Donor offers challenge
THONOTOSASSA - Over the years, the phrase "It takes a village to raise a child" has become commonplace. It's a perfect fit, though, to the supporters of a project they hope will soon get off the ground. The New Life Village is a program of the St. Francis Foundation and is the brainchild of Sister Claire LeBoeuf, who has spent the bulk of her adult years advocating and providing for the special needs of foster children. The village would provide foster children a safe, stable place to live.The zoning is in place for the 72-acre development and the next step is to raise money for site plans, making it a "shovel-ready" project able to qualify for federal stimulus money earmarked for Hillsborough County. Michaeleon Wright, president of the Wheeler Family Foundation, has made a challenge to LeBoeuf and the project's supporters that if they raise $125,000 by July 31, the foundation will donate $50,000. "I see our current foster care system as broken and many foster parents are just in it for the paycheck," said Wright, a longtime mentor to foster children. LeBoeuf's dream is to turn a site off U.S. 301 into a village consisting of several large homes where parents willing to adopt four children - that would include one child 8 or older and his siblings - can live together temporarily. Parents would pay minimal rent until the family has bonded and the parents are able to make a down payment on a permanent home of their own. Financial planners would be available to assist in achieving that goal. Clustered among the houses would be reduced-rent apartments for seniors who take on the role of surrogate grandparents. Additional tutoring and therapy would be available when necessary. "It's a win-win situation," LeBoeuf said. "Angry, hurting children will find peace and family, and parents will find affordable adoption services and live in a community that is focused on supporting their new family," she said. "Retirees will find new meaning in their lives ... and a renewed sense of being needed." Don Dixon, the chief operating officer of The Children's Board, shared those thoughts. "The likelihood of living in a stable, loving environment is missing for most foster kids, especially the older ones," he said. "This is a worthwhile effort and I think anyone who is able needs to donate money toward it." Supporter Carolyn Miller sees it as a perfect opportunity to help people rally around one another. "Even if the challenge doesn't work we'll have that much more in our pockets to work from," she said. "The way things are now the kids get shuffled around and they get the shaft in the long run. Usually they end up in trouble with the law." Gule Colvin of Grant Pathways is a New Life Village board member and has assisted other volunteers in writing grants for the program. "It's a very exciting time and I'm hopeful it will provide the jumpstart we need for the development," Colvin said. "I think it provides a unique setting and a method to address a problem we know has existed for years." HOW TO CONTRIBUTE WHAT: New Life Village grant challenge WHEN: donation deadline is July 31 WHERE: Send checks, payable to New Life Village, to 13133 St. Francis Lane, Thonotosassa FL 33592 INFORMATION: Sister Claire LeBoeuf, (813) 982-9226, ext. 234
Reporter Joyce McKenzie can be reached at (813) 731-8026.