Janet Hooper has held many positions that may be considered more prestigious than the executive director of the Mattie Williams Neighborhood Family Center.
She’s been a fundraiser for major corporations, president of the Rotary Club and a board member of the Safety Harbor Chamber of Commerce.
But Hooper emphasized that no matter how much money she was raising, or making, nothing has compared to the satisfaction she receives as the leader of the local nonprofit organization.
“This is the most meaningful job I’ve ever had in my life,” said Hooper, who has been with the center for four years.
“When you know you’ve touched somebody’s life, you say, 'Geez, this is what it’s all about.' "
A Center With a History of Helping Others
Founded as an offshoot of the Shadow center on Main Street, the organization changed its name to the Safety Harbor Family Center in 1996 and moved into its current location on Martin Luther King Street in 2000.
The center serves four zip codes in three communities and receives funding through grants, city funds and from the Juvenile Welfare Board.
The money is used to fund four key service areas: critical basic needs, limited financial assistance, career development and school readiness and success.
“Our mission is to build partnerships, provide education and help people develop the skills they need to be self sufficient,” Hooper explained. "Eighty-six percent of the people we serve are well below the poverty level."
“We serve Safety Harbor, Oldsmar and eastern Clearwater, so we have a much wider geographic area to cover than other centers,” she added. “We’ve helped almost 2,000 households — nearly 7,000 people — all on a shoestring budget.”
Some of the many services offered by the center include computer classes for adults and kids; day care for children; free food, clothing and hygiene products for underprivileged families; and limited financial assistance and life coaching for adults who are looking to get back on their feet during tough economic times.
“There’s a new group of people out there — I call them “nouveau poor” — who have never had to access these services before, who never knew they existed,” family assistance coach Marlene Ruggiero said.
“But it’s important, especially in this economy, that they know we’re here for them.”
A Special Place Named in Honor of a Special Woman
While the facility was originally known as the Safety Harbor Family Service Center, it recently underwent a name change that was intended to better represent the area it serves as well as honor the person who was the heart and soul of the organization.
Mattie Williams was a local legend whose selfless efforts and endeavors helped make the center the vital family organization it is today, according to Hooper.
“Miss Mattie has been an integral part of this center,” she said. “She just passed away a month ago, but around a year ago we grappled with a name change, and I said we need to name it after Miss Mattie.”
The facility was renamed after Williams in a ceremony in August 2011, and while she still mourns the loss of the spiritual leader of the center, Hooper is glad Williams got to see her name bestowed on the organization she helped build.
“She was the heart and soul of the place. I'm glad she got to see it named after her."
"This center epitomizes who she was and how she cared about people, and that’s how we are.”
Mattie Williams Neighborhood Family Center
Address: 1003 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. St.
Hours: Mon - Fri, 8:30am - 5pm