TAMPA — Amy Elam led visitors through red and blue preschool classrooms with tiny toilets, community rooms and meeting spaces and one of the 52 apartments, that look like hotel suites, at Metropolitan Ministries newly finished expansion.
Elam and her 12-year-old daughter are among 41 families and nine single women who currently live at the shelter and will move into the apartments next door, called MiraclePlace.
The expansion will allow Metropolitan Ministries to shelter twice as many people.
Downstairs, a side door opens to an entryway with curved glass blocks etched with a girl blowing a dandelion's seeds into the wind. Donors' names will soon be carved onto the blocks.
From there, doors open to preschool classrooms, a play therapy room with a two-way mirror for parents to observe and a vibrantly painted indoor play space with floor-to-ceiling windows.
The building also has a room where parents can take classes to work toward self sufficiency.
Up a flight of stairs, apartments branch off an L-shaped hallway, each opening with a key card, like a hotel. Elam led a group inside an apartment where yellow tiles cover the floor. A small sitting area leads to a single bed by a window. To the right, is a bathroom with a shower and two sinks. One small bedroom has a door and a window with storage containers under bunk beds. When current residents toured last week, some cried, Elam said. Especially popular is a laundry room with 12 washers and dryers. The old building has just three.
The first phase of construction, which completed the 54,500-square-foot living space and an expanded dining space, cost $13 million. Community and corporate donors, including an anonymous donor who earmarked funds to pursue an LEED Gold certification, funded the project, said Metropolitan Ministries' spokeswoman Gwen Harmon. An additional $8 million is still needed to complete phase two, which includes a garden, gymnasium and chapel.
As part of Monday's tour, Elam showed visitors one of Metropolitan Ministries old family shelters, like the one where she lives with her daughter. The shelter wouldn't accept her husband because he has a recent battery charge. In the old apartments, each family sleeps in a small room with white block walls, bunk beds and a single light. When children go to sleep, parents sometimes use flashlights to read.
Now, the children can sleep in a separate room.
Once residents move into MiraclePlace, plans call for the 44 rooms in the old family shelter to be renovated and reopened early next year for short-term stays, in line with their original design. Shelter organizers hope this will eliminate the waiting list, that averages three to six months.
Inside the dining hall painted a lively spring green, visitors ate sandwiches and cookies Monday and wrote inspirational words in Bibles that shelter workers plan to give to new residents.
In one of the Bibles, Cristina Cain, a candidate for the Hillsborough County Commission, shared a scripture and a message of encouragement:
Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.
May God bless the reader of his word in great ways never expected.
Elisabeth Parker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3431.