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United Way bails out cracked day care

Insurance wouldn't pay for foundation damage caused by drought, so the agency steps in with $60,000.


© St. Petersburg Times, published July 2, 2000

ST. PETERSBURG -- For the past month, employees of the Community Preschool, a 58-year-old day care center in the Lake Euclid neighborhood, circled their building each day and watched with alarm the growing fissures in the walls.

As June began, the porch fell away from the building.

"You could see daylight out of those cracks," said Linda Rollins, executive director of the preschool, which serves about 100 children from its campus at 1665 25th Ave. N. "We were very panicked at that point."

The building is sinking because of a drought-parched foundation. But when Ms. Rollins called the day care's insurance agency, she learned they would not cover the cost of repairs unless the damage was caused by a sinkhole.

Community Preschool would have to close, Rollins said. "We have very few reserves. We don't even have a full month's operating budget."

Ms. Rollins called and wrote to 16 agencies for help. On June 22, one came through.

The United Way of Pinellas County rushed the request through its approval process and granted the school about $60,000 in emergency funds to repair the day care.

"It was really a matter that had to be taken care of and immediately," said Robyn Yegidis, an associate with United Way of Pinellas.

United Way gives out more than $9-million every year in Pinellas County, but most of that money is released to organizations that partner with the charity and undergo a lengthy request process.

But any organization, even ones that don't regularly receive money from United Way, can request the type of emergency funds granted to the Community Preschool.

A check for $550, for instance, went to the Big Brothers and Big Sisters last week so the group could repair their roof.

"Most of these organizations run on a real shoestring. When we have the money, we are happy to help out our fellow people in need," said Paul Mellini, president of First Union Bank for the Tampa Bay area and chairman of the board for United Way of Pinellas.

Community Preschool had a check in hand about a week after asking.

The soil around the school will be tested and Ramate Construction Inc. will straighten the building and patch the walls. Until then, children have been moved from the southwest corner of the building, where the settling is worst, to another classroom.

"I have a stone on my desk that says "Miracle,' " says Ms. Rollins. "We believe in them here."

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