F. Mack Gay (59C)
Award: 2013 Distinguished Service Award
Achievements: In 2002, F. Mack Gay (59C) discovered what he calls “a foster system on the brink of collapse” in his home of Northwest Florida. There were simply not enough homes to meet the need for abused children who needed to be removed from dangerous and life-threatening situations.
Luckily, “Mack is a rare individual who never has understood the meaning of the words ‘let someone else do it,’” said Ty Handy, President of Northwest Florida State College. “He volunteers to serve more readily than most, works enthusiastically on each and every project, and rises to the top as the natural leader he is.”
Mack took action after being approached by a member of his church to help provide emergency shelter for endangered children removed from their homes. Finding the problem to be more widespread than he had imagined, he joined with another group working to ease the foster home shortage.
The non-profit Children in Crisis, Inc., was founded shortly thereafter with the goal of providing homes and establishing hope for abused, neglected and abandoned children in the foster care community.
Early years for the organization were a learning experience. Mack and his partners toured and sought advice from facilities throughout the Southeast to gain insight. The goal, Mack said, was not to create an institution, but rather a neighborhood that would provide sanctuary and supportive community for the children.
The next four years were spent partnering with the community to raise money, secure land and plan the development of the neighborhood. The result was The Children’s Neighborhood, consisting of a 24-hour emergency shelter with room for 16 children to stay from 30 to 90 days or longer; two long-term family foster homes for eight children, each staffed with full-time, married foster parents; one transitional home for up to 10 young adults ages 18-22 who are too old for the foster care system but still in need of support; a neighborhood center for administrative offices; a clubhouse for tutoring, activities and group meetings; and a playground. Additional homes are planned in the future.
Since opening in 2008, The Children’s Neighborhood has operated at near full capacity, providing for more than 360 children who were no longer safe in their homes. More than 80 siblings have been kept together as families, and scores of children have been helped to succeed in their schoolwork.
In addition to continuing involvement with and oversight of Children in Crisis, he is active at Shalimar United Methodist Church, where he has been a member since the 1970s. He has participated in six overseas mission trips, two of which he chaired.
Mack also works with the Okaloosa-Walton Continuum of Care organization, which is dedicated to the alleviation of homelessness, participates in outreach missions with the Muscogee Indian Tribe and serves with a local prison ministry.
He has worked with Habitat for Humanity since 1998 and is advisor to the Board of Directors for the FRESH Start Program, a non-profit dedicated to providing transitional housing for homeless mothers with children to reach a goal of self-sufficiency.
He was awarded the Okaloosa-Walton Domestic Violence Coordinating Council’s Shining Light Award for outstanding work to reduce domestic violence in his community and he earned Board Chairman Service awards from both the Northwest Florida State College Institute of Senior Professionals and Children in Crisis.
The word “honor” is routinely applied to Mack’s work by those who know him well. Said J. Ronald Thornton (61C), Mack’s work “has had a significant impact on the lives of many children and is an honorable act of service.”
Handy adds, “He is unique in that his attitude of service comes from within. He serves because he sees a need and wants to help. He is a man of honor and integrity and epitomized the criteria for the Distinguished Service Award.”