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Family center opening made Citrus proud

There was a big ribbon-cutting ceremony in Citrus County last week. Local notables, including the mayor, gazed upon a sea of smiling faces while those responsible for the grand opening glowed with the pride of accomplishment. Scissors snapped, a crimson ribbon fluttered to the asphalt, and an eager crowd surged inside to look around.

A local milestone had been passed, one that had absolutely nothing to do with the opening of the county's first shopping mall. That, too, happened during what turned out to be one of the more exciting weeks in Citrus County's long history.

But the two events, occurring at opposite ends of the county, were worlds apart. One was a celebration of capitalism; the other the realization of a dream.

Ginger West fairly glowed Friday evening as she showed a group of well-wishers around the new Family Resource Center on S Apopka Avenue, in the shadow of the Old Courthouse in Inverness.

For at least a year, Ginger's team of child service volunteers will have a place to call home, a couple of small rooms where parents seeking advice can rest on donated furniture and talk to someone who will not only listen, but also help.

The building used to house the Times until we outgrew it two years ago. A crib and playpen now occupy what had been the editor's office. Somehow, that seems appropriate.

It may not be much, but to Ginger and her gang, it's a little piece of heaven on earth.

It also means that John West finally may be able to reclaim the offices of Badcock Furniture, the family business next door to the new center that for years has made room for Ginger's piles of paper work, toys, clothes and supplies.

During the Christmas season, when the volunteers gather donated toys and clothing for more than 500 needy Citrus County children, the store's wares become buried under the avalanche of good will.

"Our goal this year is to do some retail furniture business during November and December," said a laughing Ginger, remembering a December five years ago when so many people were phoning her at the store that no calls for furniture sales could get through. "John finally said, "That's it,' and we got our own phone line," she said.

Workers have been busy in recent weeks getting the small building ready. One volunteer sweated buckets as he single-handedly painted the entire interior. To save money, the air-conditioning had been turned off and a small fan offered slight relief during his two days of work.

Meanwhile, others were hacking away years of overgrown weeds out back, coming across the occasional possum family. Ginger hopes to create a small playground, if someone will donate some sod to cover the glass-strewn lot.

Even before the doors opened, people were dropping by seeking help. One couple sought advice on how to handle their child's behavior problems. A frustrated mother wondered how to cope with a rebellious teen. A crying baby had driven its young mother to her wits' end.

In a more innocent age, extended families were there to handle problems like these. Each generation has lost a bit more of that support network, but not the problems and frustrations of parenting. The volunteers try to fill the void by offering rational advice on everything from diapering to nutrition.

The group expects to be able to use the building for a year, or until the state follows through on its plans to realign U.S. 41 through downtown Inverness. Given the pace that those plans have proceeded, the building may become the center's permanent home.

But just in case, they're asking anyone who has an empty house or building, and who would like a handsome tax break, to allow the center to move in.

The group would prefer to be in downtown Inverness, near its cache of donated goods. If the building is big enough, perhaps it can hold the bulk items, some of which have been packed into the furniture shop's delivery trucks.

Ginger recalled a time when the trucks had been so packed with the group's things that John had to rent a truck to make an out-of-county pickup. He was none too pleased, but Ginger was unfazed.

"He likes to have an image as a grumpy bear," she said. "He's quiet, but he's just as committed as the rest of us."

On Friday, Ginger and the other key supporters of the group stood shoulder-to-shoulder as they cut the ribbon and officially opened the long-awaited center.

And there, in the background, a video camera perched on his shoulder, stood John West, capturing for all time his wife's moment in the spotlight.

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