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Pinellas Park charity helps homeless teens do laundry

Kay Tillinghast, right, a street outreach specialist with Family Resources, has a conversation last week with Solanyi Cabrera, 19, who has bounced between living with her grandmother and staying in motels for the past four years.
Kay Tillinghast, right, a street outreach specialist with Family Resources, has a conversation last week with Solanyi Cabrera, 19, who has bounced between living with her grandmother and staying in motels for the past four years.
Published Mar. 18, 2013

ST. PETERSBURG

It takes 16 quarters to wash a bundle of clothes at Quick Way Laundry and another six to dry it. Multiply that by the number of homeless teenagers who come to Kay Tillinghast with backpacks full of dirty laundry and you have an expensive charitable habit.

Every week for the past few years, Tillinghast, who works for the nonprofit Family Resources, has been helping runaways and shelter kids do laundry. Most Tuesdays, she rounds up a few in her minivan — "any more than two or three and it takes on a party atmosphere," she says — and brings them to the outdoor coin laundry on Lown Street.

For a few hours, while the washing machines are spinning, she has a captive audience for case management and mothering. But the quarters have added up.

Family Resources has launched a campaign called Quarters for Kids to collect donations. They're welcome in coin form — the St. Paul United Methodist Church in Largo already handed in more than $200 in quarters.

Earlier this week, while a 19-year-old napped in the trunk of her car, Tillinghast folded the girl's clothes. The sleepy teenager, Solanyi Cabrera, has been living on the street, on and off, for the past four years. At times, she said, she and a friend slept on the benches inside the coin laundry.

"We used to make it look like we were washing clothes," she said. "If somebody came over, we just acted surprised, like, 'Oh sorry! I fell asleep!' "

There is now a chance that Cabrera could get an apartment of her own. Family Resources started its own housing program and built a small apartment complex for youth ages 18 and older who are either homeless or have aged out of the foster care system.

Cabrera is one among many on a long waiting list, Tillinghast said, but first she must find a job.

As Tillinghast helps another young woman fold her clothes on a recent Tuesday, she finds a lighter in a pants pocket and holds it up disapprovingly.

"I thought you'd quit smoking," Tillinghast says.

The woman, who dropped out of high school and left home after turning 19, says the lighter isn't hers.

Anna M. Phillips can be reached at aphillips@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8779.

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