As I get to know more and more about the Friendship Centers there are so many remarkable stories about Brother Geenen, the community and the activities that brought us to what the Centers do today. This is one of my favorites. Even Hollywood can't write stories like this!
By M. Jane Icely
The Rubin Center for Healthy Aging has a story that I love to share with anyone who will listen. I worked closely with Brother William Geenen, Founder of the Friendship Centers, for many years as Health Services continued to grow and develop.
In 2000, volunteer physicians approached Brother and said: “The clinic in the Center is just too small. There’s only space for four physicians and one dentist to work. Please build a larger clinic and we can guarantee we can double the amount of patients we see.”
In addition, many of the physicians pledged to personally support the building campaign.
Brother set out on a mission to work with the City of Sarasota to acquire one last piece of property in Luke Wood Park on the Sarasota campus, to build a new clinic. At first he thought it would be fairly easy to ask. A clinic was needed and there was space on the campus for one more building. Convincing the Sarasota Commissioners was more difficult than he expected. Environmentalists wanted to preserve the green space, rather than build a clinic for poor seniors. The Friendship Center’s request was twice turned down by the City Council.
Brother came to me and said…”We only have one more try…then it is over!" The doctors, nurses, dentists, patients, friends of the Friendship Centers packed city hall, for one last try! Many people spoke on behalf of the expansion….but again, many disagreed. We were down to the last person who signed up to speak.
WHAT?? One of our homeless patients was getting up to talk. OH NO, what was he going to say!! I will never forget what he said:
“I have been sitting here listening to everyone here tonight, and I want you to know the Friendship Centers’ clinic saved my life. I was living on the street. I was a severe diabetic and very sick. I needed some teeth, so I could eat properly. They made me these choppers,” he said with a proud smile. “They got me on medication and saved my life. I now have a job and I am off the streets. It is time you all voted ‘YES’ so they can continue to help more people like me.”
Then a miracle happened…one by one the commissioners stood up and started clapping…the audience did the same…until all the commissioners were out of their chairs and clapping.
It was remarkable…..a homeless man actually made it possible for the Friendship Centers to build the Center for Healthy Aging. His simple words made him an instant celebrity. He stood outside the chambers shaking hands with people as they left.
The clinic continued to care for this man, .and, a couple years later, I saw his name in the newspaper – this time he was handing out food to the homeless in Gillespie Park.
I wonder if he really knows how many lives he touched that day and what he set in motion? He gave a voice to people whose voice is rarely heard. He accomplished what no one else could accomplish. It is truly his legacy.
About Jane Icely
Jane Icely is the Planned Giving Officer and an important member of the Friendship Centers' team, based on the Sarasota Campus.