published: Friday, May 18, 2012
Building gets new beginning
Eyesore to soon become a place of hope to homeless
ROXANNE BROWN | Staff Writer
A former "honky tonk" that sat vacant for more than 20 years, is getting its own new beginning.
At least that's the hope of Steve and Linda Smith, the co-founders of New Beginnings, a nonprofit organization in south Lake County that, since 2007, has helped the homeless and others in need turn their lives around and get a fresh start.
"We're just excited for what's in store for the future and hope that with God's help, we can make a great impact on the South Lake community," New Begin-nings mentor and pastor Dr. Al Huba said during the building's dedication celebration May 10. "This is going to be a place where we will have the opportunity to ignite the gifts, lives and talents of those people who need something to help them do that -- who need us.
"We're going to get them going."
The dedication ceremony was the culmination to what so far has been two years of praying for the acquisition of the building and fund-raising to start the necessary renovations for turning it into a "Learning and Development Center."
Officials say in total, the renovations are being estimated at $125,000. So far, about $70,000 of that has been raised.
Countless donations for services, equipment, labor and supplies have been offered to get the ball rolling, with the anticipation of more to come.
Eventually, the "Learning and Development Center" will house a large food pantry and computer lab for after-school tutoring, and as a venue for job searches and to obtain state applications.
Services such as family counseling, health awareness, financial counseling, children's activities, bible studies, and job and skills training programs, will also be provided, along with advocacy programs such as recovering from and preventing homelessness.
The goal is helping to empower "at risk" families and children in the community to live a balanced life, center information says.
"It's just the faith in God's promises that made the dream of this building come true," Linda Smith said. "It's been many years coming."
The dilapidated building as one time was a two-story night club -- or "honky tonk" as many recalled -- that had music, dancing and pool tables for area residents.
Lake County Sheriff's Commander Steve Moss -- who has lived in Clermont his whole life and who has been involved in law enforcement for 35 -- said he remembers many calls to the very place he stood before on Thursday.
"In the times of farming and citrus, this place was a big draw. In its day, this place also kept us very busy," Moss said, referring to the number of time law enforcement was called to the establishment for trouble.
"So that this building, which is part of Clermont's history, is being turned into something good like this is wonderful. It's a good legacy for a building that appears to be pretty strong and holding up after all these years."
Steve Smith said the owners of the night club eventually passed away and Emanual Temple, a local church, acquired the building in hopes of turning in into an extension before the high costs killed that plan.
There was $150,000 worth of code violations and a bank lien registered with Lake County against the building. Clermont was thinking about demolishing the place, but when Councilman Ray Goodgame found out that Smith was searching for a place for the center, he suggested the building on Montrose Street, behind Twistee Treat, as a venue.
When Smith looked at it, however, he knew the renovations would be costly and with no type of construction fund, he began to wonder.
"I prayed many times, asking God to open doors if this was for us," Smith said.
And open doors is just what God did, starting with the city waiving the violations, the bank dropping the lien, the church donating the building and the community stepping up to help get everything going.
"I couldn't sleep at all last night, waiting for the dedication and thinking about how amazing this all is," Smith said.
With that in mind, and immediately following the dedication and official cutting of the ribbon, the renovations began with a group of Keller William's employees carrying out their annual "Red Letter" day of stepping out into the community and volunteering where needed.
Their entire day was spent painting the exterior of the building.
Israel Cortez, the operation manger for Prestige Construction, who will head the project of renovating the building, called it "a beacon of hope for the community."
Stephen Elmore, the communications director for New Beginnings, said although dozens of businesses and individuals have helped so far, many things are still needed to finish the project.
"We're hoping to open the doors by the end of the year, but to make that happen, we still need lots of help and volunteers," he said.
One who can't wait is Gladys Carthorn, the longtime owner of the house directly across from the building. On Tuesday, she was beaming with excitement watching the neighborhood's biggest eyesore begin its transformation into perhaps, its greatest asset.
"You know, it's been a long time coming, but sometimes you have to wait for the Lord to bring in a big blessing," she said. "I think this is going to help a lot of people."
If interested in donating supplies, money or volunteer hours, call 352-404-6946 or visit email info@NewBeginningsLake.org.