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East Pasco for Obama staffers turn their efforts to the community

Christy McLaughlin, left, and James Geores clean out the East Pasco for Obama office in Dade City on Thursday 2008. The space is now for rent.

KERI WIGINTON | Times

Christy McLaughlin, left, and James Geores clean out the East Pasco for Obama office in Dade City on Thursday 2008. The space is now for rent.

DADE CITY — A week after the election, a 'for rent' sign hung in the window of the East Pasco for Obama office. A 'vote no on amendment 2' sticker will have to be removed from the mailbox next to the door.

For six months, several hundred volunteers ran the office in this conservative stronghold. The folks who spent endless hours registering people to vote and canvassing said they may be tired, but the campaign, and its success, was a life-changing experience.

"It made me want to get involved and help people," said Margaret Boxill, 55. "It showed the power of people coming together for a purpose."

Not ready to give up the high of supporting a cause, several volunteers want to open a community resource center in Dade City. Their goal is to help the needy folks they met while campaigning for Barack Obama.

"Our favorite areas to campaign in were the poorest areas," said Christine Penney, 48.

In Tommytown, just north of Dade City, canvassers saw homes with caved-in floors, broken windows and insulation gnawed away by rats.

"I have traveled abroad and I have seen pretty dire conditions," Penney said. "It looked similar to what I've seen in a third world country."

Tommytown has had more than its share of violent crime and the volunteers were warned to watch out for gangs.

But volunteers said they encountered more problems at their office downtown. They said they dealt with racial slurs and name-calling. The building was egged. They asked the Dade City Police Department to keep an extra eye on the office.

"Everybody who had canvassed or had been out in the public got some negative response because we were supporting a black man," Penney said.

On the dusty streets of Tommytown, the volunteers said they met a lot of good people who had made poor choices or were simply down on their luck.

The idea of opening a community resource center in the area sprouted in the final throes of the campaign.

"In the last six weeks, everybody was starting to dread the end of it," said Christy McLaughlin, 57, the group administrator at the East Pasco for Obama office. "We thought, why don't we be what Barack Obama was, community organizers."

The resource center is only in the germination stage. There are grants to be scouted and bylaws to be written. In the meantime, the volunteers who once knocked on doors for Obama are trying to get some of the poorer people behind those doors in touch with Daystar and other support agencies.

Several electricians and carpenters among the group have volunteered to spruce up dilapidated homes.

Stephen Wilson, who serves in the Army National Guard, said he would paint and help with electrical work until his next deployment in 2009.

"My father showed me that you get more by putting your hand in than taking your hand out," said Wilson, 52.

Wilson, Boxill, McLaughlin and Penney are unemployed and made the campaign their main gig. In the months before the election, they supported themselves with alimony checks, odd jobs and savings. Now, they are back on the job hunt, sometimes to dismal results.

"I have more time to concentrate on getting a job. But it's disheartening there isn't really anything around," Boxill said.

Like several other volunteers, Boxill was laid off during corporate belt-tightening.

Despite the Obama supporters' efforts, it was John McCain who got the county's vote. Some Dade City precincts saw twice as many Democratic presidential voters than in 2004, but also an equal increase in Republican supporters. No Democrats won county elections.

"We put out a very strong effort," said Fred Manno, 68, treasurer of the Pasco GOP. "You can see by the results in Pasco County, our party was very successful all the way down the line."

Local charity efforts are strong components of his Republican Club of Central Pasco, Manno said. While they don't have an idea like the community resource center in the works, they are preparing for veterans group fundraisers and holiday food drives.

The Obama folks said Republicans, Independents and any one else who wants to get involved are welcome at their planned resource center.

But Manno doubted any of the McCain volunteers he knew would take up the offer, though he supported their efforts.

"I wish them well if that helps the community," Manno said.

Helen Anne Travis can be reached at htravis@sptimes.com or (813) 435-7312.

East Pasco for Obama staffers turn their efforts to the community 11/15/08 [Last modified: Sunday, November 16, 2008 10:59am]

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