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Heart Gallery brings unique adoption promotion to Winthrop

While adoptions of children from abroad remain popular, the Children's Board Heart Gallery of Tampa Bay remains determined to help kids right here in Hillsborough County find a forever family.

And it's bringing its program to the Winthrop Town Centre to aid the mission.

The Heart Gallery launches a six-week partnership with shops and restaurants at Winthrop on Monday (Oct. 3) in an effort to boost the chances of 75 children in its touring photo gallery.

"Our larger exhibits are usually at churches or malls or places like the TECO building downtown," said Christie Enderle, exhibits coordinator for the Heart Gallery. "But this is the first time we've had the participation of multiple shops and restaurants within an area."

With the help of Winthrop founder, John Sullivan, the Heart Gallery has created a unique way to benefit local foster children as well as local business.

"We may have made some introductions, but the Heart Gallery was able to reach out and just about everyone they asked to participate said yes for the most part," said Sullivan. "We just talked and brainstormed some ideas, then they started thinking they could do the gallery leading into adoption month."

Each of the participating businesses will feature at least one of 35 children being featured, with a photo and a card of biographical information. For many of the businesses, this will be their first partnership with the Children's Board of Hillsborough County.

"This is something completely new for us," said Sketch and Sip manager Kelly Knox. "We've partnered with a few other fundraisers in the past, but we're very excited to start this and we love doing things for the community like this."

Along with featuring the children, Boca, Sketch and Sip, Ciccio Cali and Eats! American Grill also will stage events and give a portion of profits on specific nights to benefit the Heart Gallery.

"We're going to be hosting an event on the 17th and it's going to be $35 per person and 40 percent of that is going to go to the Heart Gallery," said Knox.

Enderle says the featured children have had a more difficult time finding permanent families either due to their age, medical complexities or the fact that they have siblings and should be kept together.

"A 3-year-old little girl is going to have no problem getting adopted because there is a demand for that sort of thing," Enderle said. "It sounds terrible but it's the truth. No one is calling the system saying I want to adopt a 15-year-old African-American boy today."

The Heart Gallery aims to allow the children to speak for themselves, getting each child's permission prior to their exhibit feature. Since its inception in 2004, the Heart Gallery found that featured children are 30 percent more likely to be adopted.

"For us, awareness is the biggest part of what we do," Enderle said. "The more people are aware, the more compassion people have for these kids who really need families and with that, they'll consider adopting the ones less likely to be adopted."

Contact Kelsey Sunderland at hillsnews@tampabay.com.

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