This Community Hero Shows Kids What a Healthy Childhood Looks Like

Featured Photo shows Sharon Alvarnaz being honored as a hero. Photo Courtesy of A Kid's Place of Tampa Bay, Inc. _Facebook.com

Sharon Alvarnaz was honored during the New Year’s weekend as a 2023 Tampa Bay Lightning Community Hero before their December 30th game against the New York Rangers. As part of the award, she receives a $50,000 donation from the Lightning Community Heroes Program and the Lightning Foundation. Alvarnaz is donating that money to A Kid’s Place.

Photo Courtesy of A Kid's Place of Tampa Bay, Inc. _Facebook.com

For the past 15 years, she has been a refuge in her community for children. Her goal is simple, yet profound: to show kids what a normal childhood looks like to help break the family cycles of abuse and neglect.

At A Kid’s Place, Alvarnaz is better known as Ms. Shay Shay. It doesn’t take long to see how all the children love her. For the Tampa Bay Lighting, she became the 565th community hero since the program was introduced by Jeff and Penny Vinik during the 2011-12 NHL season.

Alvarnaz Has Been at A Kid’s Place Since the Very Beginning

Established in 2009, A Kid’s Place is located on a five-acre campus in Brandon, Florida, and consists of five homes that create a safe, home-like environment in a neighborhood setting.

This facility is designed to serve children from birth to age 18 who have been removed from their homes due to abuse, neglect, or abandonment. A critical aspect of their service is the effort to keep sibling groups together, offering them a stable and nurturing environment until a more permanent placement is found.

Photo Courtesy of A Kid's Place of Tampa Bay, Inc. _Facebook.com

At A Kid’s Place, a strong emphasis toward meeting the educational, medical, social, and psychological needs of each child is on display. They achieve positive outcomes by delivering individualized and varying services, including trauma-informed care and de-escalation technique training for all employees, and a dedicated focus on sustainable development goals like zero hunger, good health, and a. high-quality education.

The funds from the donation Alvarnaz earned from the Tampa Bay Lightning are being used on a mental health pilot program, house support, and additional recreational outdoor equipment. The pilot effort is aimed at addressing the unique challenges that older foster care youth face after spending more time experiencing trauma.

With the additional funding, A Kid’s Place hopes to provide more consistent and effective mental health counseling.

The Live-in House Parent Model Makes A Kid’s Place Unique

When kids enter foster care or go to live in facilities like A Kid’s Place across the United States, some home-based routines are often lost. That includes evening story times, a family meal, and other basic wholesome experiences.

In this model, House Parents are caregivers who live full-time in the foster home with the children. This arrangement helps create a consistent and stable home environment.

Although often overlooked as a need, these routines are crucial for children with a trauma history. They provide stability, certainty, and safety when the world feels unsafe to them. The family-like atmosphere, especially for siblings, allows for bonds to form or re-form while working on individual treatment needs.

Since its inception 15 years ago, A Kid's Place has touched the lives of over 1,648 children from 735 families, helped 1,421 sibling groups stay together, and provided essential education and care. They also have expanded services to include support for young adults aging out of foster care, emphasizing the importance of continuous support as these individuals transition to adulthood.

Alvarnaz has been an essential ingredient in the successes this organization has found as they provide safe and nurturing environments to children in need.

Additionally, A Kid’s Place offers residential care and independent living options to support the kids in their community.

Alvarnez Brings Passion and Enthusiasm to Every Interaction

When she is working with her kids, you can see that Alvarnez loves the children at A Kid’s Place as much as they love her. Whether she is playing with Barbies or a card game, maybe helping with homework or teaching cooking skills, every interaction comes with authenticity. The connections that form provide a remarkable foundation for the healing that many require to move forward.

Alvarnez selflessly gives her time and energy to ensure everyone feels special while normalizing the childhood experience wherever possible.

Those efforts have extended outside the workplace for Alvarnez. She and her husband adopted two girls to expand their family, which gives her a unique perspective in the caring process.

A Kid’s Place can always use donations, whether directly on their website here or with items for their thrift store in Brandon. More information about the Tampa Bay Lightning Heroes program is available through the National Hockey League.

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