By Stuart Korfhage
August 29, 2022
Jacksonville Business Journal
Less than a week before Christmas, Judy Dembowski got the heartbreaker news that one of the homeless shelters she runs in St. Augustine was flooded.
Certainly, it was frustrating that a plumbing/septic backup caused costly flooding. But the worst part for the executive director of Port in the Storm was that she had to move her young adult clients to a new space right before the holidays.
Many of the residents, who typically stay a few months, have little experience with stability, and this was just another setback for them.
“We were devastated,” Dembowski said. “For the kids, it was Dec. 20; the trees were up, and the stockings were hung. They had built gingerbread houses. And all the sudden, we had to put them in a room the size of, not much bigger than this (pointing to her own modest office space).”
The clients, up to 16 at a time, were housed temporarily in the dining area of the St. Francis House, an adult homeless shelter in St. Augustine that Dembowski also manages.
The $180,000 in repair work was recently completed, allowing the facility near the St. Augustine Shipyard development to reopen.
The contractor on the job was MasterCraft Builder Group, which usually focuses on residential.
However, MasterCraft President Chris Shee said he and his staff really wanted this particular job because they all wanted to help.
Just how much they wanted to assist was on display last week when MasterCraft hosted a small event at Port in the Storm. But instead of a ribbon-cutting ceremony, it turned into a check presentation.
Shee returned $50,000 of the money his company was paid for the work. Part of it was simply MasterCraft and its employees giving back, and part of it was thanks to subcontractors and suppliers donating their time and materials to the project.
“We have an unbelievable family of trade workers,” Shee said Friday. “We are a community builder. We love giving back to our area. We love helping those in need.
“We reached out to our trades (workers). They all came and wrapped their arms around this place, too.”
For Dembowski, it was a moving gesture and something that will help the shelter continue its mission to help young adults — those 18-24 — facing homelessness to find a path to self-sufficiency.
“This is their safe place,” Dembowski said of her clients.