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    Adult day care facility thrives

    Just months ago, the Largo Center's completion was in jeopardy.

    By ERIC STIRGUS

    © St. Petersburg Times, published December 23, 2000


    LARGO -- Chris Lecher can laugh about it now, but the situation wasn't so funny on May 30.

    For more than a year, Neighborly Senior Services had been planning to build an adult day services center in Largo.

    Lecher, director of adult day services for the agency, had waited patiently for the state to kick in $426,000 so the center could be built.

    But on that terrible day, the agency learned Gov. Jeb Bush had vetoed the funding.

    Pinellas County had committed $220,000 for the center, but the construction costs were $605,000.

    "Now what?" Lecher wondered.

    Seven months after that moment of despair, the Largo Center, at 11095 131st St. N., is up and running. An average of 25 senior citizens come there every day to dance, sing, play bingo, balloon volleyball or Scrabble.

    An official grand opening was announced this week for Jan. 19.

    "We're a hard bunch to keep down," Lecher explained Friday. "When there's a will, there's a way."

    So how did they do it?

    Dogged determination and a brainstorming session marked the beginning of their comeback story.

    Staffers started thinking about ways to raise money. One idea was to ask businesses and other groups to give money for the project.

    The Lealman Caregivers Support Group donated $12,000 for a staff lounge. Other local charities and some philanthropists started to give. The building's architect, Steve Spencer, offered money to see the project completed.

    The donations helped, but the agency needed more money. Agency officials had pledged to finish the building by this fall and they didn't want to break their promise.

    Each day, a driver that picked up the center's clients would go past the proposed site. The Largo clients, who shared space with clients who came to the agency's Clearwater offices, were getting anxious.

    "When we are going to move into the new building?" they asked, recalled Peggy Donofrio, Largo Center manager.

    Lecher said the agency had to take a mortgage of about $200,000 to get the rest of the money to finish the project.

    "Our hope was we could raise enough money not to get a mortgage," Lecher said.

    The project now was back on track.

    The 5,500-square-foot facility, awash in bright colors, massage recliners and a fish tank, opened Nov. 1.

    "Is this really for us?" one woman asked.

    Eventually, agency officials want to hold exercise classes and educational seminars there. They're still in search of donations and volunteers.

    Lecher said they hope the Largo Center will become the model for other adult day centers.

    Staffers are not complaining about the problems they had getting the facility opened.

    "We get up in the morning excited to go to work," said Donofrio. "Not everybody can say that."

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