Bonita charity recovers after losing thousands to ex-director

Marjorie Johnson

BONITA SPRINGS, Fla. A charity that helps people get back on their feet is getting back on its own.

The Bonita Springs Assistance Office is receiving more than $35,000 in restitution after former Executive Director Marjorie Johnson pleaded no contest to taking nearly $50,000 from the charity. Johnson was also sentenced to 30 days in jail.

The nonprofit, which helps community residents through temporary economic hardship, went through lean times of its own in the wake of the money’s disappearance.

“Our main goal was to get back the money that belonged to the community,” new Executive Director Teri Lamaine said. “And we just kept forging ahead and focusing on our programs and services during this difficult time.”

The return of the money is good news for Leonor Reales, an immigrant who became an American citizen and a business owner before running into trouble. Her son was about to quit college to help the family when the Bonita Springs Assistance Office stepped up to help.

The organization gave her food, helped her with rent, and hired her to serve other clients.

“I don’t want just people giving me food, so when I see the slogan here, ‘Giving a hand up, not a handout,’ I say this is for me.” Reales said.