By Matt Wiley
Neighborhood kids gather at a house in central Tampa, but it’s not because they live there. Instead, they come to this house in Sulphur Springs after school to do activities, play video games, make friends and even enjoy a meal, rather than wander the streets of this neighborhood in transition.
This is the Tampa Police Department (TPD) R.I.C.H. (Resources in Community Hope) House, a “Safe Haven” for the children of Sulphur Springs, and thanks to the GFWC (General Federation of Women’s Clubs) New Tampa Junior Woman’s Club (NTJWC), the shelter now has $7,000 to improve the shelter.
“In my 11 years here (at the R.I.C.H. House), this is definitely the largest single donation I have seen,” says TPD Master Patrol Officer and director of the Tampa R.I.C.H. House Debbie Boles. “It feels tremendous, knowing how much this will do for the kids.”
Boles says that the money will go toward everything from after-school snacks and arts and crafts supplies to video games.
“We knew that we’d be a recipient of a donation from the club, but we had no idea what the amount would be,” Boles says. “(The donation) is going to uplift the quality of life (for these kids) in so many ways.”
When NTJWC chairwomen of the event Michele Small, Carmela Johnson and Jolie Frankfurth filled out the check, Boles says that the look on her face was that of shock and awe.
“They were super excited,” says Small. “When we started writing out the big check, we saw that jaws were dropping. It’s going to make a huge impact for the R.I.C.H. House.”
Small explains that the donation came from funds raised during the March 2 “Night of 5000” charity gala, the NTJWC’s annual fund-raising event, which raised more that $19,000 gross.
“The event this year was very successful,” Small says. “We were able to take $5,000 from the event, as well as money left over from our 2012-13 budget to put together the $7,000 donation. We also donated $300 in Honeybaked Ham gift cards to the House to distribute to neighborhood families during the holidays.”
Small says that the club found out about the R.I.C.H. House from one of its members. The group did some research and then went and checked it out.
“We found a diamond in the rough,” Small says. “It’s funded completely through donations.”
According to its website, TPD began the R.I.C.H. House in 2000 through a partnership with the U.S. Attorney’s Office and a “Weed and Seed Initiative Grant” from the U.S. Department of Justice, which combines law enforcement and social services to help reduce and prevent crime in specific high-crime neighborhoods — and Sulphur Springs qualified as one such neighborhood in 2000. The initial grant totaled $250,000 and lasted until 2005. Since then, everything except for the utilities and Boles’ salary has been paid for with donations from the community.
The R.I.C.H. House provides kids in grades K-12 with a place to hang out after school to resist the influence of drugs and gangs. Boles says that most of the kids are between the ages of 7-12, but that she had 14 R.I.C.H. House kids graduate from high school this year, seven of whom are going on to college while four others are joining the military.
“The kids benefit in a lot of ways (from the R.I.C.H. House),” Boles explains. “A lot of the families in the area are scared or untrusting of law enforcement. We’re really working to change that attitude. When we take on a child, we know that we are taking on a whole family. We help the kids here, but try to reach into their homes and instill the same positive values.”
A TPD officer for 27 years, Boles says that during the day, while the kids are at school, she keeps her eye on the neighborhood. “Whatever the neighborhood needs, I try to fill that void,” she says.
For additional information about the TPD R.I.C.H. House, please visit TPDRICHHouse.com.
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