They were running out of options.
It was early 2010, and Everyday Blessings – a small foster care facility in Thonotosassa – was told that their water system did not meet state guidelines. Unable to afford the upgrade without making drastic cuts, program administrators faced the possibility of having to close the doors if they couldn't come up with an alternate solution.
For the facility's dedicated staff members, shutting down wasn't an option. As a result, it appeared for some time as if the only viable option was to use money that had been set aside for children's summer programs to upgrade the system. Their fortunes turned, however, when they applied for a Glazer Family Foundation grant.
The Foundation was able to provide a $5,000 grant that covered the costs of replacing the water system, an award that was presented by Foundation Co-President Darcie Glazer Kassewitz during the most recent grant cycle. That meant the children were still able to enjoy fun in the sun that summer.
"Things really could have come to a screeching halt," said Nic Keuler, the clinical director at Everyday Blessings. "About 60 percent of our operating expenses come in the form of donations, and this grant was a lifesaver."
Everyday Blessings is the only facility of its kind in the area, providing children who have been removed from their original homes with specific care from a live-in caregiver. The "families" live in a two-room efficiency residence where the caregiver fills the role of the parent from 4:30 in the afternoon until 8:30 in the morning, Monday through Friday, and all day during the weekends.
"We don't have shift care like some of the other places," Keuler said. "There are seven caregivers that are here all day, every day. This place is a home, and we do everything we can to make the families comfortable and happy. That's why donations which allow us to continue to support the children and caregivers mean so much to us."
The facility currently has 26 children in residence, 17 of which are under the age of five. The children at Everyday Blessings range in age from four months to 13 years old, have been abandoned, neglected or abused and are seeking safe and stable permanent homes.
"We were just so thrilled when we got the grant," said operations director Pam Bell. "During the check presentation we could just tell that Mrs. Kassewitz's heart was there and that she really cares about the programs."
Everyday Blessings serves children in family groups, sometimes up to five or more siblings. It is often difficult to keep siblings together when they are moved into temporary care because many foster parents or homes don't have the resources to take on more than one child.
"There has been a lot of evidence that shows that it is more disruptive for children to be removed from their siblings than from their parents," Bell said. "Our kids all stay together and we try to get them back to their parents, but if that's not an option, we adopt them out to families together."
The caregivers at Everyday Blessings take on an incredible amount of responsibility, and Keuler stressed how important it was to make life easier for them by providing them with the comforts and amenities that they need to raise the children.
"We believe every child deserves clean beds, clean clothes and healthy food, and we strive to provide those things to these kids," Keuler said. "This grant meant so much to us. It showed how much people in the community care, and it helped us show our appreciation to our caregivers by making life a little better for them too."
Both Bell and Keuler emphasized the need for support from organizations like the Glazer Family Foundation and talked about how, as an organization, Everyday Blessings relies heavily on goodwill and countless donations in the form of both time and money from volunteers and groups from around the area.
"The people who volunteer here do a variety of things," Keuler said. "We have been so lucky because the volunteers really step up to the plate for us. Then there are bigger donations, like the grant…without all of it we just wouldn't be able to do what we do."
The facility sits on 72 acres and requires constant upkeep, which Keuler and Bell say volunteers assist with tremendously. Many groups, from churches, Girl Scouts, local business and individuals, have donated time, food, and clothing to the program in order to keep it going.
"We definitely just reach out on good faith a lot of times," Bell said. We might not really know how much people are going to give, whether in clothes or time or money. We are essentially living day to day, so everything we can get is tremendously helpful."
According to Keuler, most of the children are in the home about six to eight months on average, but some might stay longer depending on the situation.
"You find yourself just gravitating to these kids, especially the ones that have been here a while," Keuler said. "Some of their stories are so amazing and it makes you want to be around them."
On top of providing foster care, Bell said one of the primary objectives at Everyday Blessings is to facilitate visits from parents and adults looking to help with either longer-term care, or, if the parents are unable to take the children back, permanent adoption.
"Our first goal is definitely to reunite the kids with their families, but sometimes that can't happen," she said. "So we want to facilitate adoptions and help the kids in those difficult transition periods because they deserve to be loved and taken care of. That's what we want for them."
According to Bell, there are close to 2,500 children in Hillsborough County who are in out-of-home care. She said that Everyday Blessings seeks to help the children who come through the doors by letting them learn, grow and receive the care they deserve.
"There are so many miracles every day," she said. "It is really amazing to see these kids transformed during their time here; we have seen some pretty incredible stories and we are grateful for everyone for making it all possible."