TOWN 'N COUNTRY — Wednesday was Laurice Hachem's birthday. She celebrated by giving back — in a manner that should reverberate for several generations.
The Sam and Laurice Hachem Family Foundation donated $2.5-million to the Town 'N Country Boys and Girls Club, which will use the funds open a sparkling renovated and expanded facility in December.
"To think of how this will help children, this is the best gift I could ever receive,'' said Hachem, who participated in the groundbreaking with Boys and Girls Club officials, Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandy Murman, School Board member Susan Valdes, Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office Col. Chad Chronister and other dignitaries.
Hachem became emotional when speaking about the shared vision with her husband, who died on March 31 of last year.
Capitalizing on a successful career in real-estate investments, they wanted their foundation to help children.
"I think we found the perfect need,'' she said.
It matches the largest donation ever received by the Boys and Girls Clubs of Tampa Bay. Jeff and Penny Vinik offered the same gift, which will be used to expand a club in Winston Park.
The current Town 'N Country facility, located behind Webb Middle School, has been overtaxed to met the needs of area students. The Hachem family's donation will allow the current site to expand.
It will include substantial interior renovations, which includes an art center, along with a technology lab, game room, teen center, theatre, kitchen and dining hall.
It will be known as the Sam and Laurice Hachem Foundation Boys and Girls Club at Town 'N Country Park.
"We won't just change lives here, we will save lives here,'' Chronister said. "The Town 'N Country area will be a better place to live and a safer place to live because of this generosity.''
Chronister praised the partnership between the Boys and Girls Clubs of Tampa Bay and the Sheriff's Office. With strategic on-site presence by officers, the clubs reported that 99 percent of the students involved in crime-prevention programs had no involvement in the juvenile justice system.
"In the Sheriff's Office, our philosophy is if we have to arrest a juvenile, we as a society have failed them,'' Chronister said. "We want to make a difference in the lives of these children. We want to show them that somebody cares and there's a different way of life out there, regardless of where you come from.
"We're talking about neighborhoods where kids used to run from law enforcement. Now they're running to law enforcement because they are (viewed as) mentors and friends.''
Hachem said she and her husband moved to the Tampa Bay area in 1988. They have owned a flea market, office buildings and shopping centers.
"We're not the Viniks and we're not the Steinbrenners,'' Hachem said. "Compared to us, they are larger than life. We're mom-and-pop. But we can all do something. We talked a long time about finding a way to help children.
"Our hope is now that other people will step up. Let's turn this into something that continues and grows. The need is there. The payoff is tremendous. We're really investing in making this a better community.''
Chris Roederer, board chairman for the Boys and Girls Clubs of Tampa Bay, said he constantly hears about stories of how the clubs have positively affected lives.
"People say if it hadn't been for the club, they're not sure if their lives would've turned out the way they did,'' Roederer said. "I think other communities could learn from Tampa Bay. It makes me so proud to be part of this community.''
Hachem and her family plans lots of personal involvement at the new Town 'N Country facility.
"I want to gather up these children as my own,'' Hachem said. "By remodeling and expanding this facility, we'll be able to help upwards of 300 children. They have younger brothers and sisters, parents, friends. The impact will be enormous."
After the groundbreaking, Hachem was presented with a birthday cake, which included a miniature plastic shovel and a sprinkling of chocolate cake on top of the icing to simulate "dirt.''
As the crowd serenaded Hachem with "Happy Birthday,'' she beamed and applauded.
"This is a birthday I will never forget,'' she said.
Contact Joey Johnston at firstname.lastname@example.org.