LAKELAND, Fla. — Every year for the last five years, Marie Hanna, a broker-associate with WebPro Realty LLC in Lakeland, pulls out a letter written to her by a young girl. “The nine-year-old girl lived in an underprivileged area, and her house had been broken into. She was traumatized by that experience,” says Hanna.
But, that all changed once Hanna and members of the Lakeland Realtors® Community Service Committee gave the girl a room makeover.
“She wrote that we came in strangers and left as friends,” says Hanna. “She also told us that she hoped to help a child as we helped her someday. That letter is what our outreach program is all about.”
Children, especially, see their bedroom as their sanctuary. That’s why Hanna and the committee decided to make it their mission to do room makeovers for four lucky kids (ages 6 to 17) each year.
“Five years ago, when I first became chair of the community service committee for Lakeland Realtors, we wanted to do something outside the box and our focus was on children,” says Hanna. Several members of the committee had connections in the community or were involved with other children’s projects.
“Randy Browning, founder of KidsPack, knew someone at Rooms to Go and was able to get four bedroom sets donated to us,” she says.
Rather than just give the kids new furniture, the group decided to “do it big – we called it Extreme Room Makeover,” says Hanna. The committee asked for essay submissions from children at The Monarch School for autistic children the first year, and from the Boys and Girls Club every year after. Four children are chosen to receive a complete room makeover, from paint and pictures to new bedding and an electronic device, such as a television.
“We raise funds, about $1,000 per room, and work with each child to develop a theme,” she says. But, they always take it a step further by planning a big reveal for the child. “The kids can’t see their rooms, so this excitement builds. We ask them to clean it and empty it before we show up. When we’re done, we invite them back for the reveal. We have a photographer, too. One little boy loved everything police, so at the reveal, we had the sheriff come and deputize him,” she says. So far, the room makeover project has made more than 20 children happy.
In fact, fundraising has been so successful this year that the group also had enough to redecorate the teen room at the local Boys and Girls Club.
Helping others comes naturally to Hanna. She was named Lakeland Realtors’ Humanitarian of the Year in 2013 and 2015.
She explains, “I have a servant’s heart. I love helping people. It’s my thing and comes naturally. I am very involved in our community and believe that we must give back to the community in which we make our living.”
Hanna also works with Dress for Success, collecting and delivering gently used clothing that goes to a job training and placement service that provides clothing to needy individuals interviewing for and starting new jobs.
“The first year, we collected 2,200 items for Dress for Success. Last year, we collected 10,000 pieces,” she says.
She expanded the clothing collection as well and now gives children’s clothing to the Salvation Army shelter, jeans and hoodies to the Pace Center for Girls, and some of the more modest clothing to The Porch Light, a Christian charity that provides housing and support to victims of domestic sex trafficking. Just this year, she also got the Lakeland Association committee involved in the project.
“Marie has been a member of Lakeland Realtors since 2005 and is one of the most kind-hearted individuals I have ever met,” says Melissa Sanchez, communications coordinator of the Lakeland association. “She is always looking to help causes she feels strongly about, whether it’s delivering food boxes to the elderly, assisting veterans with their bills, collecting clothing, feeding the homeless or doing room makeovers.”
Hanna adds, “I came to know the Lord [almost four] years go. I’ve always loved to help people, but, when that happened, I really understood my gifts. I’m blessed to be able to do what I do.”