Sometime in the coming weeks, two large groups of siblings placed in foster care will receive a blessing rare in the state's child welfare system. They will remain together under one roof with foster parents, not split apart as is all too often the case.
Those children can thank the generosity, kindness and faith of a number of Manatee County residents and others who donated their time, energy and money to build homes large enough to accommodate this mission. The faith-based Guardian Angles of Southwest Florida and Florida Baptist Children's Homes are behind this project.
In last Saturday's dedication of the first two homes on a seven-acre campus north of Ellenton, the two organizations celebrated quite an accomplishment -- eight years in the making.
Since few foster parents can harbor more than a few children under state care because of neglect, abuse or abandonment, groups of up to six siblings are well neigh impossible to place in a single home.
But now, the first two Guardian Angles Foster Family Homes -- each with six bedrooms, six and a half baths and 3,600 square feet of space -- will strengthen family bonds between siblings and end traumatic separations for some.
The two organizations hope to build on that success by completing a small neighborhood with six or seven additional homes. With more than $2 million raised and another $1.5 million in pledges, the goal stands within reach.
The campus foster parents must be Christian couples willing to care for children from newborn to age 18 -- specifically to provide a stable home in order to create a "forever family" feeling that will nurture a wholesome maturity.
The foster children will come from Manatee, Sarasota and DeSoto counties, placed by the Safe Children Coalition.
With more than 300 children in foster care in the region, many part of a sibling group, and only about 125 licensed foster homes, the need for this new, special campus is great.
In partnership with Bruce Williams Homes, the first two houses went up at a cost of about $232,000 apiece -- remarkable given each sports an estimated market value of well over that, at $400,000. But the general contractor and subcontractors contributed their work at cost or at a discount, additional generosity that will stretch direct monetary donations further.
"After years of work, we got something done," Ed Dick, a Guardian Angels board member and one of the project's founders, told Herald writer Vin Mannix in advance of dedication ceremonies.
"When we really see the children here, it will just be amazing," Bobbie Price, the Guardian Angels board chair, related.
Yes, that will be a bright day indeed.
Our congratulations to Guardian Angles of Southwest Florida and Florida Baptist Children's Homes for "fostering" this tremendous project.
As the campus blossoms in the months and years ahead with more homes, more children and new families, their success will be measured by well-adjusted grownups.
If you want to donate to this cause, contact the Guardian Angels, 1429 60th Ave. W., Suite 200, Bradenton, FL 34207; (941) 792-5374; or email firstname.lastname@example.org.