Children roamed the pristine grounds of Wishing Well Barn off Pippin Road in Plant City, during a party for Safe Families for Children. They pushed a carriage, explored the blueberry patch and enjoyed a showing of the popular Disney film “Frozen” under the crystal lights of the barn.
It’s a rare time when these children can relax and just be kids. That’s because, as part of Safe Families for Children, they are staying with temporary caregivers, while their parents overcome life changing obstacles.
Many of the parents are single mothers. Some encounter homelessness after being in a domestic abuse situation, others are facing jail time with no family to turn to for support. That’s where Safe Families for Children steps into help. Parents can volunteer to seek help from the Christian organization rather than be forced to put their child in foster care. Safe Families for Children helps match the children with host families who volunteer to take a child in. Almost 100% of the time, the children return to their original families.
“Nowadays, (the support) is not always there,” said implementer Debbie Schreffler. “We’re keeping their lives as normal as possible.”
Safe Families for Children has been operating for about 12 years. But, this is the first year it has targeted the Tampa Bay area. There are about 25 volunteer families.
“Part of the growth for Florida involved bringing it to Tampa,” said area coordinator Kevin Trotter.
To celebrate its first year, organizers wanted to host a party for the surrogate families and children. They chose a Frozen-themed event, complete with ice cream and face painting. All they needed was a venue. Schreffler had the perfect one in mind.
She is neighbors with the Welches, who own Wishing Well Barn, a rural setting that has been a popular wedding spot.
“I believe life should be simple, in getting back to basics and being outside,” Schreffler said. “These kids don’t have a lot of time for fun. We want them to see there is time for fun with family.”
She asked Michelle Welch if they could use the barn for the night. Welch donated the space.
“We’re always looking for ways to give back,” Welch said. “Children are near and dear to my heart. We have a large family.”
Welch has a blended family of five children. Over the years, they’ve taken in two teenage foster children and hosted two exchange students from Spain and China on three separate occasions.
“We are always trying to open our home,” she said.
Contact Amber Jurgensen at [email protected].
HOW TO HELP
During its first year in Tampa, Safe Families for Children had about 25 families willing to open their homes to children needing a temporary place to stay. But, it always can use more.
For information on how to be a host family or how to help, visit safe-families.org.