In 2012, Mary Ann Cox asked a Jacksonville civic group for help purchasing an awning for the Westside free clinic she runs.
She didn’t get the awning.
Instead, the North Jacksonville Rotary Club launched an ambitious fundraising plan to replace the aging, cramped clinic with a spacious 6,000-square-foot, $1.2 million facility.
Two years later, about $1 million in in-kind services have been donated, all but $50,000 of the needed money is in hand and the rest is within reach. A groundbreaking for Community Health Outreach’s new medical and dental clinic for the needy will be Thursday with construction expected to begin a week or so later and be complete by Christmas.
Once the new building is open, the clinic will be able to triple the number of people it can help.
Cox struggles to describe her joy.
“Only one word: surreal,” she said. “I am still pinching myself. It is hard to come up with anything eloquent.”
Community Health Outreach, formerly WestJax Outreach, was founded in 1988 by St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, with ongoing support from a coalition of Christian churches, community groups and individual volunteers. The nonprofit primarily serves adults in Duval and Putnam counties, with limited services for Clay County adults.
The main Healing Hands clinic is on Timuquana Road, across from St. Peter’s, with satellite medical clinics in Palatka and Crescent City. A small outbuilding on the Timuquana campus houses the Baby Luv Center, which offers pregnancy counseling, infant clothing and other infant supplies. In another outbuilding and at two other locations, the Lord’s Pantry provides food assistance. Those side programs are for residents of Duval, Putnam and Clay counties.
Over the past year, Community Health Outreach provided at least one of those services to about 39,000 underserved, uninsured families. But demand outpaces the outreach.
In 2012, Cox’s awning request led Matthew Garman, then president of North Jacksonville Rotary and a project manager at the Haskell Co., to tour the clinic with a fellow club member. They were so impressed, they wanted to help the clinic expand its reach.
“It’s just amazing the number of people that have been in and out and been served and gone away better, fed and healed and encouraged,” he said.
Garman enlisted support from senior management at Haskell, a Jacksonville-based design-build firm, which donated architectural and engineering services. Another firm, Dana B. Kenyon Co., donated general contractor services.
Philanthropists Wayne and Delores Weaver also joined the cause.
In 2013, The Weaver Family Foundation Fund at The Community Foundation for Northeast Florida donated $100,000 toward construction through a grant that matched community donations dollar for dollar. This year the same Weaver Fund donated another $100,000 matching grant. Also this year, The Delores Barr Weaver Fund, also at The Community Foundation for Northeast Florida, donated $75,000 for dental equipment and cabinetry.
The new building will be named in the Weavers’ honor, Cox said.
“Without their support we would still be years away from having a facility that will provide the space we need,” she said.
The old clinic had two dental stations, three medical exam rooms. The new clinic will feature six dental stations and six medical exam rooms, as well as a large waiting room, dental lab and sterilization rooms and administrative offices and community meeting rooms.
Cox projects the clinic will be able to triple its patient load from 2,000 to 6,000 a year. With help from a national Episcopal Church grant, Cox intends to hire a dentist part time. The expanded space and staff will reduce long patient waiting lists and eventually allow the clinic to serve children as well as adults.
In mid-August, clinic operations were moved out of the converted house into temporary modular units. Last week the clinic was demolished and preliminary site preparations began.
Next year pregnancy and infant services will relocate to Putnam County to avoid duplication, because those programs will be offered by the Women’s Resource Center in Jacksonville. That outbuilding will be used for counseling.
Beth Reese Cravey: (904) 359-4109