Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Foster children witness true Christmas spirit

Lynn Walters has spent 20 years sheltering children removed from their homes for various reasons. She and her husband, Jim, adopted eight of them while raising their four biological children.

"We did what we could,'' she said, "but it's never enough. They just keep coming. They're society's children. We all have to take care of them.''

Being a foster parent is especially emotional this time of year. Walters, who lives in Hudson and volunteers with the Pasco Foster/Adoptive Parents Association, routinely asks the children what they want for Christmas. The answer is almost always the same: "Go home.''

Reunification of families is the goal of child advocates, but it's complicated. These days so many children come into the system because their parents are abusing drugs and alcohol. "Prescription pills,'' Walters says. "Parents are hooked on pills. They can't take care of their kids.''

In Pasco County last year, according to state records, 676 children were removed from their homes. Authorities attributed drugs and alcohol in 479 cases. In Hernando County, which has only a fourth of Pasco's population, 207 kids were removed with drugs and alcohol blamed 134 times.

These are depressing statistics, but last week Walters chose to focus on two acts of kindness that brought her to tears.

Today in Weeki Wachee, the Magnolia Terrace Tea Room is feeding 300 children and their foster families from Hernando and Pasco counties. Karen Dennehy has been collecting presents and donations for the children who have signed up for meals at various times from 7:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. She put up trees with the children's first names, their ages and their top three wishes for Christmas. She recruited a Santa and a host of young volunteers, mainly from Weeki Wachee High School.

"Tykes to teenagers,'' she said on Thursday, taking a brief break from hosting a room full of 70 lunchtime diners. "I just want to give these children something positive, a really nice memory. We contacted the foster parents associations in both counties, but I had no idea we would end up with 300 kids. But why not? This is spectacular.''

Dennehy obviously thinks big when it comes to helping the less fortunate in our community. At Thanksgiving, she gathered her staff to cook 1,500 pounds of turkey. "We just wanted to serve people who were lonely,'' she said.

That same benevolent spirit exists at the Alli Gators restaurant at Ridge Road and U.S. 19 in Port Richey, where Warren Dunphy will host 109 children from 17 foster families for dinner at 6 p.m. Tuesday. He's been doing this since 2007, digging into his own pocket to buy gifts for Santa to pass out to the kids.

Last year, Carol Dunphy, his wife of 42 years, helped prepare for the party despite chronic migraine headaches. She bought gifts and wrapped them. Then, one month before the event, she suffered a stroke and died in her sleep.

"She never complained, even when she had such pain,'' her husband said. "It's really tough this time of the year, but having the party for the kids helps. It's good to have something so positive to work on. When you see the kids with their gifts, it just warms your heart.''

One day, some of these kids will get their wish to go home. But for the time being, it's gratifying to know there are kindhearted strangers in our midst willing to sacrifice their own time and money to provide at least a few hours of happiness.

That is the true Christmas spirit.

Foster children witness true Christmas spirit 12/15/12 [Last modified: Saturday, December 15, 2012 8:42am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. No toll lanes north of downtown Tampa in three of four interstate proposals

    Transportation

    TAMPA — Express lanes may not be coming to downtown Tampa after all. Or at least not to the stretch of Interstate 275 that goes north through Bearss Avenue.

    Seminole Heights resident Kimberly Overman discusses the new interstate options with V.M. Ybor resident Chris Vela (left), Hillsborough County Commissioner Pat Kemp and HNTB consultant Chloe Coney during a Tampa Bay Express meeting Monday night at the Barrymore Hotel. [CAITLIN JOHNSTON  |  Times]
  2. No lack of issues facing St. Petersburg's six council candidates

    Elections

    ST. PETERSBURG — The six candidates for City Council gathered Monday evening in the very chamber to which they aspire to serve.

    St. Petersburg City Council candidates (from left)  Brandi Gabbard and Barclay Harless in District 2; Jerick Johnston and incumbent council member Darden Rice in District 4; and Justin Bean and Gina Driscoll of District 6. All six candidates appeared at Monday night's forum at City Hall sponsored by the League of Women Voters. [CHERIE DIEZ   |   Times]

  3. Iraq's Kurds vote on independence, raising regional fears

    World

    IRBIL, Iraq — Iraqi Kurds voted Monday in a landmark referendum on supporting independence, a move billed by the Kurdish leadership as an exercise in self-determination but viewed as a hostile act by Iraq's central government. Neighboring Turkey even threatened a military response.

    People celebrate Monday after voting closed in a referendum on independence in Irbil, Iraq.
  4. North Korean diplomat says Trump has 'declared war'

    War

    UNITED NATIONS — North Korea's top diplomat said Monday that President Donald Trump's weekend tweet was a "declaration of war" and North Korea has the right to retaliate by shooting down U.S. bombers, even in international airspace.

    North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho, center, speaks outside the U.N. Plaza Hotel in New York on Monday.
  5. Pinellas grants St. Pete's request to add millions to pier budget

    Local Government

    Times Staff Writer

    The Pinellas County Commission has granted St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman's request to dedicate millions more toward the city's new pier.

    The St. Petersburg City Council on Thursday  voted 7-1 to appropriate $17.6 million for the over-water portion of the Pier District. This is a rendering of what the new Pier District could look like. [Courtesy of St. Petersburg]