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Sertoma: Celebrating 30 years helping people to hear

The front page of the Sept. 17, 1981, Pasco Times is protected under glass in Craig McCart's cramped office. His walls are covered with plaques honoring a lifetime of community service, so he keeps the edition atop a shelf and only occasionally pulls it down to reflect on a particularly meaningful day.

The main story and pictures recorded the relocation of a white two-story house, an effort that shut down traffic and brought out an army of gawkers amazed at the engineering feat but clueless about the historical significance.

At the time, McCart probably couldn't fully envision what was in store for the house that had sheltered Noah Morningstar Swartsel's family in a New Port Richey orange grove since 1934. He only knew that it had been scheduled for demolition to make room for a shopping center and that the family would rather preserve it, perhaps give it to a nonprofit charity.

Enter the West Pasco Sertoma Club and its mission of helping poor people with speech and hearing limitations to get treatment, training and equipment. This had always meant volunteers driving to St. Petersburg — until the Sertomans approached All Children's Hospital.

"We asked them, "If we find a facility, will you come up to Pasco?' '' recalled McCart.

The answer was yes, but the solution would be about as complicated as putting a two-story house on a truck and moving it up the road a few miles. With a shopping center developer pushing to get that house out of the way, McCart used friendships and connections to cut through red tape for permits from the county. He also needed School Board approval because the new Sertoma Speech and Hearing Center would sit on property at Mittye P. Locke Elementary on Trouble Creek Road.

It took a while to renovate the house, including turning the kitchen into two soundproof audiology rooms. The center opened in May 1983 and true to its promise, All Children's Hospital began sending doctors there a few times a week.

This evolved into a model. The hospital in 1995 took over an abandoned bank building in the heart of New Port Richey and created a specialty care center. The local Sertoma Club raised $300,000 of the $1.2 million needed for renovations. Doctors and volunteers went from a 2,000-square-foot house to a 14,000-square-foot building that included state-of-the-art physical, speech and occupational therapy rooms. The center soon welcomed patients for numerous other medical services that had previously required the long drive south.

All Children's built a new center on Rowan Road in 2003 as part of a network that now includes facilities in Hillsborough, Polk, Sarasota and other counties. The Sertoma club that began everything in New Port Richey became a foundation that includes all of Florida.

The Sertoma foundation provides state-mandated screenings in schools to detect potential hearing problems.

Volunteers in Pasco alone test 12,000 kids each year.

The foundation also helps people get hearing aids regardless of their ability to pay. It collects and recycles used devices. It provides job placement assistance for hearing-impaired students.

McCart, 63, ran a flooring business in those early days with Sertoma. He spent 15 years on the road as a professional comedian and then 17 years ago accepted the position as executive director of the foundation.

Recently he and the two part-timers who share a small portion of the All Children's center were busy preparing for the group's 30th anniversary party. Naturally it doubled as a fundraiser. Money has never been tighter for nonprofits.

But for all the challenges, the milestone gave McCart an occasion to recall the simple beginnings. "We have helped thousands of people to hear,'' he said. "That's pretty satisfying.''

>>fast facts

About Sertoma

For more information about the Sertoma Speech and Hearing Foundation of Florida Inc., visit familyhearinghelp.org.

Sertoma: Celebrating 30 years helping people to hear 10/18/13 [Last modified: Friday, October 18, 2013 7:23pm]
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