Twenty-one years ago, Mike Higgins and his wife Chris arrived in Tampa to assume leadership at Hope Children’s Home. Founded in 1968, the faith-based facility houses children in need of temporary or permanent placement. Located on 55 acres of wooded land, Hope is currently home to 62 children ranging in age from infant to teen.
The property accommodates Hope Christian School, boys and girls dormitories, as well as three 4,000-square-foot cottages. Three more cottages are under construction, the first being set to open in February. I spoke to Higgins about Hope's needs for the holidays.
How can people best help Hope this holiday season?
This time of year, we receive a lot of toys donations. People come out and host parties for the kids. One thing we really need is to raise funds to furnish our new cottages. On our website, people can register for certain items they'd like to donate as well.
What makes a cottage different from a dormitory?
The cottages provide a more family-like atmosphere for siblings. They offer a way to keep brothers and sisters in the same house. They each have their own living room and kitchen, so we are able to emulate the family atmosphere even more.
Can you tell me more about Hope Christian School?
All children on the property attend our school, because education is a really big part of what we do. A lot the children come from generations under the effects of under-education, many from lines of generational drug abuse. It is our mission to break that pattern. And of course, faith is the biggest part of that. Ninety-five percent of our graduates go on to college.
How are children placed at Hope?
When people have a need, most hear about us from churches or pastors. Recently, a mother placed her four children with us because she is a single mom and after losing her job, she lost everything. We told her we would take them in for as long as she needed to get back on her feet, then they will be placed right back in her care. Ultimately, reuniting the children with their families is the goal. Some of the children don't have parents, but those who do are able to go off property and spend time with their families.
Your children grew up serving at Hope and continue to do so. Did you expect them to become involved as adults?
We never had any inkling our children would grow up to be part of the ministry. When my wife and I felt the call to serve here, we sold everything that wouldn't fit in a U-Haul and made the trip. After college, my son Ryan and his wife, Julie, worked at Hope. My son Matthew did the same. Ryan went into politics and opened his own consulting firm. Matthew is now Hope's administrative director.
After 21 years at Hope, do you see yourself remaining part of the ministry for years to come?
Yes. We will retire here and we actually have a 38-year succession plan in place. Matthew will be the next executive director. We want to know the ministry will remain in good hands.
Do you keep in touch with many of the residents who have went off to college, the work force and on to raise their own children?
We do. For many, this is home. They come home for the summer and work on the property. Some are coming for holiday dinner and bringing back their own families.
Why do you think Hope’s success rate is so high?
It's the faith we instill in the children that breaks the generational cycle.
For more information on Hope Children's Home, 11415 Hope International Drive, visit www.hopechildrenshome.org.
New Tampa Women’s Connection will host a luncheon themed ‘Picture Perfect Christmas’ from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Dec. 17 at Tampa Palms Country Club, 5811 Tampa Palms Blvd. Tickets are $20 pay at the door but reservations must be made by Dec. 10. Email Beckyburge@yahoo.com.