TAMPA — The people have spoken: They want after-school programs for children, dental care for the low-income and help for the homeless.
On Monday night, about 1,000 people from about two dozen churches came together with the nonprofit group HOPE — Hillsborough Organization for Progress and Equality — to demand these things and more from public officials.
And the public officials agreed.
MaryEllen Elia, superintendent of Hillsborough County schools, agreed that children need after-school supervision.
In front of the crowd, HOPE members asked Elia to commit to raising awareness of after-school programs, such as one already in place that requires the participation and payment of at least 15 students.
Elia promised to spread the word, as long as residents promised to help locate funding to assist the low-income students.
"The cost has to be neutral. Whatever we take in, we can spend. If we don't take it in, then we can't have a program," she said.
Similar calls to action were held across the bay area Monday night with meetings in Sarasota, Pinellas and Polk counties, all in an effort to sway public officials.
In Hillsborough, the annual meeting is making progress on its objectives.
Two years ago, the group asked county commissioners to commit to creating and implementing a program to help the homeless receive birth certificates and identification. Last year, the program helped more than 900.
But it's still not enough, said Tom Atchison, reverend of New Life Pentecostal Church.
"The program needs to be more available and we need a minimum of 1,400 IDs obtained in a 12-month period," he said to David Rogoff, the director of the Hillsborough County Health and Social Services Department.
Rogoff agreed, saying that with the help of volunteers, the county will make it happen this year.
Dental care for low-income families is on the rise, too, since HOPE demanded more.
"We have six locations now, and we only had three clinics and 15 chairs when we first started working with HOPE," said Stephanie Theaker, chief operations officer of Tampa Family Health Centers.
On Monday night, Theaker announced that because of federal stimulus funds that HOPE helped her organization apply for, two more locations with 20 more chairs will open this year to serve low-income residents.
Shelley Rossetter can be reached at (813) 226-3374 or [email protected]