Buckhead Ridge’s Bonnie Shop will be back

BUCKHEAD RIDGE — The big room inside the Buckhead Ridge Community Complex where a Hope Connections (HC) office was, is nearly empty now of all the touches that gave it a homey atmosphere.

Bonnie Shop, the Hope Connections site coordinator, finishes up preparations for the closing at her desk in the Glades County community complex at Buckhead Ridge on Friday.

Bonnie Shop, who’s been Hope Connections’ site coordinator for going on 13 years, plans to return at least once a month, though, after the office finally closes to help distribute food to needy local residents through the Harry Chapin Food Bank. She’ll also be present when United Way officials visit soon to look at the facility with an eye toward possibly opening an outreach location there.

That’s an option raised by outgoing Glades County Manager Paul Carlisle at recent county board meetings which Tim Stanley, the District 5 county commissioner representing Buckhead Ridge, has said he favored. Since the HC office closure was announced a few weeks back, county officials have been trying to figure out how to continue to provide the services that agency and Ms. Shop had been offering.

Mr. Stanley said on Friday, after the county board meeting recessed from Monday had concluded, that he intended to have that meeting set up with officials of the United Way of Hendry and Glades counties before Mr. Carlisle leaves his post. His last day as county manager is Friday, April 27.

Ms. Shop was more of a community resource than “just” a site manager for HC, as she explained to the board during a presentation last month, and was concerned about local residents being able to continue having their inquiries answered by someone at the county-owned community complex. Tax Collector Gail Jones visits an office next door once a week to provide certain county services to Buckhead Ridge-area residents.

“So many of them had said to me, ‘I didn’t know this was here!’ Because they go right there to get their license tags, to pay their taxes. The door is always open,” Ms. Shop said. “Gail began leaving the door open (between the county office space and the HC room) because she said she kept hearing laughing and noises over here, and she said, ‘It was so neat, so I started leaving the door open.’”

During a visit Friday as she was clearing up last-minute items, Ms. Shop pointed out that a petition circulated in the unincorporated community asking the county to arrange to continue services there had garnered the signatures of more than 200 people. She said she was thankful that Mr. Carlisle and Commissioner Stanley were working to try to do so.

“United Way … will be coming out to look at the facility, and it’ll probably be within the next two weeks. Tim told me that, and he said, “Bonnie, I want you to be there with me. Which I thought was very nice, because maybe as much as him, I know a lot of the people here in Buckhead Ridge, and they know me,” she said.

“I’ve had people coming in and saying to me: ‘What happened? Why are we closing?’ And all I can say to them is, ‘I’m sorry. I told you so.’ Well, it wasn’t my decision. And in part, it was (their) fault. Because so many times, I told people, ‘If you don’t use it, you’ll lose it.’ And it finally happened,” Ms. Shop went on.

She said that she and Commissioner Stanley will be at the community center on Friday, May 11, around noon to distribute food from the Harry Chapin bank to residents for a few hours. That will be a regular distribution, she said, on the second Friday of every month and will continue until and unless alternative plans are made.

The HC area was a gathering place for local residents to work puzzles, watch movies, have snacks, socialize and interact, and Ms. Shop had just, weeks ago, received a few donated items of furniture and a 55-inch TV to make it more comfortable and inviting. Over the years, it also had been used for holiday gatherings.

“We used to have a big Christmas tree over in the corner that we’d keep up all year and decorate for the various seasons,” she said. “I used to have people that would come in just to say hi and see what was done with the tree. When we took it down, it was into its spring phase, with flower clusters on it, and butterflies. It was neat to do it, because it became like an icon around here, a community tradition,” Ms. Shop explained.

But she’s given away or donated almost all of the decorations and amenities that people had brought in over the years to become community property, so the large room was nearly bare on Friday.

She’s going to miss her role there but has hopes to perhaps continue on, if and when United Way does come in.

“This is my home,” Ms. Shop said. “These people are my family. And they’re my friends, and they’re my neighbors. To have to close the door, knowing that this place was needed by them ….” Her voice trailed off, but her meaning was clear from the emotion written on her face.

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