■ BY MARCY SHORTUSE
Some people stand out in a crowd, and for all different reasons. Some draw attention for their looks, some for their charisma … and some for their heart. Bobbi Sue Burton is one who most people would say falls into all three categories, but her heart is bigger than all of Southwest Florida.
Bobbi Sue is the president and director of Project Phoenix, a nonprofit 501(c)3 corporation founded in 2012. Project Phoenix has helped thousands of people in the Englewood area by helping out with everything from household items to emotional support, to contacts to help those who need it to start a new life.
The organization is unique in the fact that it is run solely by community volunteers.
“We rely very heavily on our community,” Bobbi Sue said. “If it were not for the donations of items, we would not be able to have them to give to our clients. By volunteering with us and helping in our thrift store, it allows us to spend time assisting our clients. Without our thrift store we would not have the funding to do what we do; we have to be able to raise money in order to store all of the items that we give away, and for all of the other programs that we have in our community.”
The main goal of Project Phoenix is to provide a place to store household items and clothes for those who really need them. The collection of those items is often accomplished by people bringing them to the stores, but quite often it means that Bobbi Sue and her volunteers jump in a truck and collect them.
One day their client might be an elderly woman on a fixed income, and the next it might be a woman and her children who closed the door on an abusive relationship and lost everything in the process. Bobbi Sue said that many of the families they make contact with have lost everything, sometimes due to eviction or a fire. Sometimes they have gone through programs and have gotten housing but don’t have anything to put in their home.
The program is mostly referral-based. “Clients usually start off with another organization and acquire housing and then are sent to us, but we do get a lot of word-of-mouth referrals through social media,” she said. “Once people acquire housing, we step in and provide the essentials needed to create a functional home environment. We do not charge for the items we provide. We give away things ranging from simple sets of silverware, bedding, bathroom and kitchen items to baby items and small appliances – on up to things like large appliances and furniture, when available.”
Make no mistake, the store also sells items for those of us who love a good secondhand buy. Bobbi Sue holds bag sales on various Saturdays, when for $5 you can fill the bag with specific items.
“If we collect items that cannot be used to assist an individual or family in need, we may put the item up for sale in the Project Phoenix Resale and use the proceeds for operating expenses or to purchase items that clients need which are not in stock,” she said.
Project Phoenix was actually created in 2009, but it became a federal nonprofit in 2012. The year before that they were a state nonprofit.
“My partner and I started this in our garage when so many were losing their homes,” she said. “It has since taken on a life of its own.”
Bobbi Sue said the name represents the Phoenix, the mythical creature that rose from the ashes and signifies new birth and growth.
“That’s exactly what our clients are doing; they are rising above and leaving everything behind in the ashes. And the word ‘project’ is simply because it is a project that we were doing,” she said.
What drew Bobbi Sue to do the hard work that she does for our community? She knows about rising up from the ashes. Originally from New Jersey, she moved to Broward County but eventually came here with her four children to escape an abusive situation. Her heartfelt firsthand knowledge of what it’s like to be left with nothing and at wit’s end shines through in her relationships with her clients, and through her actions.
Even while fighting cancer she works with Project Phoenix to hold potluck dinners every Tuesday night at Indian Mounds Park for the homeless and needy. She holds Halloween parties for local children who need costumes and a little fun in their lives, and Christmas parties for the kids as well.
Stop by Project Phoenix at 36 W. Dearborn Street in Englewood or call the store at (941) 681-2707. They are open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and are closed on Sundays.
The store’s affiliations include: C.A.R.E. – Center for Abuse and Rape Emergencies, Charlotte 2-1-1 Hotline, Charlotte County Healthy Start, Charlotte County Homeless Coalition, Englewood Chamber of Commerce, Jesus Loves You Ministry, St. David’s Jubilee Center Food Pantry and the United Way.
If you can donate time or items go to projectphoenixenglewood.org.