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A woman of God, a champion of children

By BILL VARIAN

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 24, 2001


TAMPA -- Sister Claire LeBoeuf grew up in a loving family.

But after her mother died when she was 13, she was left to compete for her father's attention as he moved on and remarried.

Against those dual experiences, Sister LeBoeuf, 58, has devoted her adult life to helping troubled children. Hillsborough County commissioners on Wednesday recognized her work aiding the adoption of foster children by presenting Sister LeBoeuf with the 2001 Moral Courage Award.

"I often get asked, 'How does a nun know anything about raising children?' " Sister LeBoeuf said during the award ceremony at County Center. "I can still remember what it's like to be a child."

The award, the County Commission's highest honor, recognizes people who challenge government for the betterment of the community.

In 1998, Sister LeBoeuf founded the non-profit adoption agency Everyday Blessings in Thonotosassa, through the St. Francis Foundation. The agency helps speed up adoptions for children in foster care, partly by helping train prospective parents.

Sister LeBoeuf also spends much of her time dealing with state agencies and the courts. There she challenges the tendency to favor the rights of parents over those of children with policies that favor reuniting children with birth parents who are sometimes unable or unwilling to care for them.

"She's extremely tenacious. But she's also diplomatic," said Laura Ackenback, an attorney who formerly worked with Sister LeBoeuf, a guardian ad litem, before moving into private practice. He nominated Sister LeBoeuf for the recognition: "She's tireless."

Sister LeBoeuf has spent more than 20 years working with troubled children. Before founding Everyday Blessings, she worked for 11 years with New Life Dwelling Place. That residential center aided mothers trying to regain custody of their children by helping them clean up their lives.

Accepting the award, Sister LeBoeuf said she thinks courage has a lot to do with passion, and she said she has plenty of that when it comes to children.

"For me it simply means to set my sights on a goal and to keep walking," Sister LeBoeuf said.

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