By Amy Mangan • Photos by Steve Floethe
Peter* has the kind of face that grabs you the minute you lock eyes with him. His cherubic features belie the pain he has already seen in his young life at one year of age. Abandoned twice already by his mother, Peter found refuge at Sheltering Arms, an emergency foster care home for children. He came to the facility afraid and reserved, but now jumps at the chance for a quick cuddle (melting the heart of this writer in a nanosecond). A compassionate staff has given him and the other children more than a comforting home — Sheltering Arms has given them love.
Ocala Style Publisher Kathy Johnson recognized the importance of this gift the instant she heard about Sheltering Arms and decided she wanted to help.
“In our world today, child abuse is at an all-time high and finding foster care is harder than ever,” says Kathy, “Unfortunately, for many children, their childhood has been cut short and they are thrust into an ugly painful adult world. By supporting Sheltering Arms, I’m able to show them there are people who care about them and who will protect them.”
Ocala Style is reaching out once again to raise funds for Sheltering Arms through its annual Diamond Gala Affair. Held at RLR Golden Ocala, the evening promises to be rich in fun, food, and festivities. Considered to be one of the community’s premier social events, Ocala Style has secured prestigious area jewelers to showcase their new design pieces. Additionally, a live auction featuring sparkling gems along with Chef Rick Alabaugh’s delicious gourmet dinner should ensure this will be a night like no other.
And for Sheltering Arms Executive Director Loretta Jackson, financial support like this is fully utilized.
“We are at maximum capacity,” says Loretta, “with lots of maintenance needs for the home.”
Last year’s gala funds were put to good use. New flooring, educational toys, and operational supplies were paid for as a result of monies raised from the 4th annual Diamond Gala. However, on a recent tour of the facility, Loretta points to broken closet doors in most of the bedrooms that accommodate several children per room.
“We’d also like to do more for our caregivers to provide them additional training opportunities,” notes Loretta, adding that the Sheltering Arms staff works around the clock so there is 24-hour care for the children who range in ages from birth to 11 years old.
Additionally, Loretta says keeping siblings together has become a major priority for Sheltering Arms.
“We’ll take in older youth up to 17 years of age,” she adds, “if we can keep siblings together.”
Amidst the personal chaos of these children’s lives, Sheltering Arms provides them a place where they can find some sense of normalcy. Caregivers keep them on a healthy routine — meals, naps, playtime — a chance just to be a kid. And this is no small feat considering these children have been catapulted into the very mercurial world of foster care. At Sheltering Arms, they get to be what they need to be — a child.
Which is why the Diamond Gala means so much to Kathy Johnson.
“My heart aches for children who don’t have a voice to speak out or the strength to fight back,” adds Kathy “So, at least with the gala, we are able to give funds to a foster home that focuses exclusively on the children.”
Toward the end of my tour at Sheltering Arms, Loretta shows a new project the children are working on — a “life book” journal. Each child is creating a scrapbook of their memories at the facility so, in Loretta’s words, “they’ll have something they can take with them.” One scrapbook has a page with the wording “My Family” with crayon stick figure images of Sheltering Arms caregivers. For Loretta Jackson, that’s all she needs to see to know she’s in the right job.
*Name has been changed.
The 5th Annual Diamond Gala Affair
December 1, 7pm
RLR Golden Ocala Country Club
A limited number of tickets for the black-tie event are available. Tickets are $125 per person and are all-inclusive. For information, contact Ocala Style at (352) 732-0073.
By Amy Mangan • Photos by Steve Floethe