TAMPA, Fla. – Sister Clarie Leboeuf is proud of New Life Village, a safe haven she helped create to get children out of the foster care system.
“If you’re in foster care and you’re moved around every four to six months or more, then where do you hang your hat? With whom do you form attachments? And you know that it’s very important for children to form attachments early in life so that they will know how to form attachments and build and stay in good relationships when they’re adults,” Leboeuf shared.
Sister Clarie founded New Life to offer support for the families who adopt foster children.
“We find families who are willing to adopt children out of the foster care system and live within an environment of support and understanding from other families similar to theirs and from other children who can relate very well to those children,” she said.
The community provides a permanent and caring environment for adopted foster children and their families.
“We’re like that old-fashioned community, old-fashioned neighborhood where the neighbors all work together to keep an eye on the kids and raise the kids,” said Mariah Hayden, executive director of New Life Village. “We’re actually a community living the proverb-it takes a village to raise a child.”
Florida is third in the United States with more than 22,000 children in foster care and Hillsborough County leads the state with more than 2,000 kids.
“New Life Village is the only community in the state of Florida doing what we’re doing. There are others around the country, but we’re the only one in Florida. It’s definitely a model that’s needed here in Tampa,” Hayden explained.
Jonathan Brown enjoys the tight-knit family.
“I like it that everyone is nice here,” he commented. “There’s barely any fights.”
For Julie Light, being a foster parent is a blessing.
“Taking care of the kids and being able to put a smile on their face like I’m giving them something that somebody else might not be able to and give them a safe place to live and have food,” she said.
Retired lawyer Peggy Blanchard says the experience of being a surrogate grandmother for the children has been rewarding.
“I definitely feel like this is, this was a very good next step for me because it makes me feel like I am contributing to making the world a better place,” Blanchard stated.
That place is providing affordable housing for families to reduce the number of children in foster care.
“We have an affordable housing crisis, but we also have a foster care crisis, and so to be able to kind of meet at those two needs and provide affordable, safe healing housing to children impacted by foster care, we feel really lucky to do it,” Hayden explained.
It’s an intergenerational community working hard to bring hope and change to the lives of foster children and their families.
Right now 32 families are living in the village but they are building 16 more units that will be finished next year.