In the past, children separated from their parents often were sent to orphanages or life-care centers away from their brothers and sisters.
A new center at Hope Children's Home is intended to keep such siblings together and help make their lives without parents less intimidating and uncertain.
The first "cottage of hope" has been completed at Hope, a nonprofit organization at 11415 Hope International Drive that, since 1968, has served abused, abandoned and neglected children. The cottage, which cost about $750,000, was built through funding from Hope and Kforce Professional Staffing services, and with volunteer labor provided by Kforce staff.
Officially opened in August, the 4,000-square-foot Karen Sanders Cottage, named after the wife of Kforce President Bill Sanders, is the first of what eventually will be a six-acre complex of six cottages and an $85,000 play park for children at Hope. Each cottage will house 10 to 12 siblings.
With the first cottage complete, the second should be ready for occupants by late December, said Mike Higgins, Hope's executive director.
"This allows us to be able to take more children into our care and provide a real home for them," he said. "It's also a place to provide a good education. These siblings can't be together in foster care; it's too overrun. Here, we're able to keep them together."
On a recent Tuesday afternoon, Dixie, age 14, stepped outside the Sanders cottage. The eighth-grader from West Palm Beach, whose mother died of a drug overdose and whose father is in prison, has been at the Sanders Cottage since it opened. She said it is far different from the all-girls dormitory where she lived for three years.
"I was with a bunch of girls I didn't know," she said. "I like the cottage. It's like a family setting and it's like we're all brothers and sisters," she said. "It's like the house was taken out of a magazine and just moved here."
Hailey, 10, a third-grader from Plant City, is living at Hope with her two sisters, ages 7 and 8, and her brother, who is 5. She said she was scared they would be separated when they left their mobile home .
"I'm happy we're all together. We like to go outside, and play in the rec room and we do other fun stuff," she said.
(Hope Children's Home asked The Tampa Tribune not to include the children's last names in this story to help ensure their safety.)
Each cottage is staffed, day and night, by a house parent or set of house parents. Houseparent Hannah Johnson, who has been at Hope for about five years, said she looks after two boys and nine girls. She takes them swimming, bike riding and on field trips.
"It brings families closer together," she said.
"They're more conscious of the fact they have brothers and sisters with them and they're not all alone. This gives them the opportunity to live together," Johnson said.
Higgins said the completion of the entire complex depends on funding and in-kind contributions. For information, call (813) 961-1214 or go to www.hope childrenshome.org.