Helping Hands

Power advice with Rev. Dr. Israel Suárez, CEO and Founder of Nations Association Charities, Inc.

Rev. Dr. Israel Suárez [PHOTO: Erik Kellar]

After Rev. Dr. Israel Suárez was ordained in 1970 as a minister of The Assemblies of God, he spent the next few years pastoring in Brooklyn. His hobbies centered around community service volunteering at the Children’s Detention Center in Brooklyn and working as a paralegal for the Civic Evangelical Action Inc., where he dealt with discrimination problems. He brought this passion for social services to Southwest Florida when he moved to Fort Myers in 1976, first as a social worker for a low-income housing program (part of non-profit Self-Help Housing) and then as the founder and CEO of the Nations Association Charities, a program designed to help troubled youth and their families. “At that time, there weren’t that many programs here in Lee County to deal with young people, so I tried to help them,” he says. “I’ve always cared for kids who have situations that not too many people understand.”

Over the course of the 40 years the Nations Association has been in operation, it’s estimated that Suárez has helped tens of thousands of people through programs offering scholarship assistance, counseling, job placement, drug prevention and food delivery for struggling families. This year, the program has streamlined its efforts to focus on serving at-risk youth through mentoring, drug and suicide prevention, academic assistance, leadership development, community service, financial literacy, and a health fair. “I feel good that I can help so many young people find scholarships that can help them [advance] in society; it’s a really strong program,” says Suárez. “Almost everywhere I go, people will come up and say ‘thank you’ for something we’ve done.”

As executive director, Suárez has spearheaded initiatives like summer youth camp, job readiness programs for the long-term unemployed or underemployed, and disaster relief, offering help and supplies when people have lost their homes in tragedies like fires. “I’m a creator, and I create programs that nobody does; I don’t duplicate,” he says. “With programs like mine, you have to put your heart into it.”

When we spoke in late October, Nations Association was preparing for the holidays. They’re sending 700 Thanksgiving food boxes and turkeys to families across Lee County—all thanks to donations. On Christmas Day, they will host a community dinner for 400 families and offer 800 or 900 donated toys to children in the county. “It’s amazing, doing all of this without money. The toys are donated, the food is donated,” he explains. “A lot of people on Christmas don’t receive anything, they don’t have families.”

Volunteer services like these have led to prominent recognitions like a Points of Light Award, presented by former Pres. George H.W. Bush in 1990, who is quoted saying “we can find meaning and reward by serving some higher purpose than ourselves.”

This is a philosophy that rings strongly with the work Suárez has strived to achieve. By giving more care and love to people, he believes you can create your own path and programs that truly make a difference in the community—and the world. His advice isn’t a typical copy-and-paste strategy for business success. “You have to be willing to sacrifice yourself, to take time for other people. What I do, I’m doing from the heart,” he says, adding that he came from a poor family in Puerto Rico and suffered when he was younger. “I made a commitment with God and said, ‘If you help me, I’ll help many people.’ You have to be willing to sacrifice yourself, and helping people doesn’t always come naturally.”

 

Rev. Dr. Israel Suárez

CEO and Founder of Nations Association Charities, Inc.

Age: 75

Hometown: Born in Puerto Rico and grew up in Brooklyn, New York

Residence: Cape Coral

Education: Bachelor’s in theology from Logos Bible College; honorary doctorate (“honoris causa”) from the National Evangelistic University

Partial Work History: Founded the First Spanish Assembly of God Church and the Good Samaritan Temple in Fort Myers; served as presbyter of the Southeastern Spanish District of The Assemblies of God in Southwest Florida (and served a term as assistant superintendent). In 1978, he founded the Nations Association, where he serves as executive director and CEO. For nearly a decade, Dr. Suárez has organized and directed the Hispanic-American Citizens Council Inc.

Personal: Married for 53 years to his wife, Ruth, and has three grown daughters: Susan, Diane and Catherine. Enjoys golfing, fishing, reading and writing books (he’s authored 15 on pastoral care). His not-so-secret passion? Latin cuisine.