It was raining sideways and Delores Barr Weaver could barely see the vehicles ahead of her on Beach Boulevard.
Finally, she arrived rain-soaked at the Jacksonville Humane Society.
Weaver says what she found out during her first visit last year continues to astound her and her husband, Wayne. The tour also buoyed the former Jacksonville Jaguars owners’ decision to contribute $1 million toward the society’s “Campaign for a Compassionate Community” fundraising drive unveiled Thursday night.
“What I learned on that day is that this place is so much more than a humane society for dogs and cats. What I learned is that this place does so many other things,” Delores Weaver said.
Jacksonville philanthropists Linda and David Stein also have committed $1 million, as has Michael Munz, board chair for the humane society. The funds will be used to build a $15 million, 40,000-square-foot care and education center at the Beach Boulevard campus.
The facility will meet state-of-the-art animal welfare facility standards and serve about 600 animals. It will replace the facility destroyed in a 2007 fire that killed 86 animals.
Humane society officials said about $5 million has been raised in the past year during the campaign’s silent phase.
“This campaign is not about putting a wing on something. It’s to replace, literally, facilities that were burned to the ground,” said Denise Deisler, executive director of the humane society. “The need is great, the need is urgent and it’s important to have community support.”
In spite of working out of temporary quarters for more than seven years, the humane society is nationally recognized for its innovations. It has partnered with the city’s Animal Care and Protective Services Division and First Coast No More Homeless Pets to make Jacksonville the United States’ largest “no-kill” city.
The Weavers have been cited by the Chronicle of Philanthropy for their charity, particularly for their support of Jacksonville organizations supporting youth. Delores Weaver said in addition to admiring the society’s animal-welfare efforts, the couple was particularly compelled to write a million-dollar check when she saw that troubled teenagers will learn business skills by working at the agency’s thrift store.
“I didn’t dream that those kinds of things went on here, so that inspired me, as well,” Weaver said. “Everybody knows how much I care about children and education, too.”
It was Linda Stein, a society board member and the “Campaign for a Compassionate Community” chair, who invited Delores Weaver to tour the fire-ravaged facility and its temporary setup.
“We watched her get out of her car as she pulled her rain slicker over her head and made a mad dash to this building over here. She was such a trouper,” Stein said.
She told attendees Thursday that “tonight is about triumph over tragedy.”
“Most of you had never been to JHS, but you came, you toured, you saw the urgent need, you asked how you can help, and you helped by giving generously, and also by advocating for us in the community and telling our story,” she said.
Society officials say others who have committed to supporting the initiative are the Chartrand and Lazzara families, the DuBow Family Foundation, Tom Petway III and wife Betty, Lee Thomas and wife Dorothy, the Michael and Kim Ward Foundation and the Zimmerman Family Foundation.
Munz, who cleaned kennels at the humane society for $2 an hour from age 14 until graduating from high school in 1982, was the first to step up with a $1 million commitment toward the new facility.
“David and I were so inspired by Michael’s gift that we, too, have committed a million dollars to the campaign,” Stein said, acknowledging her husband in the audience. “Thank you, David, for sharing my passion.”
Deisler said the million-dollar donors’ prominence and commitment provide a convincing jump-start to the fundraising campaign.
“It’s a seal of credibility; a Good Housekeeping seal of philanthropy,” she said.
Munz said he’s particularly eager to see the old kennels razed.
“I want to be the one to tear those kennels down,” he said.