Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Haven for abused kids in West Tampa celebrates its opening

Mary Lee's House stands as a haven for abused children in West Tampa.

And it doesn't stand alone.

The one-stop, state-of-the-art child protection and advocacy center officially opened in November, and its officials quickly discovered that its neighbors are warm and welcoming. The center's location on N Armenia Avenue just south of Columbus Drive has already yielded dividends, executive director Lisa Colen said.

"The sense of community here is so strong," she added.

On Saturday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., Mary Lee's House stages "Celebrating Children," a three-hour family friendly event that will feature free lunch and snacks, arts and crafts, games and door prizes.

Colen noted that her celebration dovetails perfectly with Tampa Theatre's outdoor series, which will have a free screening of Field of Dreams at the West Tampa Little League facility at 6 p.m. Saturday. The West Tampa Chamber of Commerce, Colen said, has gone above and beyond in supporting both events.

"We want to provide leadership and business opportunities, but we also want to preserve the historical values of the West Tampa community," said Bob Garcia, the chamber's executive director. "In any way we can help (Mary Lee's House), we want to do it."

Both Garcia and Colen agree that the collaboration is good for everyone. Such mutually beneficial situations are common at Mary Lee's House, even though it deals with one of society's most difficult problems.

Based on a national model, the facility brings together child protection and advocacy groups so children who need to be assessed for abuse can be treated under one roof in a friendly environment. The previous system required the child and family to visit various offices.

Now, the Child Protection Team and the Children's Advocacy Center share the second floor of the 30,000-square-foot facility, conducting medical examinations and abuse allegation interviews. Law enforcement, prosecutors and public defenders all have office space in the center, but the design speaks exclusively to children.

The waiting room comes with toys and furnishings. The Lincoln Logs, games and stuffed animals often end up going home with kids. A colorful "Candyland" mural, painted by the USF Fine Arts Club, adorns a second-floor wall.

In short, an ugly act no longer is treated in an ugly place. That's good for the child, the family and the professionals.

"We try to reduce the amount of unpleasantness you have to deal with," said David Banghart, senior child protection specialist.

The first floor houses various advocacy agencies including the Healthy Start Coalition, Child Abuse Council and the APPLE Trauma Center.

Colen likes to say the downstairs is working to put the upstairs out of business, but it's no easy task. Since November, officials have conducted 317 medical exams and 164 interviews.

When a challenging moment is made easier, everyone can take pride, including Mary Lee Nunnally Farrior. She helped establish her house with $1 million in seed money and an unyielding personal drive that resulted in the public-private partnership.

On Saturday, they will celebrate the lives of children, the heroes such as Farrior and a West Tampa community that cherishes its role in helping kids.

That's all I'm saying.

Haven for abused kids in West Tampa celebrates its opening 04/16/09 [Last modified: Monday, November 7, 2011 5:41pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Rick Perry duped by Russian duo impersonating Ukraine leader


    WASHINGTON — Energy Secretary Rick Perry has been fooled by a pair of Russian pranksters impersonating the prime minister of Ukraine.

    Energy Secretary Rick Perry, right, talks with former "Saturday Night Live" comedian and radio host Joe Piscopo, left, at the White House in Washington, Tuesday, July 25, 2017. [Associated Press]
  2. Controversial landfill site could be rechristened as industrial recruiting land in Pasco

    Economic Development

    The east Pasco property of Angelo's Aggregate Materials, which failed to obtain a state environmental permit to be developed as a garbage landfill, is being studied as a potential 1,000-acre mega site for industrial recruitment.

  3. Joe Henderson: At son's wedding, memories of child-rearing build to a perfect moment


    On a secluded beach known as Hawksnest on St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands, a bride-to-be named Heather McNeill hurried along a wooded path to meet the man she was about to marry.

    Heather McNeill married fellow Strawberry Crest High teacher Ben Henderson on a secluded beach in the U.S. Virgin Islands. "They wanted something totally theirs," says Ben's dad Joe Henderson. "I think they had their parents in mind, as well." [Courtesy of Henderson family]
  4. Forecast: Near record-high temperatures, minimal rain in store for Tampa Bay


    Tampa Bay residents can expect a significantly hot Wednesday — possibly record-breaking — and a small chance of pop up showers.

    Tampa Bay's 7 day forecast. [WTSP]