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Valerie’s House breaks ground on new forever home

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Sabrina Salovitz
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Families, donors and employees break ground at the plot that will soon be the site of the Valerie's House forever home. The new house has been designed with feedback from grieving families to be cozy, safe and inviting.

Valerie’s House has broken ground on the facility that will serve as its new forever home. The land for the facility was donated by the city of Fort Myers, and more than $2 million has been raised for the cost of construction. Sponsors include local businesses, foundations and prominent community members.

CEO Angela Melvin founded Valerie’s House with the goal of helping children and families grieve the loss of a loved one. The nonprofit is named for Melvin's mother Valerie Melvin, who died in a car accident when Angela was ten years old.

“I will always be a Valerie's house child, and that really is the passion behind a project like this,” she said. “Getting this house built for our community, so no child will ever have to grieve alone.”

Valerie’s House offers a variety of programs, including peer support groups, individual counseling, mentoring programs and much more. The nonprofit has also expanded its operations into Charlotte and Collier Counties, as well as in Pensacola.

Since opening its doors, Valerie’s House has helped thousands of grieving children like Stori McDougall. Now 20 years old, McDougall was a 13-year-old girl mourning the loss of her mother when her dad first made her attend a peer support group.

“I didn't want to go the first night,” she said. “And then once I sat through my first group I went for the next seven years, and now I volunteer and work with Valerie's house.”

McDougall said that Valerie’s House saved her life. Therapy wasn’t working for her. She didn’t know how to handle her grief, but at Valerie’s House, she found solace.

“It was a community, a home with people who genuinely knew what you were going through, felt the same pain you were feeling,” she said. “I will to the day I die confidently say that this is the reason I'm still here.”

There are over 20,000 bereaved children in Lee County, which is why visibility is such an integral part of the mission at Valerie’s House.

“We've built this from the ground up, from nothing,” Melvin said. “So where we're at now, compared to where and when we started, not a lot of people knew about grief and how it impacted a child.”

Many people get involved with Valorie’s House only after grief impacts someone close to them. Angie Guillette made her first donation to Valerie’s House three years ago, after a child in her life lost a parent and started receiving support at the nonprofit.

“The growth that they have seen since they opened just shows the need that we have here,” Guillette said. “They're going to be able to help so many more families. It's just amazing.”

She said it has been a joy and an honor to get to know the team at Valerie’s House, and she’s proud to say that she was one of the first donors to contribute to the forever home.

“It's hard to actually articulate the impact until you've actually gone to the house,” Guillette said. “It's just so exciting that they're going to be able to extend their reach so much further when this new house is built.”

McDougall was one of the first children to join Valerie's house, and she has been there for nearly every step of their journey. The Family is Forever home will be the third facility to house the nonprofit, and while this is a testament to their growth, McDougall said she is looking forward to the stability of the permanent new home.

“There's not going to be any fear anymore that it's going to be taken away,” she said. “After losing someone you love stability is something you crave.”

There are still sponsorship opportunities available in the home, and many months of construction ahead, but for Angela Melvin, it was a joy just to be able to break ground on the property that was acquired three years ago.

“Summer 2023, this house will be alive, filled with kids and families who need us,” Melvin said. “It's been a long road getting to this point, where we're actually breaking ground and seeing the future right before us. So, my feelings have been nothing but just pure joy. I'm really starting to believe it, you know, that this is going to happen.”