THONOTOSASSA — The nun needs money. Lots of it. Fast.
"I need people to see what we're trying to build," said Sister Claire LeBoeuf, 66, of Sisters of the Holy Cross. "I need rich people. But nuns don't know rich people."
She read somewhere that Jodi Foster didn't feel fulfilled, despite all her success. She heard former Bucs coach Tony Dungy has a heart for kids. She wrote to them.
"If I could just get to them," said the nun, "I know they would want to help."
She would invite potential donors to her trailer in the woods and show them the home she helps run, where 17 foster kids live with counselors in long dorms. Then she would give them a tour of the 72 acres she bought for cheap in the 1980s.
"With your help," she would say, "it could be a village of hope."
The nun doesn't have much time. She has to raise $125,000 by the end of July.
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Sister Claire joined the convent at 17 and has spent a half-century helping children. Babies who have been abused, teenagers taken out of their homes. She sees so many groups of siblings — three, four and five brothers and sisters — who can't get adopted because who can take in five troubled children?
A few years ago, she had a vision: a village for about 80 people, with 10 big houses for big families. And duplexes for seniors who would be surrogate grandparents.
Couples would adopt at least four children, then move into a furnished, seven-bedroom home for about $500 a month. One parent would work outside the village; the other would get about $20,000 to care for the kids.
Seniors could pay reduced rates for duplexes if they spent at least six hours a week tutoring, babysitting, helping with yard work and meals.
In May, after working for four years to secure zoning changes and draw plans, everything was approved. But there was no money to begin building. "God will provide," friends kept saying.
She would counter, "God helps those who help themselves."
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In June, Sister Claire's phone rang. A woman introduced herself and said she wanted to see the site. Michaelon Wright said she was president of a charitable trust and might be able to help.
Wright toured the property and asked, "How much would it cost to get your project shovel-ready?"
If Sister Claire were ready to build, the project could be eligible for federal stimulus money — maybe even enough to build all the houses.
Sister Claire thought and figured. "About $125,000," she said.
The first week in July, she got a letter from the Wheeler Family Foundation in Troy, Mich.. If she could raise $125,000 by the end of the month, the foundation would donate $50,000.
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In her cluttered office in the back of the trailer, she made a list of everyone she knew. She wrote a letter asking for help and included a color brochure. She mailed 300 packages, then forwarded the plea to all 700 people in her e-mail, including the president of the local Notre Dame alumni association.
She talked to the Rotary Club. Churches. Foster care agencies. A doctor in Dade City said he knew a billionaire he would ask. He couldn't tell her the guy's name, but …
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The nun can't sleep. She keeps thinking, "What haven't I done?" She caught a cold and lost her voice but keeps making calls. The other day, for the first time, she played Powerball.
She can't just let $50,000 slip away.
Someone sent $5,000. Someone else mailed $1,000. Someone held a dinner party and raised $500. "Several sisters sent me money, but to them, $10 is a fortune," Sister Claire said.
She even kicked in her entire salary for July: $1,000. "It's not much," she said. "But it's everything I have."
By Friday, she had raised only $15,000.
"I wish I knew what else to do," Sister Claire said. "I wish God would give me an outline."
Or Jodi Foster's phone number.
Lane DeGregory can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8825.