Rotary extends many hands and warm hearts

What began as a good deed by one Rotarian recently turned into a major service project for the Hobe Sound/Port Salerno Rotary Club. “We should be finishing up today,” said Tony Sementelli, owner of Mr. Mailbox in Hobe Sound and the club’s Community Service Director, as he surveyed the club’s progress on Saturday, March 4. “This turned into quite a project, the largest, in fact, that our Rotary Club has ever undertaken. We’ve spent probably 400 man-hours here.”

Sementelli, also an organizer and coach of TOPSoccer for special-needs children, responded to a request by the mother of one of his players to “come over and look at” their ceiling to see why it was leaking. That’s how the project got underway at the home of single mom Deborah Dobson of Banner Lake. “As it turned out, it was caused by the air-conditioning unit in her attic,” said Sementelli, “so I called my air-conditioning guy (for Mr. Mailbox), but there was already a lot of damage to the ceiling from the water. Her ceiling was just literally caving in.”

Steven K. Denny of Jupiter responded to Sementelli’s call, donating time and supplies to make the repairs to the cooling unit, but the damaged ceiling and walls need repair. Sementelli proposed the project to Rotary Club President Doc Buchanan, who presented it for club approval.
The following weekend, the first crew of Rotarians arrived to take down the old dry wall, scrub the now-exposed wood timbers with bleach to eradicate mold, and replace the dry wall with new. As they worked, club members noticed other repairs that were needed to assist the mother of four adopted special-needs children, who suffers from arthritis and other maladies herself.

“I had a teenaged son—he doesn’t live here any more—who did a lot of damage who did a lot of damage to our house, just so many little things,” said Ms. Dobson, who started adopting special-needs children after having served as a foster mom for 11 years. “That’s all I’d ever wanted to be: a wife and a mother. I adopted these children when they were babies, some just days old.” Born with cerebral palsy, premature, some suffering with fetal alcohol syndrome and addicted to crack cocaine, her children were targeted by the state to be institutionalized. “But everyone deserves to have a soft place to land in this world,” she says. “Everyone deserves to have a forever family. That’s why I adopted them. They all carry my last name.”

As some Rotarians worked on ceiling repairs, others patched walls, replaced screens, fixing “the little things” throughout the house. They also watched Ms. Dobson struggle to get her wheel-chair bound daughter, Virginia, 14, in and out of her 1995 van. “As if it wasn’t hard enough,” said Sementelli, “there was a ditch beside her van that she had to step into. We just couldn’t leave that there. We had to do something about it.” “Doing something” resulted in filling in the ditch, laying sod, pouring a concrete slab beside the front walk to accommodate the wheel-chair. It made it easier for Deborah to get Virginia transferred into the van, and also was a place for Virginia to sit outside, to enjoy the sun, the birds, the breezes. “But it was too close to the street,” Sementelli said. “The other kids walking by would make fun of her, call her names.” His voice drops, softens. “We had to prevent that from happening to her anymore.” The project expanded yet again.

The Rotarians decided that Virginia needed to be able to reach the back yard, where she would be protected from taunts. They wanted to build a sidewalk around the side of the house to a patio at the rear, but the yard dropped two to three feet between the house and the backyard fence. To create a level space for a wheel-chair would require tons of dirt, but the Rotarians were undaunted. “We had dirt hauled in,” said Sementelli. “Probably 50 yards of dirt.”

On this last Saturday, Rotarian John Wolfe was carefully laying the concrete pavers that Christian Sementelli, 14, was carrying from the front yard to the back, while his father was leveling the dirt, readying it for sod. Many hours of back-breaking work remained at this point, but other Rotarians began arriving to lend a hand. “We should be finished today,” said Sementelli, as he talked also about the satisfaction he felt when he saw Ms. Dobson and the girls come home from a trip to Home Depot with pots of flowers purchased with a Christmas gift card. “They had such grins on their faces,” he said. “It made me smile, too.”

That’s the Rotary secret. This club of business owners, managers, and entrepreneurs come together weekly to network and serve their community. “A lot of people helped with this project,” said Doc Buchanan, Rotary president. “We would not have been able to take this on without them.” Businesses who donated supplies, in addition to Steven K. Denny Air Conditioning, included Green Dollar Sod, Eddie Huggins Land Grading Co. of Stuart, Blue Water Landscape, and Ace Hardware of Hobe Sound. “The only thing we’re trying to do here,” said Sementelli, “is to make this lady’s life a little easier.”