PALM RIVER — For Sister Claire LeBoeuf, it was a 50-year dream come true.
For board chairwoman Julie Farber, it's a wonderful experience.
For Toni Robles, it is a place with a phenomenal purpose and heaven-sent people.
They are referring to the inter-generational community of New Life Village, an 11.8-acre gated complex of 31 two-story, two- and three-bedroom low-rent townhomes. It opened in 2012 and is designed for families raising foster and adopted children.
The village also contains a playground, a pool and a 3,000-square-foot clubhouse including a learning center. It also has become home for a few families in which former foster kids have been reunited with their birth parents, and some seniors, who serve as surrogate grandparents.
LeBoeuf, a Catholic nun and member of the Sisters of the Holy Cross, founded New Life. Robles is a resident of New Life, where for close to three years she's been raising her four adopted youngsters: ages 7, 8, 9 and 11.
"I absolutely love it here because all the children who live here have so much in common," Robles said. "Plus, this village is so amazing in that everybody comes together in welcoming new people and helping out in any way we can."
LeBoeuf — also the founder of Everyday Blessings in Thonotosassa, a group home for foster sibling groups awaiting transition into safe and permanent dwellings — has devoted her entire adult years toward trying to find forever homes for children who have been removed from their biological parents due to neglect, abandonment or abuse.
Last year, in recognition of her hard work on behalf of those kids, she received the Tampa Bay Lightning's $50,000 Community Hero award.
One fifth of the reward was allocated for the village's learning center, including money to purchase 20 tablets and charging stations; $20,000 went toward helping to alleviate incidental costs incurred by adopting families even though there is no adoption fee. The remainder was earmarked for the village's general operation fund.
The award, said LeBoeuf, gave confirmation to the importance of finding loving and permanent homes for kids in need.
"My goal has been to end having children in foster care for more than a year," LeBoeuf said.
Luanne Panacek, who took over as executive director in February, sees joining the effort as divine intervention.
She also was delighted to recently report that every unit in the village is occupied. But with that said, she noted the need for additional residences to house more fostering families and adoptive parents and children.
"We would like to have some single-story units and some with bigger spaces," Panacek said. "We have a waiting list, including a couple of seniors and two families who would like to move here."
Sadly, she added, there are more children in the Tampa Bay area in need of foster care and permanent homes than there are in Miami.
"We've got the highest number in the state," said Panacek.
Toward that end, New Life Village plans to kick off a $50 million capital campaign early next year.
"I'd like to have a multi-function center with movable walls for a gym or exercise room, a kitchen, and where we could have weekend worship services," LeBoeuf said. "I'm just dreaming (again) but it could be an activity center for residents and non-residents as well."
Other wants for the village include an overhead cover for the playground to shelter the children from the hot sun, a slip and slide, and new patio furniture for around the pool.
Sister Aline Antil, 77, also a member of Sisters of the Holy Cross, retired from her missionary work in Haiti last year and at LeBoeuf's invitation she moved into one of the townhouses at the village in the fall.
In addition to participating in various activities at the village and happily inviting kids in when they knock at her door, she helps tutor children in the after-school program.
"I have a great love for children, and I've found this to be very enriching but very challenging, of course," said Antil, noting that while many children in Haiti come from poor families, none are neglected.
Farber, herself a mother of two, said she feels blessed by how much they've accomplished, but is eager to get more buildings and bring more kids in.
Visit newlifevillage.org to learn more about the nonprofit organization and log on to heartgallerytampabay.org for information about local children in need of forever homes.
Contact Joyce McKenzie at [email protected]