LUTZ - Leonardo Villanueva's experience with just three days of self-inflicted homelessness changed his life forever.
The Gospel Music Association Dove-award winning bilingual performer now is giving back to help those who helped him in the summer of 2009.
Villanueva, 40, a Land O'Lakes resident, will present a concert June 15 at First United Methodist Church of Lutz, where he is the worship leader. The concert, with a band to assist him, will provide funds for Trinity Cafe, a restaurant-style nonprofit organization that provides meals to the homeless.
It was there that Villanueva found food when he decided to spend three days on the streets of downtown Tampa in an attempt to learn more about the homeless situation.
"I remember being in line outside Trinity Cafe; I remember crying in line because of the feeling that I have to stand in line to be fed; I have to depend on others," said Villanueva. He grew up in Puerto Rico as a preacher's son and came to West Tampa when he was 16.
He said a volunteer served him the food and "I fell in love with the place."
Trinity Cafe, which recently moved to 2801 N. Nebraska Ave., serves about 230 hot, three-course meals daily. To date, it has provided more than 852,000 meals to those in need, said Cindy Davis, its program director.
Villanueva graduated from Jefferson High School and attended the University of South Florida where he pursued a music education degree.
It was at the university he became interested in the homeless issue.
"I saw people in the street; I started noticing them and something in me started to make me want to help them," said Villanueva, who served for six years as the worship leader at Idlewild Baptist Church.
"Also, you get a lot of people coming to the church for help," he said. "It was easy for me to hand someone a 5 (dollar bill) but I never really understood it if I didn't walk in their shoes."
So for three days in the summer of 2009, he left his wallet, watch and credit cards at home and slept on the streets and the steps of Sacred Heart Church in downtown Tampa.
"When I got out of the 'pilgrimage,' I was going to help them - and to volunteer," said Villanueva, who won the Dove Award for his 2006 Spanish-language CD "Leonardo."
Villanueva, who is married and has two children, became a volunteer at the cafe and then offered to do the concert, which also will feature Carmen Rairigh and Daniel Joiner. It will include music from Villanueva's first English-language album, "Hope," released in 2010.
"Leonardo is a compassionate man, a talented musician and a committed volunteer," said Davis. "When he found out that summer donations are almost nonexistent, he offered to put on this concert that will help keep needy guests fed."
She said she expects the concert to be "a very upbeat, high energy show."
If you go:
WHAT: Concert featuring Leonardo Villanueva to benefit Trinity Cafe
WHEN: 7 p.m., June 15
WHERE: First United Methodist Church of Lutz, 960 Lutz Lake Fern Road
ADMISSION: Donations accepted
INFORMATION/RESERVATIONS: www.leonardovillanueva.com or www.facebook.com/events/537133039666545/