By TOMAS RODRIGUEZ, Fort Myers News-Press

FORT MYERS, Fla. (AP) — After more than five years of agony, a Fort Myers woman is getting the fresh air she needs thanks to the work of a local nonprofit and some generous community members.

Lee BIA Builders Care and community partners recently came together to surprise Fort Myers homeowner Celistine McClinton with the gift of a new air conditioning system.

McClinton has lived in her home for nearly 40 years, yet her existing central air conditioning unit was 25 years old and no longer worked.

“My husband and I, we couldn’t afford an air conditioner,” McClinton told The News-Press. “The last one we had, his sister-in-law gave it to him.”

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That unit didn’t last too long, she recalled. That’s when they started buying window units.

“It’s been 15 or 16 years since we had this kind of air in this house,” McClinton said. “Because frankly, with me having chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and stuff, you have to have air.”

Crystal Stouten, executive director at Builders Care, told The News-Press that they initially had planned to help her husband. “While we were planning in the beginning stages, unfortunately he passed away.”

Stouten said she and her team then got together and determined McClinton still needed their help.

“We knew we needed to go back out there and talk to her,” Stouten said. “She just checked all the boxes and she’s one that we really, really wanted to help.”

They rallied the community to help her.

“Our hearts went out to her since we got out there,” Stouten said. “She’s involved in the community and the neighborhood she lives in. They’re very family-oriented.”

McClinton said she was told by Builders Care they would come by to do some measurements in the house Tuesday. But reality exceeded their expectations.

“I didn’t know they had the air conditioning coming down the road with them in the trucks,” she said.

As she recalled the chain of events, her facial expressions changed.

“It really surprised me,” she said, after a brief pause as she tried to hold onto the tears. “It’s a blessing to have somebody come out and help you like this. Because without help, who knows?”

‘Feels good to be able to help out those in need’

McClinton, who had lost her husband to cancer in March, had been living in those conditions for more than five years, said Greg St. Clair, president and owner of St. Clair’s Custom Air.

St. Clair said he was introduced to Builders Care about six years ago when he contributed to a house repair for a former local athlete who suffered a brain tumor.

He said McClinton’s repair was his sixth or seventh project through Builders Care over the years.

“In each case, you know, the people that they have and the people that they’re doing this work for are absolutely unable to get the work done in any other way,” St. Clair said. “It feels good to be able to help out those that are in need in our community.”

Builders Care reached out to St. Clair about three or four weeks ago regarding McClinton’s situation, he said.

“It’s the community that’s responsible for us even being in business,” St. Clair said.

McClinton had relied on a small window unit, which leaked and caused further damage to the surrounding wall and window framing.

He said the equipment was 30 years old and hadn’t run in 10 years.

St. Clair’s Custom Air provided labor and materials to install the new central air system at no cost to McClinton.

They completed the project in one day, providing McClinton with a cool, comfortable home.

“I think if we can all help spread awareness that there are companies and organizations like that that exist and what they do, I think it would really help the community,” St. Clair said.

Lee BIA Builders Care has helped more than 475 individuals and families by providing air conditioning repairs, wheelchair ramps, roof replacements, remodeling projects and other critical repairs.

“It just feels really good to be able to do stuff like that,” St. Clair told The News-Press.

Stouten also had a message of gratitude to those who make projects like this happen.

“Personally, it just warms my heart that we have so many great people in this community,” Stouten said. “So many that give back.”

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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