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Visionary Nun Brings Hope To Children

Sister Claire LeBoeuf has immersed herself in the lives of children since the day she took vows with the Sisters of the Holy Cross in 1962. Her journey has been long and varied. Today, at age 65, she's still motivated. She founded and remains involved in the work of Everyday Blessings, a nondenominational adoption agency on 72 acres off U.S. 301 in Thonotosassa. Its goal is to provide safe, stable, permanent homes for abused and neglected children. Born and raised in Hudson, N.H., LeBoeuf was attracted to the lifestyle of the nuns who taught her. In 1960, she entered the Sisters of the Holy Cross community in Nashua, N.H. She earned her bachelor's in education at Notre Dame College in Manchester, N.H., then taught school until she moved to Florida in 1976 after earning her master's at Rivier College in Nashua, N.H.
"I visited friends in Largo," she said, "then two days later had to back my car out of a snowdrift in New Hampshire. I'd just earned my master's in counselor education ... and asked to pursue my studies in Florida." She furthered her education, then worked with Hillsborough County's Child Abuse Council from 1978 to 1982. "I was the educational coordinator," she said. "I did community training, presentations and worked with school system social workers." In 1982, she formed the New Life Dwelling Place, a residential program for single mothers in Tampa. The life of a nun, she said, changed radically during those times. "It was easy just to wear the habit and be told what to do," she said. "Then, we were encouraged to make decisions and work in the world." Today's approach suits her leadership style. "I've learned - with humility - that I am a woman of vision," she said. "I don't just have ideas. I see how they can be created." Everyday Blessings emerged from that vision. "Now I'm executive director for The Village at Everyday Blessings. It doesn't exist yet." On the drawing board, the village is an interactive neighborhood created to support families of adopted foster children. Her proposal calls for a complex of 10 single-family rent-free homes for adoptive families willing to take in four special-needs and/or older foster children. She has a site plan, has calculated the costs of the project and has the passion to make it happen. All she lacks is $50 million. But she's moving forward with optimism grounded in belief. "If someone wants to give $15 million for naming rights to the village, they're in," she said. "A million will name one of the buildings." The village is modeled after the Generations of Hope project in Illinois and, if funding comes through, will be built upon the ideal of intergenerational support. It will house foster children, families in the process of adopting and senior citizens who can offer their skills and wisdom, she said. "The need is for adoptive homes for kids 8 years and older and large sibling groups," LeBoeuf said. "This is a very specific population. There will be support systems in place, attachment therapists and departure dates determined by the community so families will be able to make it." She said construction will cost $15 million. The balance of donations will go to an endowment fund. "My vision is to break ground by the end of the year," she said. "Two hundred thousand dollars will get the ball rolling. "I believe in the people of this county. When the truth is presented, they come up to bat. They respond to what is needed. Do we want to be known as the community that gives up on children when they reach age 8?" MEET SISTER CLAIRE LeBOEUF WHAT: Founder, Everyday Blessings WHERE: 13129 St. Francis Lane, Thonotosassa BORN: Hudson, N.H.; 1942 TOOK VOWS: 1962 EDUCATION: Notre Dame College, Manchester, N.H.; Rivier College, Nashua, N.H. MOVED TO FLORIDA: 1976 CONTACT: www.sffinc.org or (813) 982-9226

Derek Maul can be reached at [email protected]

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