with every action I take. If I do that, I will be satisfied with a life well lived, and maybe make the world a little better for some in the process.”

Erin Minor was honored as one of SRQ Magazine’s Good Heroes this past December. Harvest House, 3650 17th Street, Sarasota. harvesthousecenters.org.