All smiles for Christmas

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Woman raising six grandchildren blessed with community's generosity

By Nancy Kennedy

BEVERLY HILLS — With tears in her eyes and a smile beaming across her face, Ronnie Badolato couldn’t stop saying thank you.


Thank you to the people of Citrus County. Thank you to God.

Thank you to members of her church, to friends and strangers, to the YMCA, the Knights of Columbus, the American Legion women’s auxiliary, to an anonymous women’s lunch bunch.

Thank you to Progress Energy.

Her heartfelt thanks is in response to a Sept. 9 Chronicle story profiling the unemployed single grandmother raising her six grandchildren with fierce devotion, tenacity and self-reliance.

She never asked for anything more than prayers for her family. In fact, she balks at accepting charity.

“We’re OK. We’ll be OK. We don’t need anything,” she told the Chronicle in September.

That’s what touched people’s hearts. That’s what people responded to.

“I started getting phone calls at the house — a lady from Inverness called and said, ‘I’m not a rich lady,’ and told me the story about her sons, about how she and her husband were doing everything they could for their grandchildren and told me not to give up hope,” Mrs. Badolato said.

Teachers from the kids’ schools called to see what the family needed. The women’s auxiliary of the local American Legion called around Thanksgiving to say they wanted to treat grandma, since so many others focused on the grandkids.

“I bought myself some clothes and a pocketbook, and I didn’t feel guilty,” Mrs. Badolato said. “It was a nice feeling.”

The choir director at Our Lady of Grace Catholic Church in Beverly Hills contacted the Knights of Columbus, which offered to help with anything she needed for the kids — anything. The YMCA gave all six kids scholarships to their programs for an entire year.

A woman offered a freezer full of food and the pharmacist at Walgreens offered to supply Christmas presents for the kids, which Mrs. Badolato graciously refused.

“I told them ‘No, I love you for offering, but we’re OK,’” she said.

Then a representative from Progress Energy called to say they wanted to do a home energy makeover.

“They came out and did an energy inspection and made recommendations to help me save money on my bills,” Mrs. Badolato said.

That was enough to make Mrs. Badolato jump for joy, but it didn’t stop there.

“A woman went up in the attic and said the duct work looked poor, so a man came out and redid the entire duct work. They said I can expect a $75 reduction in my bill each month! Do you know what I can do with $75? I can pay my water bill!” she said.

As if that wasn’t enough, a Progress Energy crew of 11 people came to the house and cleaned up the yard, trimming hedges and trees. They replaced all her light bulbs with energy-saving bulbs, put draft stoppers behind outlet and switch plates, and installed water-saver shower heads.

They brought in a Christmas tree with decorations and presents for the kids and then gave the oldest grandchild, Richard Royle, an $800 scholarship for college. Richard is in ninth grade at Lecanto High School.

“That was the best thing they could’ve done, because it changed his whole attitude about school,” she said.

After they left, someone called to say they forgot something — they wanted to replace the old toaster oven and microwave oven.

“They were a very, very lovely family and we’re so happy we were able to support them with an energy makeover with a holiday spin,” said Suzanne Grant, Progress Energy spokeswoman.

Grant said the local United Way chose the Badolato family and Progress Energy employees volunteered their time and labor.
“This is just a small part of what we do through our charitable arm of the company,” Grant said.

“The generosity of people is overwhelming,” Mrs. Badolato said. “The hardest thing is to accept it, but I’ve had people who tell me, ‘You think you’re the only one who’s allowed to give? You have to let others have the pleasure of giving, too.’"

“I’m learning,” she said.

One final gift: A job.

“Just as my unemployment’s about to run out, I get a phone call from the school board — do I want to work in the kitchen? So, I just filled out paperwork for a job as a sub. God is watching out for us,” she said. “The community is watching us. This last gift, it’s a wonderful ending for a wonderful year.”

Chronicle reporter Nancy Kennedy can be reached at nkennedy@chronicleonline.com or 352-564-2927.