With the 2011 NFL Draft just a little over a week away, Tampa Bay Buccaneers General Manager Mark Dominik has been busy evaluating college prospects and overseeing the team's draft preparations on a round-the-clock schedule.
On Saturday, however, Dominik took a quick break to focus on another passion of his: adoption and foster care.
The Bucs' GM joined a group of more than 200 children, volunteers and prospective parents for The Junior League of Tampa's "Kids Connect" event. Held for the first time at Raymond James Stadium, the annual program provides a day of fun activities for children in foster care while offering information and potential "match" opportunities for adults interested in adopting or becoming foster parents.
Dominik, who had a foster sister at a young age and has adopted, along with wife Amy, two of their three children, addressed a crowd of potential parents about the positive and rewarding experiences of foster care and adoption.
"I speak to people all the time that have either been adopted or have adoptive parents, and all they do is brag about either their parents or the experience," said Dominik. "And that's what this day is all about, the opportunity to really change not only their lives, but [the parents'] lives as well."
Over the years, Junior League's "Kids Connect" event has led to more than 125 adoptions. The organization's goal of coordinating a unique program that will attract potential suitors was more successful than ever this year, thanks to Dominik.
"It's really important to have the community's support," said Terrie Dodson, public relations chairman for The Junior League. "Having someone from the Buccaneers step up and support this cause is important for several reasons, but most importantly that they are behind an organization that really wants to make an impact on the community really makes a difference in the lives of the families here in Hillsborough County."
Founded in 1926, The Junior League of Tampa is a nonprofit group of women committed to promoting volunteerism, developing the potential of women and improving communities through effective action and leadership of trained volunteers. Junior League members provide basic needs to disadvantaged children through fundraising, foster care support, literacy education and cultural enrichment.
Since 1986, The Junior League of Tampa has contributed over $4 million to the local community to help those in need. With more than 1,700 members from all over the Bay area, its support network runs deep throughout West Central Florida.
On Saturday, members turned out at the Buccaneers' stadium to put together a memorable event for kids in need.
"I think there's definitely a 'wow' factor here as opposed to many other places that we have because everything is so big," said Dodson. "They're going to have an experience that I don't think they would've otherwise had."
Among the many activities for the children were laser tag, arts and crafts and a behind-the-scenes tour of the stadium. Buccaneers cheerleaders and Captain Fear were also on hand to join in on the fun. The participating children were invited through Hillsborough Kids, Inc., a nonprofit agency that ensures the safety of abused and neglected children in Hillsborough County.
"Having grown with the Tampa Bay community, knowing about Hillsborough Kids and everything that's going on, certainly there is a lot of need for adoption and foster care in our community," said Dominik. "I'm proud of everyone to take that step and be here today and go through this process and this event to make that day really memorable for these children."
Hillsborough Kids is the lead agency for community-based care in Hillsborough County and represents the Hillsborough community in developing and overseeing the child protection system of care.
"It's just an awesome opportunity," said Freddie Brinson, recruitment specialist for Hillsborough Kids. "When you hear someone with Mark's presence come out and spend time with children and share his experience so openly, it can inspire other families who may have been thinking about it or had reservations, to say, 'He's done it, I can do it.' That is so exciting,"
Jimmy Stephens, a former Navy officer who retired to Florida, has participated in adoption and foster care for over seven years. Strong proponents for adoption, Stephens and his wife attended the event in hopes of not only providing a much-needed home for someone, but also a sibling for their child.
"We're interested in adopting a daughter," said Stephens. "Our four-year-old wants a big sister, so we're here now trying to fulfill her needs and trying to fulfill our needs also, because we keep an open mind about it even while we do foster care. Should there be a kid available who needs a home, then we're looking to take and provide that home for that child."
After sharing his own experiences, hearing stories from parents like Stephens made Dominik's participation all the more rewarding.
"[They are] changing people's lives for the better," said Dominik. "That's what it's really all about. There are a lot of events going on today, but surrounding people with stable families and structure so we can become a better community is what's most important about today."