Angela Melvin paused. She had written the speech just a couple of hours earlier about how she shared in the grief of so many children, having experienced it herself.
Valerie Melvin, the namesake of Valerie’s House, a Southwest Florida nonprofit created as a haven and support group for children grieving the death of a parent, died in a car crash when Angela was 10.
“I’m a humble, grieving child who is all grown up,” said Angela Melvin, who later collected herself Friday morning and carried on with delivering her words to about 60 of her friends, supporters and children who are members of the program.
About a year from now, Valerie’s House will move into a new forever home with 7,000 square feet of space. It is being built at 3551 Shoemaker Lane, off Veronica Shoemaker Boulevard, adjacent to a fire station and an apartment complex in Fort Myers. No one will live in the home, but dozens of children will be able to congregate there. It will have a full kitchen and dining room, a punching bag room, art rooms, a memory garden and fountain, basketball court and a covered gazebo.
Angela Melvin founded the nonprofit in 2016 with about a half dozen participants. Now, the organization serves hundreds and has been running out of room.
“Often times, we are so packed on group nights, we don’t have enough space,” she said, explaining some groups of children had to meet outside due to inside space restraints. The new facility will include specialized rooms, including one with punching backs for children to work out certain emotions, she said.
Valerie’s House has other area locations in Punta Gorda and Naples, plus a branch in Pensacola. It will continue meeting at its current Fort Myers headquarters, 1762 Fowler Street, a property that is for sale.
Lennar Homes, which has a sizeable presence in the region, is working with its contractors to donate their time and efforts on the $3 million project on land donated by the city of Fort Myers on a $1 per year, 99-year lease. Valerie’s House recently launched a capital campaign to raise $500,000 to fit the projected budget, as not all of the home’s costs have been donated.
South Florida Architecture Inc., engineering company Barraco & Associates, Norris Furniture and interior design firm Davenport Design are just some of the area businesses that have been donating time, effort and supplies to the planned home.
“Astonished,” Melvin said of her reaction, “and proud of the support. Year after year, we’ve been growing and growing. The people we have, they’ve worked so hard for their money. Now, they’re giving it to Valerie’s House. It means a lot. I won’t take that for granted. I’m very humbled by it. I’m very humbled by the fact that people believe in me and believe in Valerie’s House.”