By Chris Ingram
The Tampa Tribune, October 15, 2013
To say that Dottie Berger MacKinnon had a big heart for kids is like saying Santa Claus is a jolly old fellow.
Berger MacKinnon, who died Sunday of cancer, served a single term on the Hillsborough County Commission from 1994-98. She was defeated for re-election in the Republican primary when conservative activists in the eastern part of Hillsborough County got upset with what they viewed as her liberal leanings. Her name occasionally came up in political circles, even six years later when I moved to Tampa.
But people who really knew her, knew her not for politics, but for her concern for kids.
My path didn’t formally cross with Berger MacKinnon’s until this year when I reached out to her to talk about child welfare issues. She graciously agreed to meet and invited me to her home, where we chatted for a few hours. A few weeks later, she took me on a tour of A Kid’s Place, the youth home in Brandon she was instrumental in founding.
“Martha [Cooke] is the reason for A Kid’s Place,” Berger said of her friend, who is a Hillsborough Circuit Court judge. The “Department of Children and Families wanted an emergency shelter. For a year and a half, Martha asked me to build it. She encouraged us to form A Kid’s Charity of Tampa Bay, and so we did. When we did, everyone was surprised. I didn’t know you had an option to not do something you said you would do,” she said during my visit to her home.
Countless planning meetings, fundraisers and months of construction later, A Kid’s Place was built in Brandon. Its five houses can accommodate children from birth to age 18. The purpose of A Kid’s Place is to keep siblings who are in the system from being split up. Oftentimes, siblings entering foster care have to be separated because there are not enough homes available for a large number of kids under the same roof.
“We don’t have the behavioral problems with these kids when we give them the emotional support and stability they need by keeping [siblings] together. We wanted to raise the bar on how we treat foster kids. Before, it was about numbers and money. We wanted it to be about the kids’ well-being,” Berger MacKinnon told me.
To understand how big Dottie Berger MacKinnon’s heart was, and how dedicated to children she was, you had to see her in action, as I did, at A Kid’s Place.
Unlike some children’s facilities or battered women’s shelters I have seen, A Kid’s Place doesn’t attempt to conceal what it is. The facility even has a welcoming sign on the side of the road. But the welcome ends there, as the buildings are surrounded by a fence and an electronic gate for the protection of the residents. As you walk up the main entrance, Berger MacKinnon’s name is on the building, and there is a bronze statue of her sitting on a park bench reading a book to a child. (Click here to read the full column in today’s Tampa Tribune).
Chris Ingram is the president and founder of 411 Communications a corporate and political communications firm, and publisher of Irreverent View. Ingram is a frequent pundit on Fox News and CNN, and has written opinion columns for the Washington Times, UPI, and National Review online. He is the Republican political analyst for Bay News 9, the only 24 hour all news channel in Florida’s largest media market. The opinions expressed here are those of author and do not represent the views of Bay News 9. E-mail him at: Chris@IrreverentView.com.
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