DADE CITY — It takes a lot to bring Tony Martin of Dade City to tears.
But Shane Allen, a local teen with Down's syndrome whose family is facing a mountain of medical bills, did just that.
After Martin met Shane at a benefit golf tournament, he was so touched that he wanted to do something to help with Shane's hospital bills — something that everyone could easily participate in.
His solution? A benefit for Shane featuring live music, entertainment for kids and a chicken dinner — with the price set at $10 for adults and $5 for kids. All proceeds go directly to help Shane.
"I wanted to keep the cost down and have a big party," Martin says.
And with a committee of about 20 people — composed of Pasco locals from all walks of life — Martin is on track to reach his goal of raising $10,000 to help pay Shane's hospital bills.
"It's not pity, it's compassionate," said Teresa Tomkow, who is part of the effort along with her husband, Frank Tomkow. "They are a very proud family and they wouldn't ask for help."
The committee meets at Beef O'Brady's in Dade City on Tuesday evenings to discuss the benefit, scheduled for Sept. 20 at the Smokehouse Creek Arena off Interstate 75 at State Road 52. The motto of the committee seems to be "the more the merrier," so anyone who's interested in helping out is welcome to join in.
"It's all because of Shane," says San Antonio resident Theresa Loyd, an IBM employee and a committee member. "He has such an air about him. He's been through so much, and he has a great sense of humor about it."
Shane, who attends Raymond B. Stewart Middle, has had several surgeries over the past few months to correct intestinal overgrowth and the resulting complications. And although it has been about three months since the last surgery and Shane is doing well, the family has been left with hospital bills totaling close to $100,000.
Like a typical teen
Despite everything he has been through, Shane is extremely positive, happy and eager to show his scars to anyone he meets.
"You always try to be a role model for a kid," Martin says, "but with Shane, it's the opposite. He's the role model."
Shane's happy-go-lucky personality rubs off on everyone around him, including his mother, Sue Allen, who is Shane's biggest fan.
"Shane is phenomenal," she says, adding that she can't imagine her life without him. "Shane has taught me a lot about life, about how to respect life and others in it. I wouldn't trade it for anything."
In many ways, Shane is like any teenager, his mom says. In school, he favors PE and shies away from "anything that has to do with books." He also fights with his 10-year-old sister, Savannah.
Allen says she and her husband, Aaron, who works for UPS, are "very, very grateful" for the community support they've received.
"I would like to be able to return the favor someday," she says.
And in a close-knit community, returning favors is what it's all about.
Trilby resident David Loyd, a Withlacoochee Electric employee and committee member, says, "Dade City's grown a lot, but it still has that small-town atmosphere. It's about keeping community spirit up and looking out for your neighbor, for each other."
Although many people are struggling in today's economy, Loyd says that people have been extremely receptive.
"People want to give what they can."
Amanda Martin, Tony Martin's wife and an assistant chief nurse at Pasco Regional Medical Center, says she is "so proud" of her husband's efforts — and would love to see him reach his goal of raising $10,000 for Shane.
"The community keeps giving their time, effort, and money," she says, adding that she's "never lived in a community like this before."
Surprise guests at the committee meeting Tuesday included Ricky Reynolds, retired Buccaneers player and founder of the Ricky Reynolds Foundation, and Lori Smith, owner of Lifetime Pro Sports Co. — both new residents of Dade City who are eager to "give back to the community."
"It doesn't have the resources that a place like Tampa has because it's a small town," Smith says. "In a small community, everybody makes a difference. It helps to have a support system."
"With a small community, it's an immediate helping hand," says David Loyd. "And you know where the money is going."
"I wish we could do more for everybody, but anything we could do to help is a blessing," says Amanda Martin, who emphasizes that "for that one family, it's a lot."
"I don't know a handful of people that wouldn't help," she says, "and if there's another family that really needs help, all they have to do is ask."