Marc and Terry Banning of Palm Harbor have learned a lot in three years of volunteering at RCS Grace House, but this might be the biggest lesson: Much more can be done if you ask others to work with you. "We believe that if you show someone how to help others, they will," Marc Banning said Wednesday.
He was speaking at the dedication of a newly renovated children's activity and donation room at RCS Grace House in Clearwater. Grace House, part of the nonprofit Religious Community Services, has 13 apartments at 1552 S Myrtle Ave. for families with children who would otherwise be homeless.
"We appreciate everybody," said Terry Banning. "It was just so overwhelming — complete strangers offering to help us."
The Bannings and the help they recruited donated materials and labor and worked for eight weeks to renovate the run-down building. It got a new air conditioner, new windows, plumbing fixtures, shelves, cabinets, flooring, light fixtures, fans, paint, murals and butterfly plants. Just about everything is new except the small chairs, refinished with multi-colored paint and painted butterflies.
The Gillian's Rainbow Room & Butterfly Garden is dedicated to a bright, vivacious and engaging little girl, Gillian Gobo, who lived across the street from the Bannings. She died in her sleep of unknown causes in February 2008 when she was nearly 2 years old. She had a slight fever that afternoon, but no other symptoms.
"We knew we wanted to do something special for the family," said Terry Banning. "We were very close to the family and very close to Gillian."
The Bannings own a lumberyard, Banning Lumber and Millwork in Largo, and they started volunteering at RCS Grace House three years ago. They adopted one of the apartments there for homeless families and they encouraged their employees to volunteer. The Bannings and their employees provide maintenance, cleanup and more for one of the three-bedroom, 1 1/2 bath apartments.
When Gillian died, the Bannings looked for a new project that they could accomplish in the young girl's name. Marc Banning noticed that the Junior League had donated the children's activity/multi-purpose room years ago. It was unorganized and had grown dilapidated.
Diane Gobo, Gillian's mother and a nurse anesthetist, is a past Junior League president, so Marc thought updating and renovating the room for children would be the perfect project for remembering Gillian.
Her father is Dr. Dean Gobo, a neurosurgeon with Morton Plant Mease. The Gobos have two older daughters, Emily, 10, and Victoria, 9.
"Our family feels so honored to have this place in honor of Gillian," Diane Gobo said Wednesday. "We cannot thank Terry and Marc enough."
"Hopefully, this will raise awareness of RCS," said Dean Gobo. "This room is about renewal and rebirth."
Gillian loved the outdoors, the moon, stars, plants and flowers.
If Gillian could have been there Wednesday, she no doubt would have loved the butterfly garden and its new inhabitants.
Butterflies in paper packets were distributed throughout the large crowd, many of whom contributed to the project.
"How can they breathe?" asked Emily Gobo.
When the packets were opened, Victoria's butterfly landed on her paper packaging and stayed with her. Finally, she put it in a box.
Diane Gobo said her daughter will release it at home, in the front yard near the wisteria tree they planted in Gillian's memory.
Theresa Blackwell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4170.