Sister Used To Doing 'Right Thing'
THONOTOSASSA - With less than two years before her 50th anniversary as a nun, Sister Claire LeBoeuf is too busy to think about her golden jubilee. She has a residential village to build on a 72-acre site off U.S. 301. "I'm nuts," LeBoeuf said shaking her head, reflecting on all that needs to be done before New Life Village, her pet project for three years, can become a reality. That impression is not shared by the volunteers and supporters who have seen the 66-year-old Sister of the Holy Cross nurture foster children and take care of those who have been hurt or neglected.Based on her track record, they are convinced New Life Village, previously referred to as The Village at Everyday Blessings, will get built. In 1982, LeBoeuf formed the New Life Dwelling Place, a residential program for single mothers in Tampa. Determined to find permanent homes for hard-to-place foster children, she founded Everyday Blessings in 1997. She remains involved with the work of the nondenominational, residential foster care and adoption agency. Her efforts haven't gone unnoticed. The Bank of America Charitable Foundation recently recognized LeBoeuf as one of its 10 Tampa Bay area heroes. LeBoeuf said she was grateful to have been nominated and excited to be named a recipient. She was out of town on business when the $5,000 grant was awarded Nov. 13 at the Tampa Theatre. "I was at a Generation of Hope Conference," she said, referring to the intergenerational community project in Rantoul, Ill., on which the village concept is based. Each year the foundation honors residents, student leaders and nonprofit organizations in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties that make major contributions to local communities. Deciding what to do with the money was a no-brainer, LeBoeuf said. She is the executive director of the newly incorporated New Life Village Inc., a planned interactive community that would support families of adopted foster children and active older adults interested in helping out. "I'm in the process of creating and getting it off the ground," LeBoeuf said. She is seeking donors with deep pockets to help finance the project. She said construction will cost $15 million. LeBoeuf also would like to establish an endowment fund to keep the complex operating. Her proposal calls for a complex of 10 rent-free, single-family homes for families interested in adopting children who are at least 8 years old and their younger siblings. The program is designed to pair couples with foster children who are the least likely to be adopted. Adults 55 or older who are willing to serve as volunteers and surrogate grandparents to the children in the program will be offered below market rental housing. Plans call for 36 units in 18 duplexes built among the single-family homes. "It's based on the concept of the extended family," LeBoeuf said. Sister Jackie Kingsbury, who lives and works at Everyday Blessings, said LeBoeuf remains the tenacious worker she has known since the early 1990s. "She has great compassion for children who find themselves in this position," Kingsbury said. "She is a woman of vision." Ann Shaler, Tampa Bay area marketing manager at Bank of America, said LeBoeuf's commitment to the foster children is legendary. "What the selection committee was really recognizing was the years of service she has already given," Shaler said. "The committee really wants to recognize the works of the unsung heroes who have proven records of doing the right thing for our community." If the funding comes through, LeBoeuf would like to cut the ribbon for the village opening on Aug. 14, 2010, the same day as her golden jubilee.
Reporter Kenneth Knight can be reached at (813) 865-4842.