Children playing football on a playground is a pretty common sight and can be found just about anywhere, unless the young players are joined by someone like former Patriots and recently drafted Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Tyrone McKenzie.
Such was just the scene at A Kid’s Place of Tampa Bay, during McKenzie’s recent visit to the unique, state-of-the-art, 60-bed facility that cares for abused, neglected or abandoned children.
“What this facility is able to accomplish is amazing,” McKenzie, a Riverview High School graduate, said, commenting on the five-building, 12-bed home. “It is like a university. I have been here before and it is a blessing to be back.”
McKenzie’s visit to the center has a lot to do with his mom Ruth McKenzie playing a major role in the smooth functioning of the children’s care as system navigator.
“I am very happy to have Tyrone back closer to home and that he can came and visit these children here at A Kid’s Place,” Ruth said while mentioning that all of her children, including Tyrone’s three sisters Tonya, Regina and Kaitlin, are involved with caring for area youth.
Besides the little ones, whose appreciation of a visit by a real professional football player was clearly plastered on their faces, Tyrone’s visit was also the highlight of the day for A Kid’s Place chair Dottie Berger MacKinnon.
“It is just great to have Tyrone come and tour the facility and visit with the children as it means so much to them to be valued, noticed and cared for,” MacKinnon said.
A Kid’s Place boasts of five 3,200 sq. ft. homes, located on five acres in Brandon, and utilizes a live-in house parent model, which provides the children at each home with consistency, while simulates family living.
According to MacKinnon, 67 percent of the children taking shelter at the facility until placed at a permanent home are under 5 years of age. The average stay is 49 days at present, but some have stayed for as long as a year, as there is no limit to the length of stay for any of the children.
“We do not decide how long any of the kids stay here with us,” she said. “We are simply care givers with the goal of providing each child an enriching experience that will instill hope, encourage growth and provide opportunities for success.”
There is very little doubt about MacKinnon’s passion for the children. A tireless child advocate and former Hillsborough County commissioner, who is currently fighting a personal battle with cancer, has raised millions to build Joshua House, a haven in Lutz for children removed from their families. The facility has been in operation since 1994.
MacKinnon has also started the Friends of Joshua House Foundation to raise more money but, following the opening of A Kid’s Place in 2009, she is exclusively focused on its smooth function 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, which she said costs approximately $500,000 per year.
The total cost of lunch the facility amounted to $5.5 million, but MacKinnon explained that the Brandon home for the children has been a success as it was expected right from the start.
“A Kid’s Place of Tampa Bay is exactly what I wanted to see,” she said. “I knew that the Brandon community was going to be there for our kids, which played a major role in choosing its current location.”
“Our biggest need is money,” MacKinnon said, as she mentioned that for anyone wishing to help and support the facility the best way is through monetary donations. “Of course, we never say no to any help or donation.”
The facility can also use paper products, kitchen supplies, and diapers, just to name a few.
While for McKenzie, promising to support the facility’s continued success there was no doubt, the best help seemed to come from his brief one-on-one time with the young ones on the play ground.
“I can see that I will be making new friends here today,” he said.
For more information about A Kid’s Place of Tampa Bay located at 1715 Lithia Pinecrest Rd. in Brandon, please visit www.akidsplacetb.org or call 381-3839.