BRANDON — They call this A Kid's Place and they hope it is.
Here, handmade purple quilts drape three twin beds. White curtains dampen the sunlight. Someone painted the flat concrete walls lavender.
In the bathroom across the hall, children's clothing is folded neatly on shelves. A toddler's blue-flowered cotton dress. A shirt that says "Princess" in pink. A pile of baby's knit caps.
Starting in May, these beds will be slept in. The clothes will be worn. Sisters will listen to the same bedtime stories in bedrooms decorated by strangers. Down the hall, brothers will roll wooden toy cars made by other people's daddies.
"I hope it's not a scary place," says Mary Berg, a volunteer at A Kid's Place, the soon-to-be opened emergency shelter for abused, abandoned and neglected children in Brandon. She started volunteering here last summer by soliciting clothing donations. Now, she's hanging curtains, placing bath mats, trying to imagine what it will be like for the child who comes here, needing a home.
The idea behind the $5.2-million, 60-bed facility was to help public agencies do a better job of caring for kids suddenly thrust into Hillsborough County's foster care system.
Five 12-bed homes are big enough to keep siblings together when taken into state custody. This is a temporary shelter for children from birth to 17. Organizers hope to be able to move children to more permanent homes within a month.
It differs from other shelters in that it is designed to pull under one roof all the necessary services critical to helping children find stability — a place where children can be evaluated and their medical and emotional needs assessed without being moved a half a dozen times.
DeDe Grundel, executive director of Kids Charity of Tampa Bay, the fundraising and planning force behind the house, calls the set-up "state-of-the-art" and "the first of its kind."
Grundel has spent two years on this project. The last few weeks have been consumed by nonstop phone calls to her red Blackberry, runs to Big Lots for inexpensive decor and last-minute planning for today's public grand opening.
Too often, Grundel said, children are taken from abusive situations and hastily placed in homes without being tested in a timely manner to ensure the new home is the best fit.
The result can be more devastating instability, she said.
At A Kid's Place, children are greeted by a room of toys, where they can crawl inside a life-sized pretend tree, watch television, play video games or read. Down the hall, a small medical clinic allows physicians to easily conduct wellness exams.
A large classroom provides resources for an on-site Hillsborough County schools teacher. And though each of the five residential houses is equipped with a central kitchen big enough for the whole house to gather for meals, the administration building contains a cafeteria for big events. Eventually, organizers would like to offer parents job placement services, counseling and parenting classes here.
Kids Charity of Tampa Bay raised $3.5 million in charitable cash donations for the project, plus more than $898,000 in in-kind donations from contractors. Top donors include LazyDays RV SuperCenter, Sammy Sullivan Charities, the Corbett Family Charitable Foundation, Dottie and Sandy MacKinnon, Precise Construction, Sunbelt Rentals, McNichols Company and the Erika & Don Wallace Family Foundation.
Even the smallest offerings serve to transform: colorful quilts from quilting clubs like Peace Makers of Brandon; hand-painted toys from Toy Makers of East Lake and delicate curtains made by a local woman with a sewing machine who told Grundel she just had to do something.
Rebecca Catalanello can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3383.