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A Kid's Place honors founder Dottie Berger MacKinnon

VALRICO — Many kids' lives will be changed by Dottie Berger MacKinnon, even though many of those kids may never meet her.

But for years, even decades, Berger MacKinnon will be there in the courtyard of her beloved A Kid's Place facility — in a bronze-cast reminder of her generosity.

The former Hillsborough County commissioner and founder of the Valrico-based temporary residence center for abused or neglected children was honored there Friday by more than 100 friends and supporters.

Her husband, Sandy, presented a special gift just in time for Valentine's Day: plans for a statue on the grounds of A Kid's Place of Berger MacKinnon reading to a child.

A survivor of breast cancer, Berger MacKinnon was diagnosed last year with cancer of the bile duct.

"Sandy wants the kids to know about her. He wants the kids to see her," said event organizer Cathy Unruh, tearfully reading a message for him because he said he would probably cry. "It will weather the storm, just as Dottie weathered the storm."

Before A Kid's Place opened in 2009, kids taken from abusive homes were often separated from siblings as they bounced around the foster care system.

Rescued children now stay at the comfortable, colorful houses at A Kid's Place for up to a month while officials work to find a more stable home for groups of brothers and sisters.

Just this week, the center was licensed to house another 12 kids, bringing capacity to 60. Almost 50 are there now.

To make room, Berger MacKinnon said, it will open a fifth residence hall. Organizers said Friday it will bear the name Dottie Berger MacKinnon House.

Never one to bypass an opportunity, Berger MacKinnon took the microphone to say thank you and added a lucrative offer:

"For $400,000, I'll put your name on that house!" she said.

The fundraising arm of the operation, Kids Charity of Tampa Bay, is trying to match a $1 million gift from Sandy MacKinnon intended to pay off the center's debt.

Opening the place cost $5.2 million — $3.5 million of which was paid off soon after. Then there's Sandy MacKinnon's gift, plus $868,000 raised in the matching effort so far.

Between plugs for donations, those who know and work with Berger MacKinnon lauded her dedication and tenacity.

Sheriff David Gee talked about how tough it was to break up siblings after removing them from inadequate parents. It tore him up to see three kids sitting in three separate patrol cars, headed for different places in the middle of the night. But no more.

"Dottie taught us a lot," Gee said.

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi called her "an angel here on Earth."

And under the gray, chilly skies, Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio declared it "a beautiful day."

Kim Wilmath can be reached at (813) 661-2442 or kwilmath@sptimes.com.

A Kid's Place honors founder Dottie Berger MacKinnon 02/11/11 [Last modified: Friday, February 11, 2011 11:16pm]
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