NEW PORT RICHEY
It was a car accident in 1996 that ended Jan Martine's career as a hairdresser. After being in a coma for months, she awoke to learn she had a broken pelvis, permanent nerve damage and brain injuries. She eased back into life, volunteering at various churches, collecting items for people in need and searching for new purpose.
Then Hurricane Charley struck in 2004. She and a group of volunteers traveled to Arcadia to help out.
"That's when I saw devastation like I've never seen before," recalled Martine, 50. "It opened up a whole different ball game for me."
Her mission was born.
A call to action from Gov. Jeb Bush after the series of storms that ripped across Florida that year led Martine to found Fresh Start for Pasco in 2005, using seed money from United Methodist Conference and Lutheran Services of Florida.
She now runs a volunteer organization of more than 35 people. They go to areas hit by hurricanes to help clean up and offer support. They also raise money and collect food to help the homeless and impoverished in Pasco County.
She calls her crew a "spiritual-emotional team." Early on, when they first showed up in storm-torn areas, their first instinct was to start cleaning up debris.
"But there's someone there who is so shaken up they just need a shoulder to cry on," she said. She tells stories of volunteers sitting for seven hours with a person outside their demolished home.
While Fresh Start for Pasco is the name of her nonprofit organization, the people hit by Hurricane Charley called Martine and her helpers something else:
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Martine, who was raised on an Illinois farm, describes a tough upbringing: Mom was married several times, relatives got caught up in drugs and crime. Martine says she was a child of sexual abuse, raped twice.
Her saving grace: parochial school.
"That's where I found God. Or what I was truly looking for," she said.
Everything she went through gave her the gumption she needed to set her course. As she got older, she found kids in church who had also suffered sexual abuse and they found it easy to talk to her.
"I did come from the school of hard knocks," she said. "But it didn't stop me from doing what I wanted to do, which is reaching out to other people."
She moved to Pasco County in 1994 for a fresh start. After the car accident that ravaged her body — she still can't stand or sit in one place for too long — she surprised everyone by going back to school and earning her bachelor's in human resources and master's in business administration, as well as her doctor of divinity.
In the meantime, Fresh Start for Pasco became her calling.
Red Cross and Salvation Army calls to 211 get routed to her. They've helped several thousand people since 2005, and they go through 1,400 pounds of canned and boxed goods per year, plus baked goods donated from local stores like Publix and Panera Bread.
Martine goes to the Salvation Army twice a week to pick up donated items, such as sandwich bread, to give out at the USA Fleamarket on U.S. 19.
"It's an extended outreach of serving those in need," said Jeanne Coulter, director of the Salvation Army's social service program called Center of Hope. "She's very involved with the local agencies and very much aware of the needs that are here in our community, and the need for food."
Later this month she's moving into office space donated by the Home With A Heart House in New Port Richey, which provides affordable permanent housing to veterans and senior citizens.
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Raised in the Lutheran Church, she doesn't align herself with any specific group now.
"Every Sunday I'm in a different church," she said. "I'm not saying I'm with this church or that church anymore."
Part of her mission is to bring the faith community together to help her cause. She is active in the West Pasco Ministerial Association and receives donations from partner churches such as Unity Truth Center in Port Richey, United Church of Christ in Holiday and Spirit of Life MCC in New Port Richey.
"I've found Jan Martine to be inspired and full of energy," said the Rev. Drew Willard, president of the ministerial association. "She has demonstrated to me a heart to serve."
Her group runs a thrift store and food pantry based out of the USA Fleamarket.
She also started the Halloween Haunted Pirate Ship at the Fleamarket from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays and from 1 to 3:30 p.m. Sundays through Oct. 31. The money raised will go toward buying Christmas presents for children in need.
She wants to eventually get a building with a permanent, ongoing shelter.
"It's one of those things that are needed," she said. "We just don't have the facility."
Whether it's cleaning up debris from a storm, unloading donated bread or painting a backdrop for an upcoming holiday show to raise money for homeless families, no job seems too large or small for Martine.
"I don't like seeing people suffering," she said. "Faith has a lot to do with it. I help wherever I can help."
"Faith in Motion" is a weekly feature about an individual or group doing something inspiring in the course of a spiritual journey. Story ideas are welcomed, via e-mail. Send them to Mindy.Rubenstein@me.com.
This article has been revised to reflect the following clarification: Home With A Heart House, which provides affordable permanent housing to veterans and senior citizens, plans to donate office space to Fresh Start for Pasco.