RUSKIN — The Mary & Martha House, a SouthShore shelter for battered women and victims of domestic abuse, had a terrible problem.
Every time it rained, the old garage housing many of the shelter's supplies would flood. Water ruined valuable items and with leaky walls and a broken garage door, finding a solution for the costly repairs proved difficult for the nonprofit.
Enter the Leadership Brandon Class of 2017, looking for a job to undertake for its legacy project. Each year, members of the of the Greater Brandon Chamber of Commerce's yearlong leadership program seek out deserving local nonprofit organizations that are in desperate need of help.
Chase Media president Melissa Baldwin, secretary of the 2017 class, said the group drew ideas from a series of meetings where it learned about different community needs.
"Then we visited those organizations in the area," Baldwin said. "This year, we chose the Mary/Martha House because of what we saw when we visited there.
"We were all jammed into this tiny hallway," Baldwin continued, "and a resident told us about the flooding problem in the garage."
The resident was seated at a small table crammed into that narrow hallway trying to work on a computer. She had very little workspace and no privacy.
"Nothing could make us forget that lady we talked to that day," said team member Dianna Vannatta of Dianna Designs. "There was just something about her that made a connection with us."
It was easy for the team to see the shelter's tremendous need because as many as six families can live in the shelter at one time. With children and survivors often housed in the facility, the team visualized transforming the dilapidated, leaky garage into a "Learning Center" that could be used by both the adult and young residents.
"We estimated a cost of about $8,500 to do this," Baldwin said, "and figured that it would probably take more. But we bulldozed right into it. This project ended up being bigger than any other project that's ever been attempted by Leadership Brandon. But nobody told us we couldn't."
It proved to be a monumental undertaking given all the aspects of the garage reconstruction. The project required permits, electrical work, air conditioning, ceiling tiles, insulation, dry wall, paint, furnishings and perhaps a new computer or two.
In addition, the problem of proper drainage and gutters would have to be addressed and the team wanted to include a new storage unit that would house the materials previously kept in the garage.
Fortunately, the class had a state certified building contractor among its ranks. Shaun Myrtle, who is also the director of cardio pulmonary services at Brandon Hospital, has maintained his contractor's license and he spearheaded the entire project. Brandon Hospital sponsored Myrtle's membership with the class and he was invaluable in the project's completion.
"When we visited here," he said, "all of a sudden a vision started kicking off in my mind as to what we could potentially do with this. By being the contractor on the project, it helped keep the costs down for the class.
"To me success means to do something of value and that's what this project has done for me," Myrtle continued. "It's everybody coming together to do something good for the community."
The completion of the project has happened as a result of generous donations. One such donor who wished to remain anonymous gave $10,000 to the project and said it was done out of their desire to help others.
The Mary & Martha House matches the leadership program's mission. Founded on the desire to help abused women, it not only provides a safe shelter, but individualized support and case management that helps residents enjoy remarkable success. Nearly 98 percent of the women who complete the program move on to employment and permanent housing.
Now Leadership Brandon 2017 has provided a much-needed and well-deserved addition to that ongoing success. All of the work on the project has been done pro bono by these enthusiastic volunteers looking to make a difference in the lives of the people served by Mary & Martha.
"We are so excited to have a new learning center," said Laurie Herring, Mary & Martha director of programs and housing. "It's a major addition to the program that we already have and we are just very excited about it. It's going to give our women and children new and different opportunities to work together as a family."
Contact Kathy Straub at [email protected]