River Club man steps up to provide help for homeless

MANATEE — The Ten Commandments are guideposts to a righteous life.

So says River Club resident Bill Pretyka, a member of Harvest United Methodist Church in East Manatee.

But Pretyka has a suggestion if 10 seems too daunting a number to carry with you all day.

Just keep two in mind, Pretyka says.

Love thy God and be good to your neighbor.

“That’s it,” Pretyka said recently. “If you do those two, everything else in your life will fall in place.”

Pretyka has a suggestion on how you can take care of both commandments in one fell swoop.

Help the homeless.

Pretyka, who first heard about people being homeless while at church, is following his own advice.

“I have never seen Bill as devoted to a cause as he is this one,” Pretyka’s wife, Linda, said this week.

He is getting calls from people who want to help Family Promise of Manatee County, which battles homelessness locally.

Last year, he was able to get the use of six houses that provided transitional homes for seven homeless families in Manatee County.

The majority of these families were trying to get by on minimum wage and found they just couldn’t, Pretyka said.

“An individual earning the minimum wage would have to work 108 hours per week in order to afford an average two-bedroom apartment,” Pretyka tells nearly everyone he meets. “Do the math. It’s impossible. They have to have a home that is almost rent-free in order to get going.”

After he finds homes, he becomes mentor, counselor and landlord.

“I practice tough love,” Pretyka said. “I’m a Christian, but not a nice Christian. I tell the families if they mess up the home, leave garbage around the house, use drugs or get involved in domestic violence, me and every other person who sweat to refurbish the house for them will come and kick their butts out. I don’t have any problems. These are mostly good people just looking for a chance to succeed.”

Look what his zeal has gotten him in just a span of three days recently.

On Tuesday, Christ Episcopal Church donated the use of the small, church-owned, former rectory house that had fallen into disrepair at the corner of 43rd Street West and Fourth Avenue. Pretyka painted it bright yellow.

On Wednesday, a man from Cape Coral called and said, “I have a 1999 Mercury Marquis with low miles. Do you want it?”

Pretyka and helpers get old cars running for the homeless.

On Thursday, a representative from an organization called and asked if Pretyka wanted to borrow a thrift store business for awhile to make money for the homeless. He said, “Yes, absolutely.”

“It’s not about me,” Pretyka said. “It’s the hundreds of volunteers that come forth and the good hearts of the people who see the value in loaning their homes for the homeless.”

In return for the use of their home, Pretyka and any volunteers he can muster paint the exteriors, groom the landscaping, fix leaky plumbing, patch rotted roofs, pull out bad wiring, brace droopy floors, get rid of bugs and replace nasty appliances with fresh ones.

He also asks that the homeless families pay the home owner a few hundred dollars a month rent, never more than $300.

Recently, Pretyka gave a talk about homelessness at Christ Episcopal Church, 4030 Manatee Ave. W.

He brought his guitar with him.

“It was probably more of a sermon than a speech,” said Palmetto’s Jeff Stephenson, a real estate developer who was in a pew at Christ Church that morning. “You could tell he is very passionate about what he is doing. What got me is that he finished with a song. It was touching.”

After the sermon, Christ Episcopal Church donated the use of their former rectory house.

The house, which will be called “Christ Transitional Home,” will need a roof, heating and air conditioning and a floor-to-ceiling, room-by-room renovation, as well as the money needed for materials, Pretyka said.

“He electrified us when he talked about all the families out there with no place to go,” said Christ Church member Louis Bellemare.

“The children hit me. Children should not be suffering. I would not want my children in the cold with no food. We need more help.”

Pretyka is asking people just to give what they can: money, labor, an old car, a home they are not using, even the talent to mentor a family.

When he set his goals for 2009, they were to reach out to as many people as he could and to change the life of just one person.

“What I didn’t know,” Pretyka said, “is that the one person changed would be me.”

Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 748-0411, Ext. 6686.

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