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Building block for this family: diversity

By ERNEST HOOPER
Published January 17, 2005


Kid City, the Children's Museum of Tampa, staged a cultural diversity celebration Sunday, but for Kid City president David Penn, diversity is more than a promotion. It's a way of life.

Penn and his wife, Robin, who are white, have two black sons and a multiracial daughter. In November, they brought home brothers Arthur, 9, and Jack, 5, to a family that already included 9-year-old Audrey, the daughter they adopted in 1997.

Each brother had been in seven different foster homes - sometimes together, sometimes apart. With a new sense of stability and love, they reveled over the Christmas holidays. It took 21/2 hours to open all the gifts as each child took a turn.

"I'm going to squeeze the love out of you," Jack likes to say, when he jumps into David's arms. Arthur is more quiet, but loves lawn mowers and other equipment because "they're real." Last week, he took a turn helping the yard man.

When asked what it would be like if they hadn't been adopted, Audrey says, "It would be really, really, really, really, really different."

That's five reallys, perhaps one for each member of her family.

Last March, the Children's Home came to Penn and asked if he would book a special exhibit at Kid City. The Heart Gallery is a collection of professional photographs of children hoping to be adopted, and as Penn looked through a booklet featuring the stories and photos of the kids, he took an immediate liking to Jack and Arthur.

Robin was all for expanding the family.

"We needed some testosterone in the house," Robin said with a laugh.

At an adoption event at the Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI), Jack and Arthur were paired for the Penns for the first time. David carried Jack on his shoulders all day. Arthur also beamed, and the social worker said it was the happiest she had ever seen him.

The first time the boys visited the Penns' home, Arthur asked if he could go get his stuff and move in - now. When the adoption was finalized, they both asked if they would soon be moving to another home.

"We told them, "No,' this is your home. Forever," Robin said.

David, 38, was a young human resources director at a Marriott Hotel in his native Rhode Island when a teen came in to apply for a job, carrying a shopping bag.

"It was kind of odd to bring it in to an interview," David explained. "He said it was his life belongings and he had just been released from the foster group home. On your 18th birthday, you're out. He had nowhere to live, nowhere to go to."

David hired the teen and a friendship developed. He told David how people would look at the foster kids through a glass window like they were in a pet store, always wanting the kittens and puppies, never wanting the older cats and dogs.

"That was when I made it my life's mission to never have a child biologically even though I could .And I wanted a wife who was open to that too," David said. He met Robin while working at that Marriott.

The Penns shower their kids with love and affection, but they also understand the importance of teaching the kids about their own ethnicity.

"A lot of people are afraid you won't let them be a part of your own culture," Robin said. "But that's not true."

Sunday's "Colors Of The World" celebration at the museum next to Lowry Park was a part of those lessons. Indian, Islamic, Cuban, Swedish and Irish were among the cultures represented by nearly 20 groups.

While a vice president at the science museum in Orlando, David helped develop a youth leadership program for underserved kids. It inspired him to want to work with a children's museum, and now he has the daunting task of leading Kid City's capital campaign for a new museum in downtown Tampa.

Nothing would please David more if someone walked in with a huge check, but to me, the Penns' willingness to open up their home and hearts is more impressive.

That's all I'm saying.

--Ernest Hooper can be reached at 813 226-3406 or Hooper@sptimes.com

[Last modified January 17, 2005, 01:05:20]


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