Tampa's Community Stepping Stones has thousands worth of technology stolen from Sulphur Springs arts program

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TAMPA — A Sulphur Springs nonprofit that helps at-risk youth learn through art is reeling after thousands of dollars worth of technology was stolen from its office and classroom space on E River Coast Street.

For just over a decade, Community Stepping Stones has been using art classes and projects to teach children — from age 5 all the way through high school — how to be successful as adults. The program's students have painted murals across the city and even gone on to college.

Despite losing what the group estimates at between $5,000 to $10,000 worth of computers and other electronics, the nonprofit's board chair Karen Frashier said students should still show up for regularly-scheduled classes and programs.

She said this setback won't stop them from helping children.

"We're a small community nonprofit expanding and doing very well to expand our programs," she said, "but to do that we have to have technology for our program directors to work with.

"I won't pretend it will be easy for us to replace that."

Executive director Nestor Ortiz said he arrived at work Monday around 8:30 a.m. and noticed the door was unlocked. When he walked inside the office, he saw the staff's computers were missing. He noticed a broken window in the back of the building and called police.

Tampa police are investigating the burglary, said spokeswoman Andrea Davis. She said three computers, two printers and a television were stolen. A small amount of petty cash was also taken.

"We're just looking at getting some semblance of a peace of mind for us," Ortiz said. "This can happen anywhere, and it has."

The organization has insurance on the building and for accidents, but not theft. Ortiz said the group couldn't afford insurance that included protection from theft.

He said external hard drives that contained the nonprofit's records and grant applications were also stolen, and that data will be hard to recoup. But since grants paid for that equipment in the first place, Frashier said it will be harder to use those same grants to replace what was stolen. She said the group is seeking community support and donations.

Linda Saul-Sena, a former City Council member and current Community Stepping Stones board member, said Tuesday she was taking an extra printer from her house to donate to the group.

"(The program) absolutely has changed some kids' lives," Saul-Sena said. "Why would someone do this during the holidays?"

Contact Sara DiNatale at [email protected] or (813) 226-3400. Follow @sara_dinatale.

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