Ruskin founding principles on display this Christmas season

Published on: December 18, 2010

Community rallies for Dawn MacCalla


IMG_1338ruskinsignRUSKIN – This community may be set on a 21st century course, but its 100-year-old roots remain its steering principles.

Founded a century ago on the concept of communal sharing for the general welfare advanced by its namesake, English social critic John Ruskin, the settlement dedicated to education and the “commongood” through the years has rallied regularly to uphold its own.

Christmas, 2010, is no exception – even if the gifts include a new commode and the plumbing to install it.

The story actually began to unfold with a tragedy on local streets four years ago come January. Twenty-four-year-old Angelique Aguilar died in a crushing vehicle accident. She left six small children including an infant, all under the age of nine, but no husband. The burden of caring for, raising, and channeling the energies of six growing youngsters fell to her mother, Dawn MacCalla, herself still raising another daughter.

Nonetheless, MacCalla shoehorned the half dozen grandchildren into her little three-bedroom ranch near East Shell Point Road, determined to create a new family lifestyle. Together, they established routines ranging from use of the one bathroom in the home to attending school and finishing homework to earning a living for the new eight-member unit.

With the concrete block structure encompassing about 1,200 square feet of living space on a small lot, one of the early objectives was enclosing the single-car carport to produce another bedroom for some of the five boys.

Life, though, is not as simple as finding another room. Long interested in patient care and emergency medical services, MacCalla was employed at Freedom Plaza – until about three years ago when a newspaper article about the obstacles confronting a single parent trying to guide seven children into successful adulthood struck a sour note with her supervisor at the retirement center. As some residents there asked how they could help, MacCalla was accused of soliciting assistance from the generally affluent retiree population. She was discharged, protesting, but let go without warning. Looking back, the 51-year-old grandmother is not bitter. She did as she always has done; picked herself up and moved on. After all, there were seven youngsters depending on her.

Then, there was another auto accident. Trying to get the various kids to their various locations one morning, her light SUV was broadsided near Interchange and Shell Point, toppling the vehicle onto its side. It was totaled, but the family climbed out with only cuts and bruises. The youthful other driver was charged, two insurance companies dickered and MacCalla received a settlement sufficient to obtain a van for the family.  

Over the years, MacCalla has tried to pursue her personal dream to become accredited in medical services. She’s earned state-licensed EMT status and is a Certified Nursing Assistant. “Helping other people” is what life is all about, she asserts firmly, as she speaks gently of the quadriplegic she has been caring for on an assignment from the home health care agency where she’s currently employed.

However, between sheparding seven children through typical childhood trials and earning enough money to keep food on the table, one objective she has not been able to pursue is upkeep of the little house that shelters the brood.

Enter Natalie Castillo, another East Ruskin resident. Years ago, MacCalla helped raise her husband, Robert Castillo, now a young husband and father who also is a pest control technician. Last month, over the Thanksgiving weekend, Castillo visited MacCalla and the expanded family, tipped off about an infestation of roaches in the home.

Castillo sprayed the property, adjacent to a retention pond, to eradicate the roach population and plans to return for a second treatment, his wife said this week. But Natalie Castillo went home that weekend, convinced she had to help MacCalla in a more concrete manner. “On Friday, I didn’t know what I was going to do and on Monday I just started making telephone calls,” she added.
She reached Ruskin business people and community churches. They began to respond, Ruskin fashion. Early this week, Destiny Church delivered and installed a new refrigerator to replace the junker MacCalla had been trying to get by with. Home Depot said it would provide a new toilet to replace the only commode in the home which is unstable and holding up a cracked tank, if someone could be found to install it. A local plumber, who said he’s giving not taking credit, immediately offered installation at no charge.

Melvin’s Heating & Air Conditioning hustled over to repair the aging combination central AC unit so that the home will be heated this winter. And, Wild Bill’s Furniture is assessing furnishing needs, new mattresses, another bed, perhaps a new couch, Castillo said.

Donna Budd, a Hillsborough County community resource deputy, has promised several especially chosen Christmas gifts for each child through her Deputies Darlin’s program.

And, Castillo did not overlook MacCalla herself. The Southshore Day Spa in Apollo Beach wanted to be sure MacCalla could have a new haircut for the holidays and produced the appropriate gift certificate. Plus, Crystal’s Nails provided a gift certificate covering both a manicure and a pedicure.

Meanwhile, Castillo, nearing her seventh month of pregnancy, still is working the phones. She’s looking for clothing and shoes for five boys ranging in age from eight to 12 as well as for a 12-year-old girl and for the baby, a girl now four years old.

In addition, Home Depot, for its part, is not done yet. Store Manager Tommy Kanatzar told The Observer early this week his staff is reaching out to the many vendors supplying products to the home care warehouse, seeking those among them who can contribute any help in rehabilitating the MacCalla house. The effort, he suggested, will continue into the new year.

Such help would be so appreciated, MacCalla said as she acknowledged the numerous problems in the home now about 30 years old and designed for perhaps four or five persons but instead housing seven active youngsters and one adult. Limited to expertise with duct tape, pliers and screwdriver , MacCalla admits she not handy enough to repair the collapsing sink vanity in the bathroom or to stop the drafts from a couple of broken windows or to build dressers and enough closets to accommodate everyone’s clothing.

She has, though, applied- several times — for a home do-over with producers of the ABC Network’s popular Extreme Home Makeover program. There’s been no feedback, to date, she said.
No matter. The really important things are humming along. The children all are healthy, well mannered, doing well in school, growing straight and tall in all ways. Their house may be crowded, inconvenient, in disrepair, but Castillo talks of the mutual respect and affection that abounds within its walls.

Then, too, a grandmother had her very first manicure and pedicure the other day, using the nail salon’s gift certificate while her quadriplegic patient is hospitalized and she has no work. ‘You know what I enjoyed most,” she asked giddily as she recounted the new experience. “That massaging chair you sit in for the pedicure. I just didn’t want to get up.”

Asked what else might be on her personal Christmas list, MacCalla quickly sobers, though, replying without hesitation: “All I want is for the kids to have a happy Christmas; to be able to say they had a good Christmas.” For that she will be so grateful, she added.

A good many folks aim to see her Christmas wish fulfilled, and more Ruskin style.

Copyright 2010 Melody Jameson