Wednesday, December 22, 2010
From the Arizona Republic newspaper:
Inspired by a leadership training class, Mesa business owner Shane Orlando used his construction skills to help others and learned about the East Valley Men's Center through a Google search.
Orlando had no idea that residents had complained about bed bugs at the shelter in May, or that University of Arizona entomologist Dawn Gouge had inspected the facility and compiled a list of recommendations on how to eradicate the annoying pests.
But within four days of touring the shelter in September, Orlando had developed a plan for gutting the building, removing wooden bed frames where the bugs were hiding and breeding, and custom-building new metal bed frames.
Orlando's efforts not only helped transform the center into a prime example of how to eliminate bed bugs, but his efforts in guiding the extensive $200,000 overhaul inspired six other Valley construction companies to donate hundreds of hours of work.
Orlando Restoration and a body shop joined six partners in volunteering an estimated 426 hours of work valued at more than $20,000.
"It seemed a little overwhelming when I first walked in. It looked like it would be more work than it really was," said Orlando, a former custom homebuilder.
The other companies' contributions made the work go more smoothly. Most of the job was completed in about five days.
"We found a lot of people wanted to help. They were just looking for someone to take the first step," Orlando said.
It was first in a series of surprises.
He soon realized that many shelter residents had been construction workers before the economic downturn left them unemployed. Orlando put some of them back to work as temporary employees and found satisfaction from counseling them about their lives.
"Most of the time, people hold themselves back. They are their own worst enemies," Orlando said. "We plan to help them more in the future, to boost morale and give them hope."
Residents lived in a tent behind the shelter while the renovations were under way, said Torrie Taj, A New Leaf's executive vice president for marketing and research development. They were required to wash all of their clothes to avoid reintroducing the bugs. A New Leaf is a non-profit that runs the shelter.
Taj said Gouge and Orlando offered to help without being solicited, but their efforts combined in a spectacular fashion. Taj lined up federal grant money from Chandler and the Arizona Department of Housing, but an estimated $60,000 is still needed to complete the project.
Mesa United Way is calling several benefactors, asking them if they would be willing to make a contribution, Taj said.
The renovations include two new buildings, one containing a modern kitchen and dining room, the other for storage of donations. An open house to showcase the renovations is planned for Jan. 26.
Along with the makeover to eliminate the bed-bug problem, the new buildings turned the old bingo hall into a virtually new campus. A new roof and air-conditioning were installed in 2008, and the electrical system was repaired.
The shelter opened as Margie's Place, named after the late advocate for the homeless, Margie Frost, in 1998 at 2345 N. Country Club Drive, in the Salt River's bottom.
Gouge had read a newspaper story about the shelter's bed-bug problem or been made aware of it by a colleague.
"It took us seconds to locate a hot spot" during an inspection, Gouge said.
A New Leaf was "totally on top of it," Gouge said, noting "they were taking steps in the right direction," but needed help to eradicate the bugs when pesticides and other procedures failed.
Gouge's suggestions included removing the wooden bed frames, eliminating a hiding and breeding ground for the bugs, and installing a new seamless floor that got rid of the space between the floor and walls where the critters also could hide.
She praised A New Leaf for acting on her suggestions.
"Most importantly, they had management and staff dedicated to solving the problem," Gouge said.
Orlando said he used Gouge's suggestions as almost a blueprint.
To this day, he and Gouge have never met.
"Her recommendations spawned my vision," Orlando said. "We took her report very seriously. We took anyplace where they might live out of here."