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Crisis Center strives to make a difference

The private, not-for-profit center has moved, but it continues to help Hillsborough families in turmoil.

By JORDAN DYE, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published December 22, 2002

LUTZ22 -- The distance between home and homelessness can be a short, straight line.

The yellow manila folder sitting on Kimberly Sanders' desk tells of a woman whose car broke down. Unfortunately, the $400 repair costs meant she couldn't make her rent.

"That $400 (the center gave her) can save the community thousands," said Sanders, director of family services and travelers aid at the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay. Moving into an emergency shelter could take her away from her job, away from day care and, when she found another permanent home, she'd need deposits all over again.

Founded in 1978, the private, non-for-profit center helps about 140,000 Hillsborough residents a year in times of financial and emotional turmoil. Since its beginnings the center has expanded its services, changed names and moved.

In April 2001 the center finished moving its sundry offices into a former bank building near the corner of Bearss and Florida avenues.

Nearly two years later, workers are seeing the fruits of that move.

Savings in overhead costs freed more money for client services, Sanders said. They were able to hire a director of suicide prevention, with hopes that they could help move talk about suicide -- which claims about 150 Hillsborough lives every year -- out of the closet and onto the kitchen table.

Part of educating the public will be dismantling myths like, "If you mention it you might put it into someone's head -- that's not true," said Cragin Mosteller, the center's public relations director.

Instead, talking about suicide can get people the help they need, she said.

The center also has broadened its outreach efforts. In a new school pilot program that began this year, social workers visit five elementary and middle schools in Hillsborough County, including Mort Elementary. In language children can understand, they talk to students and teachers about safety and about neglect, abuse and domestic violence, with the goal of helping families break cycles of trauma.

Another half-dozen programs at the crisis center help families with child abuse and domestic violence, victims of sexual assault and elderly or disabled clients who rely on daily contact to help them maintain their independence.

Like the woman who needed transportation, Sanders said, "sometimes the smallest intervention makes the biggest difference in someone's life."

* * *

The Crisis Center of Tampa Bay is collecting new and unwrapped toys for children it serves, 3 to 18 years old, for the holidays and beyond. The center also needs volunteers, and training for its hotline will be held in February. To find out more, call 964-1964.

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