SULPHUR SPRINGS — Patrice Ware makes friendship bracelets with her three children.
It was a special fifth anniversary celebration at Layla's House, a place for families with children ages 0-5 years and expectant parents. And a place that Ware said has made a difference in her life and her children's.
Ware was among about 100 participants in the celebration last week that included crafts, face-painting and chicken and waffles for the children.
"They encourage me to be a better mother, how to deal with things," Ware said. "We come every week and they teach discipline, parenting skills and respect for others.
"It helps get them ready for school and learn how to share with others."
Layla's House program director Latoya Randolph said one of the keys to the nonprofit effort is connecting with families as early as possible.
"If we can help build a real attachment, the better the chance of successful family relationships and safer home environments for the baby and children," Randolph said.
Thus less children taken into foster care, harmed or even killed.
Layla's House, located at 1506 E. Eskimo Ave., is a YMCA facility operated by the Champions for Children. It is funded by the Children's Board of Hillsborough County and operates on a budget of about $330,000 a year.
It is named for Layla Chami who was diagnosed with leukemia at age 15 and died at 16 in July 2008.
Her parents, Maria and Tawfik Chami, wanted to do something to honor her memory and friends helped connect them with the YMCA, which begun a Neighborhood of Promise campaign to improve the low-income, at-risk community.
It opened on Feb. 14, 2012, with a $200,000 investment from the city of Tampa and the donation from the family. Champions for Children was contracted for the programs, patterning it after the successful Baby Bungalow in South Tampa.
Brian McEwen, executive director of Champions for Children, told about 50 people gathered at an anniversary reception Monday night, "Our job is to be aware of risks" to children and families.
Champions began programs that included: Baby University, New Mom's Support group, crafts and activities, a STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics) Program, Nurturing Dads, Childbirth Education, Doula Training and others.
So far, about 1,750 families have been served at Layla's House and another 4,500 reached at community events.
Liz Kennedy, now development director for the Champions for Children, served as Layla's House's first director. She turned it over about 18 months later to Randolph, who worked at the house and previously in the Champions for Children's Parents as Teachers program.
Randolph, 34, has a master's degree in marriage and family therapy and also worked with adoptive parents and foster children.
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"I always wanted to be on the preventive side," said Randolph, who has a 6-year-old daughter, 10-year-old son and a 16-year-old stepson. "We know if a kid is connected to just one person, it is a much better life."
Kennedy credits Randolph as one of the reasons for the success of Layla's House.
"She also has had an enormous impact on Champions for Children. Her responsibilities and expertise have grown each year," Kennedy said. "She is an outstanding young woman with great professional skills and leadership."
Parent Crystal Turner was also among the guests for the Feb. 9 celebration with the children. She attended with her 3-year-old son.
"We love this place. It is an outing for kids to learn, and they support us, and we know that people care,'' Turner said, adding praise for Randolph. "She is wonderful; she loves the kids."
Randolph said she gets pride in seeing young families strengthened and involved in their children's lives and the children starting school on a positive note.
"The children have a completely different future than what it could have been," she said.
Contact Lenora Lake at firstname.lastname@example.org.