A champion for the homeless

Pat Fitzpatrick to receive the MLK Jr. Commission Hall of Fame Award

Frances “Pat” Fitzpatrick will be recognized for his and community achievements. (Courtesy photo)

Published: Friday, January 13, 2012 at 5:32 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 13, 2012 at 5:32 p.m.

Frances “Pat” Fitzpatrick has picketed City Hall, been expelled from city commission meetings and borne being among the lowest vote-getters in the race for public office with aplomb — all in the name of homeless advocacy.

On Sunday, the Martin Luther King Jr. Commission of Florida Inc. will honor Fitzpatrick with the 2012 Hall of Fame Award and his name will be added to the Hall of Fame kiosk at the King Memorial Gardens in downtown Gainesville at 10:30 a.m. Monday.

Eastside High School senior, Jennifer Kizza, will also be recognized during the 27th annual banquet at the Paramount Plaza Hotel with the Edna M. Hart Keeper of the Dream Scholarship Award.

Fitzpatrick, 62, is a staunch advocate of the homeless in Gainesville. In 2002, he was one of the founding members of the Home Van, a mobile soup kitchen that helps to feed and provide clothing to the homeless throughout Alachua County. He is a devout Catholic and a Secular Franciscan.

“I follow the teachings of St. Francis and I live and work with the poor,” said Fitzpatrick. St. Francis of Assisi, the son of a wealthy cloth merchant who lived 800 years ago, was an Italian Catholic preacher who chose to live in poverty. He is known as the patron saint of animals and the environment.

Fitzpatrick was among those who opposed the Gainesville ordinance that limited soup kitchens to serving 130 meals a day. His antics aimed at convincing the City Commission to rescind the ordinance, which it did in October, led to his being expelled from city commission meetings about 30 times. He ran for the District 4 City Commission seat in March 2010, receiving 4.32 percent of the votes.

Fitzpatrick graduated from Florida Technological University (now known as the University of Central Florida) in Orlando in 1976 with a bachelor's degree in history. He also earned a masters degree in rehabilitation counseling in 1982 from the University of Florida. He is divorced and has two children, Daniel Fitzpatrick, 27, and Katie Fitzpatrick, 22.

Arupa Freeman, also a founding member of the Home Van and the 2009 King Hall of Fame honoree, said Fitzpatrick is a true servant. She said she has known him since the mid-1990s when he was on the board of directors at the St. Francis House, a homeless shelter and soup kitchen in downtown Gainesville.

Freeman said unlike other board members, who only came to the St. Francis House for meetings, Fitzpatrick often stopped by to spend time and talk to the people.

When the Home Van receives calls about people who are in need, it is Fitzpatrick who takes care of the problem, she said.

“Pat is never too busy to go out and do something for somebody,” Freeman said.

Meanwhile, Kizza, 17, has also received her share of recognition for academic and athletic accomplishments.

She was named the 2011 Alachua County Sunshine State Scholar, a designation made each year in each Florida school district to a high school junior who has demonstrated outstanding achievement in math and science.

She also was named a semifinalist in the National Achievement Scholarship Program, which recognizes black students who score in the top 1 percent on the Preliminary SAT, which measures critical reading, math problem-solving and writing skills.

She currently has a 4.0 unweighted GPA and a 5.0 weighted GPA in the International Baccalaureate, or IB, program at Eastside. The program demands academic excellence and involvement with extracurricular activities.

Jennifer has been a captain of the Eastside soccer team for two years and is the current Student Government Student Body president. She also is vice president of the Breast Cancer Awareness Club and a member of Students Together for Autism Research.

She said her parents, Rosie Kizza and Peter Nkedi-Kizza, are her inspiration to excel in everything she does and she gives credit to all of the teachers she has had throughout the years for nurturing her curiosity to learn.

She said being chosen the recipient of the scholarship is very humbling and she is still in the process of preparing the speech she is scheduled to deliver at the King Celebration kick-off program Monday at the Bo Diddley Community Plaza.

“The big thing for me is remembering what we as African Americans have had to go through to get to where we are today and what we must continue to do to make our community even better,” she said.

Her father said he is extremely proud of his daughter and her achievements.

“Being a parent, sometimes you think your kid is exceptional even when they are not, but Jennifer is very exceptional,” he said. “She is very smart and very hard working. She also knows how to prioritize her school work and other activities very well. She has a lot of gifts and talents and she takes advantage of them.”

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