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A Look Back in History at AFCAAM

In 1988, two Sisters from the Sinsinawa Dominican Order, Sister Marie McBride and Sister Elaine Robbins, and several laypersons from the local community began apostolic activities in the Dunbar Area of Fort Myers. This team began community prayer groups and personal development programs. Financial support for their work came from the Office of Black Ministry at the Diocese of Venice, Inc. They also received grants and support from local Catholic Churches.

Father Joseph Foley, a priest from the Society of African Missions, joined the team in 1992. Father Foley had spent many years in missionary work in Africa and brought leadership to the new ministry. The African Caribbean American Catholic Center (AFCAAM) became the new name of the organization.

Father Foley, the Sisters, and a few dedicated volunteers developed both social services and religious programs. They operated form the back of an auto repair shop on corner of Clotilde and Michigan Avenue in the Dunbar neighborhood of Fort Myers. Mass was said there and all other programs were run from this location.

Not long after coming to Fort Myers, John Naughton met with the team and expressed a strong desire to support AFCAAM. In 1995, Mr. Naughton and his wife Peggy purchased an 18 acre site on Michigan Avenue and donated the property to the Diocese of Venice for the exclusive use of the AFCAAM Ministry.

Bishop John J. Nevins appointed Father Foley as the first Executive Director of AFCAAM. Father Foley formed a Board of Directors in order to organize the efforts to establish a church, renovate an abandoned warehouse on the donated property, fund programs and provide total support for AFCAAM.

In 1997, AFCAAM was able to purchase a modular unit and install it on the donated Michigan Ave site. All programs and religious services were conducted from this modular unit. The new facility was named the St. Peter Claver Chapel and AFCAAM became the social service branch of the chapel. At the same time, the growth of AFCAAM was such that plans for the renovation of the old warehouse located on the property were initiated. Soon, it was clear that it would be financially better to build a brand new building instead of renovating the old one.

Work began on the AFCAAM Center in 1998, with the majority of the funds coming from the Diocese of Venice. The Center was completed in 1999 at a total cost of $ 725,000.

Father Foley departed in 1999 and a new chapter in AFCAAM history began. After many meetings, in September 2000, the Diocese of Venice decided to give St. Peter Claver Chapel the status of a Mission. AFCAAM came under the leadership of Executive Director, Ismael Hernandez, for the next nine years. During this time AFCAAM continued to be the social services center of this Mission.

In July of 2009, AFCAAM became a part of Catholic Charities, Diocese of Venice, Inc. Since then AFCAAM has become accredited by the Council on Accreditation (COA) and is recognized by Charity Navigator as a Four Star Program of Catholic Charities, wherein 94 cents of every dollar received is utilized for program and client services.

Under the leadership of Catholic Charities, Diocese of Venice, Inc., AFCAAM has expanded its programs and strengthened its fiscal accountability as it continues to serve the neediest communities in Lee County.

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