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New wing to shelter those who soothe kids

An addition to the Joshua House stems from a great deal of adult caring.

By BILL COATS, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published February 17, 2002


LUTZ -- It will be a good place for talking about bad things.

It will be a place where the children of Joshua House, who must be sheltered from their own parents, will be able to sit with psychologists, sort out what happened and reason their way toward a normal life.

"Ninety-eight percent of them have been sexually abused, and kids don't understand why that's happened," said Linda Hess, development specialist at Joshua House. "Some of these kids come here and they won't even speak."

Such will be the challenges tackled in the Kiwanis Therapy Center at Joshua House, the latest expansion at the 10-year-old children's home on Hanna Road.

The 4,600-square-foot building, with 12 offices and two group therapy rooms, will house the clinical services of Joshua House. Those services compete for space in the campus' administrative building, particularly since the home's population was enlarged by 12 last year to 60 children, including six teenage mothers and their babies.

Although construction of the therapy center began last month, a ceremonial groundbreaking on the 11-acre campus is scheduled for 3 p.m. Friday. The public is invited.

The building is largely an initiative of a local Kiwanis Club.

The Kiwanis Club of Greater Brandon was visited a year ago by Dottie Berger MacKinnon, a Joshua House founder and its director of development and community relations. She was a familiar face at the breakfast club. MacKinnon represented Brandon on the Hillsborough County Commission in the 1990s, and was a longtime friend of several of the Kiwanians.

A few weeks after hearing MacKinnon's speech, one of her friends in the club startled the other Kiwanians by proposing they fund a building for Joshua House, recalled Dick Doty, one of the members.

"We had never tried anything close to that," he said.

But the idea caught on, and soon the 47-member club was discussing who might coordinate the effort.

"My hand went up," said Doty, a 64-year-old retired Army colonel. "I tried to drag it back down, but for some reason I couldn't get it down."

Now, the club has committed to raise $150,000, more than half the building's $278,000 cost, before 2005. Most of the remaining $128,000 should be covered through donations of work and materials, said Jackie Bennett, an assistant to Johnson. Joshua House expects to raise the remainder, Ms. Hess said.

Doty is enlisting the help of Hillsborough County's nine other Kiwanis clubs, and is managing a big-bucks golf tournament at MacDill Air Force Base each November.

In the meantime, expenses are to be loaned by the Children's Home Society of Florida, which operates Joshua House, or by the Joshua House Foundation, Ms. Hess said.

The therapy center is to open this summer.

The construction project, as with Joshua House's previous six buildings, will be laced with donated or cut-rate materials and labor.

On Saturday, the local Masonry Contractors Association plans to marshal more than 40 masons, apprentices and suppliers, all working for free to raise the therapy center's walls in a single day.

Mirrors, pipes and even soil pesticide are being donated. Architects worked for free and the site was cleared for free. Precise Construction Inc., which has supervised construction of every Joshua House building, is doing the current job for free. Owner Greg Johnson is an old friend of MacKinnon's.

"Dottie went to Greg's church," Mrs. Bennett said.

- Bill Coats can be reached at (813) 269-5309 or coats@sptimes.com.

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