Maria Cruz | Barry Friedman, LkldNow

Maria Cruz, a key figure behind Orlando’s homeless diversion and prevention program, has been named the new executive director of Talbot House Ministries, succeeding Brenda Reddout, who is retiring after seven years at the helm.

Cruz, 42, joined Talbot House eight months ago as senior director of programs and services.

“I am thrilled. I am blessed and very excited. I am honored to be able to be part of that change that we need in the community and in our ministry as a whole,” Cruz said, adding that she has 22 years of experience in non-profit leadership.

Located in Lakeland’s Midtown area near the intersection of Parker Street and Massachusetts Avenue, Talbot House Ministries provides social services for adults experiencing homelessness.

In her new role, Cruz said, her priorities in the first 90 days will be building partnerships, meeting with community stakeholders and donors, fundraising, and analyzing the budget and infrastructure of the organization.

“I look forward to connecting with the partners in the community … lunch-and-learn sessions and getting to know them,” Cruz said.

Cruz plans to introduce new programming, such as IDignity, an Orlando-based organization that helps individuals obtain identification documents such as birth certificates and Social Security cards.

Cruz is also working toward bringing to Lakeland the SALT Outreach organization, which offers mobile drop-in units in areas where the homeless congregate and provides showers, clothing, laundry, mail, haircuts, charging stations and other donated items.

Cruz said Talbot House also recently received funding to be able to pay for homeless individuals to fly out of state to live with family. That programming will start in 2023.

In the future, she hopes to add a family shelter to the Talbot House’s offerings, as well as expand health services.

She said it’s unclear if the Talbot House will move locations in the future. “For the moment, we are here and we are planning to be here. But we don’t know in the future. Being new in this position, I need to explore what are the needs, what are the needs of the community and be part of those conversations,” Cruz said.

While working for the Talbot House the past eight months, Cruz oversaw hiring for the operations department and built new procedures and policies, she said, adding that her expertise is creating programs.

Prior to joining the Talbot House, she served as director of housing programs and initiatives at the Coalition for the Homeless in Orlando, according to a news release. While working there for eight years, she designed and implemented the first homeless diversion and prevention program in Central Florida, launched an outreach mobile unit for families, along with an innovation program for youth and a rapid rehousing program.

Her work allowed the non-profit to significantly expand its ability to house the homeless, the release said. According to Cruz, the shelters she oversaw housed more than 600 people a night.

Born and raised in Puerto Rico, Cruz is bilingual and came to Florida in 2012. Utilizing these skills, she said she plans to connect with more Latino churches, businesses and organizations that the Talbot House hasn’t connected with in the past to increase awareness of its offerings.

Talbot House Ministries Board President J.D. Shahin said Cruz was selected after a nationwide search.

“Talbot House’s future will continue to be bright with María Cruz as our executive director,” Shahin said via a news release. “She has the passion and desire to lead this ministry. I’m more than confident that she will be successful in her new role.”

Cruz is working toward a doctorate in administration of social work programs and policy research from Ana G. Mendez University. She has a master’s degree in nonprofit management and leadership from that institution and a bachelor’s degree in business administration from the Inter American University of Puerto Rico, according to the release.

Cruz lives in Davenport with her husband and two children.

One of my guiding principles while at Talbot House was that we are all fallible human beings; some of us become homeless. Recognizing that we are similar, and should live with dignity, I ran Talbot House with that in mind.

Brenda reddout

Dr. Reddout, who is 66 and announced her retirement earlier this year, led the non-profit through the renovation and opening of the Vermont Place Apartments, Talbot House’s 16-unit affordable housing complex. She also oversaw capital improvements to the non-profit’s kitchen, dining room, and emergency shelter. Her final day at the Talbot House will be Jan. 6.

“One of my guiding principles while at Talbot House was that we are all fallible human beings; some of us become homeless. Recognizing that we are similar, and should live with dignity, I ran Talbot House with that in mind: building affordable housing, expanding our reach into the community, creating a culture of compassion within Talbot House,” Reddout said, adding that more than 500 people have gotten jobs during her tenure, as well as bought homes and reunited with their families.

“I’m thankful that I had an opportunity to serve in this way,” Reddout said.

“I want to thank Dr. Reddout for her committed leadership of Talbot House Ministries. Her dedication and passion have led this amazing ministry to where it is today. I am forever grateful for her expertise and friendship, and I also wish her the best in her retirement,” Shahin said in the release.

Talbot House Ministries’ services include an emergency shelter, affordable housing options, food service programs, free medical and dental care, case management and recovery programs, and job placement services.

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Stephanie Claytor

Stephanie Claytor has been a broadcast and digital journalist in Lakeland since 2016, covering Polk County for Bay News 9 and currently free-lancing for LkldNow. She is an author of travel and children's books.

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