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East County business saddles up to help

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  • | 4:00 a.m. May 29, 2013
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EAST COUNTY — As volunteer executive director of Sarasota Manatee Association for Riding Therapy, Gail Clifton’s focus is providing disabled children and adults with a quality therapeutic riding program — and making sure her organization has the means and facilities with which to do so.

SMART purchased a 23-acre estate for its programs in early 2012 and has been raising funds to pay off the entirety of its mortgage ever since. Those costs, combined with expenses for feeding and caring for horses, among other items, have been Clifton’s financial focus.

But, thanks to a local business, one lesser-prioritized project has reached completion, as well.

Earlier this month, 1st Choice Industries, a local full-service construction and maintenance company that also owns and operates The Ranch Grill restaurant, completed renovations on two bathrooms in SMART’s main administrative building to make them ADA compliant. One of the bathrooms also includes a roll-in wheelchair-accessible shower. The company also added a ramp by the pool, so wheelchair-bound clients will be able to use it for therapy and other services.

“It’s a huge weight off our shoulders,” Clifton said. “We have staff who use wheelchairs, as well as clients. It needed to be done. They just showed up (and made it happen.)”

Clifton said one staff member had to use the bathroom in another building on SMART’s campus, until 1st Choice improved the bathrooms in the administrative building.

Gary Simone, CEO of 1st Choice Industries, said the renovations — although more extensive than originally planned — seemed like the perfect project for his company to complete.

Self-described “horse people,” Simone and his wife, Eileen, live in Panther Ridge. The couple stopped by SMART one day, for a tour.

Clifton, who showed them the property, mentioned the bathrooms in SMART’s offices needed to be made ADA compliant — a cost SMART planned to raise funds for in the future.

But the Simones had a different idea. Their company would remodel one of the office’s bathrooms. After taking measurements and examining plans, however, their idea grew.

“One thing led to the next,” Gary Simone said. “It’s very pleasing to know we’re going to make a difference for a lot of people. We’ve been very fortunate, and we want to give back. ”

Simone said other businesses, including Painting by Hue, Karl Hees Engineer, Complete Access Plumbing, Concrete on Call and Ceramic Tile, contributed to the project, as well.

Clifton said she was overwhelmed by 1st Choice Industries’ gesture and the business community as a whole.

“We’ve had some really wonderful things happen to us since we (moved out here),” Clifton said. “I think it’s important the community knows how (generous and caring) our business community is.”

For more information on SMART, visit

Contact Pam Eubanks at [email protected].


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