Former Center for Building Hope workers find success in new endeavors.
There’s life again on the 4.8-acre campus, formerly home to Center for Building Hope, a nonprofit meant to provide support for cancer victims and their families.
In December, Newgate Montessori School moved its secondary students into their new home at 5481 Communications Parkway in the Lakewood Ranch Corporate Park. Secondary-school children now play sports in the parking lot, type on laptops by windows and engage in life discussions around tables in what is now a cafeteria. Sponsorship plaques outside rooms serve as a reminder of the building’s original purpose — to help those with a serious illness.
Center for Building Hope closed in fall 2015, following financial failures, the closure of its subsidiary Brides Against Breast Cancer and the firing of its CEO, Carl Ritter. Programs for cancer patients were transferred to Jewish Family & Children’s Services in September 2015.
Of more than a dozen requests for interviews with former employees and board members, only a handful agreed. As one woman put it: “It’s in the past, and we all want to keep it in the past.”
But how did an idea so noble go so wrong?
Here’s a look at what some of the center’s former advocates are now doing.
Former role: Vice president of business development for CBH subsidiary Brides Against Breast Cancer
What she’s doing: Owner of Music Compound
Jenny Townsend didn’t know much about music a year ago — she can’t even play an instrument.
“I play the computer, type emails,” she said with a laugh.
At CBH, Townsend helped transform the organization’s subsidiary, Brides Against Breast Cancer, which sold wedding gowns at bridal shows across the country, growing from a $500,000 to a $2.2 million operation in 18 months. She’d given her resignation before the organization failed, but had stayed on long enough to help with a final event in January 2015. She was already working on her new business, Music Compound, having learned during college local musicians needed a place to rehearse, practice and perform. Townsend turned the idea into a business plan that weaves together rehearsal and practice space for musicians, music lessons for children, music-related field trips for students and other activities.
“I’m really trying to supplement what the kids aren’t getting in the school system,” Townsend said.
Her vision is to “inspire, collaborate and educate.”
Townsend’s three-year plan is to have five locations. Is it ambitious?
“I just feel like it’s possible with the right team,” she said. “It’s cool to be a musician. The kids are looking for things like this. The timing is good.”
Former role: Program director for CBH
What she’s doing: Counseling
Andrea Feldmar has shifted her focus from creating programming for cancer patients to one-on-one counseling for anyone grappling with a serious medical condition.
She assisted when CBH transitioned its services to Jewish Family & Children’s Services in September 2015 and helped lead programming there for months afterward.
However, in May, she opened her own counseling practice, at 5104 N. Lockwood Ridge Road, Sarasota, specializing in medical support counseling.
“This has really been my life’s work,” Feldmar said. “This is what I love to do. Your life changes when you get a devastating diagnosis, and nobody really talks about how much it changes you. There’s no going back. It’s about creating a new normal.”
Feldmar’s passion for medical support counseling, in particular, stems from her own experiences watching her now 24-year-old daughter, Robyn, battle leukemia as a child. Doctors, she said, talk about treatments and outcomes, but not about emotional well-being.
“People need to talk about things,” she said.
Jana Marie Lyons
Former role: Event planning for CBH
What she’s doing: Esthetician
Jana Marie Lyons had only been with Center for Building Hope for about a year when the organization closed. Her grandmother had died of cancer in early 2014, striking a connection with the CBH mission. She was hired to plan 5K races across the country, with proceeds to benefit the center.
“I thought it would be a good fit for me,” Lyons said. “It was giving back. I wanted to stretch myself.”
A week before CBH’s staff was laid off, Lyons quit. She returned to her training as an esthetician, opening her own business, Viziato, in downtown Sarasota.
“I opened a spa in a weekend,” she said. “It’s been going really good. I love being creative, and I love seeing people and making them happy.”
Lyons primarily sees clients at Viziato, located on Palm Avenue, where she offers facials, waxes, laser hair removal and other services and sells toxin-free makeup and other products. But two days a week, she also performs laser treatments at a doctor’s office.
Former role: Board of directors for CHB
What he’s doing: Board of directors for CHB; continues working as a financial advisor
Brian Mariash, a financial planner in Sarasota, served on the board of directors when Center for Building Hope closed more than a year ago. Today, he remains one of three people still listed as board members — the minimum needed to carry CBH through bankruptcy proceedings.
Mariash helped find an interim CEO, Ron Gelbman, for CHB as it closed its doors and helped many of the organization’s employees find jobs elsewhere. He also has overseen the transition of CHB programming to Jewish Family & Children’s Services.
“The goal was really just to stabilize,” said Mariash, who volunteers with JFCS. “They’ve done a good job, and now they’re back in building mode.”
Cancer support programs are no longer held in a building designed specifically for cancer patients, but Mariash said cancer patients remain grateful for services, no matter where they are held.
“I feel confident of the amount of people we helped. The charity is gone, but the mission continues,” Mariash said. “We’ll actually end up stronger than we were before. I’m confident about that. I won’t stop until that is what’s happening.”