Children's Cancer Center celebrates newly-renovated facility

Nick, a 5-year-old with leukemia, plays the drums recently 
at the newly rejuvenated Children's Cancer Center in Tampa. Photo by Andy Warren
Nick, a 5-year-old with leukemia, plays the drums recently at the newly rejuvenated Children's Cancer Center in Tampa.Photo by Andy Warren
Published October 8 2015

With a guitar, a drum set and a small sound system, musicians Donnie Rogers and Jeff Baker came to entertain at a recent gathering at the Children's Cancer Center, but in a move befitting the mission of the center, they allowed 5-year-old Nick to beat on the drums the same way he's trying to beat leukemia.

The center, a nonprofit organization, serves families of children with cancer or chronic blood disorders being treated in Tampa.

"Kids need more than medicine to be well," said Patty O'Leary, Children's Cancer Center chief operating officer. "That's what this place gives."

Nick took a turn on the drums during a Sept. 22 celebration of the center's renovated Cypress Street facility. Officials acknowledged three different donors for turning the dream of an improved center into a reality: Covelli Family Limited Partnership; the Leo and Anne Albert Charitable Trust; and the social entrepreneur group 13 Ugly Men.

"When we moved into the site 12 years ago, we didn't have enough funds to improve the exterior," O'Leary said. "Now, it's like pulling up to a new home."

Covelli, a franchisee of Panera Bread that uses programs like Knead for Knowledge and Dough-Nation Community Breadbox to spur donations from its Panera customers, presented a $250,000 check to the center that helped complete improvements to the facade and, more importantly, the contents of the building.

"The generosity of our customers amazes me every day," said partnership owner Kevin Ricci. "This wouldn't be possible without them.

"We have the ability to impact lives here in the community with a tangible result."

The Albert Charitable Trust donated $100,000 to remodel a previously dilapidated playground, transforming it into a patient-friendly area with a rubberized surface and special, high-backed swing seats. Leo and Anne, residents of Palm Beach, were victims of cancer.

"We felt like this was something that should be done," trustee Gene Pranzo said. "I know the Alberts would be smiling if they were here."

The 13 Ugly Men, which hosts parties to raise money for charities, donated $25,000 to help renovate the basketball court located behind the building.

"This was a perfect fit," said Lee Mezrah, 13 Ugly Men's charity committee chairman.

The center transformed the basketball court into a reception area where stories were shared and some tears were shed. Joining Nick was 5-year-old Alex, who also has leukemia. The two handed out fliers with bright smiles as they reveled in their new home away from home.

The center helps families in all three phases of cancer treatment: in treatment, off treatment and bereavement.

"(The center) has brought light to our life during the darkest time possible," said Nina, Alex's mother.

Contact Andy Warrener at [email protected]