By John R. Schirmer
The Howard County Children’s Center received the largest donation in its history Friday afternoon.
The Roy M. Speer Foundation of Odessa, Fla., presented $600,000 to the center for construction of a pre-school building and adding therapy services.
HCCC Director Tim Freel’s daughter, Christi Speer of Nashville, Tenn., made the presentation on behalf of the foundation. Her husband Richard is the son of the late Roy M. Speer, founder of the Home Shopping Network.
Christi Speer told about the grant before presenting the check to her father.
“When Daddy is passionate about something, it is very clear to those around him. He’s very passionate about this place,” she said. “I’ve become very passionate, too. I’ve never seen more hard-working people. You can see lives changed here daily.”
Speer said she was touring the center’s current pre-school facility a few years ago and “started talking about what we could do and how we could expand it.”
From there, the donation from the Speer Foundation began to take shape, resulting in Friday’s presentation.
“It’s just great. This community is my home. There are so many people here who have meant so much to me. They believed in me. I’m humbled to be able to give back to the community,” Speer said.
Roy Speer was “a hard-working man. He had three jobs to go through law school. I know he’d be proud today,” Christi Speer said of her father-in-law, who died in 2012 at age 80.
Roy Speer started the foundation in 1986. Grant recipients include the Florida Orchestra, Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, Dr. Parker Mahan Facial Pain Center at the University of Florida College of Dentistry, Billy Graham Crusade and churches.
Among the subjects in the foundation’s field of interest are Christianity, diseases and conditions, human services and non-profits, according to the Foundation Directory Online website. Population groups include academics, children and youth, economically disadvantaged people, low-income and poor people, and students, among others. Organizations include public charities and religious institutions.
In accepting the donation, Freel said the center’s board, administration, staff and clients “are very humbled by this gift. This is the biggest donation the center has ever received. It comes at a time when we can certainly use it to further our services to children.”
The current pre-school facility was built in 1972-73, Freel said. “It’s time to have a new pre-school. We can move forward with a brand new therapy center for our kids and a brand new pre-school. God has put this thing together. All the pieces are there. Christi and Richard, we are very humbled by this gift. We will spend it in a very frugal way.”
Richard Baker, executive director of the Speer Foundation, attended the presentation. “I knew Roy for 36 years. We had many wonderful times together going back to the pre-HSN days. He was very sensitive toward children. He would be very pleased with what you plan to build.”
Christi Speer said the process began “four or five years ago, and the day has finally come. Dad will pinch every penny out it. We wanted to be part of this.”
Freel said it is “good to have a daughter ready to meet a need in our hometown. A lot of kids need this.”
The new facility will include pre-school space, new physical therapy equipment and a safe room. “We think it’s very important to build the safe room,” Freel said.
Freel said the project will have bids by September and will take about eight months to construct. “A year from now, we’ll be looking at a brand new facility.”
In addition to being the largest gift ever for HCCC, the donation is thought to be the largest for a single project in the history of Nashville.