On any given day at BETA Center, you are liable to witness chubby, full faced toddlers or social preschoolers waving to you as they enjoy a morning walk accompanied by their daily caregivers - smiling, laughing, singing. You might see a weary young woman making her way from her car toward the refuge that is BETA Center, for so many at risk families. The energy radiates peace, safety, strength. The sound of little voices and the pitter patter of little feet are sprinkled throughout, reminding you of the hope that future generations hold. Often my experience was juggling my two kiddos, boxes of donations, and the shopping carts provided to get said donations into the office. Consistently I was met with helping hands by the, ever humble and appreciative, employees. A team that was apparently being asked to do more with less; yet never the less doing what they could to help with a warm smile, and with arms extended.
The sense of community at BETA Center is not just evident but is a feeling thick in the air. A community of motherhood, of sisterhood, of their patrons, of families drowning in crisis, and anyone who might set foot on their grounds. One of my sweetest memories of BETA Center was during one of my regular donation trips. I was a new mother of two. I was overwhelmed, and heavy with the feeling of inadequacy. My youngest, who was about four months at the time, passed out from pure exhaustion as a result of screaming the entire drive - the second we pulled into the parking spot. As I began unloading my car, it became apparent that today I would not be met in the parking lot by a staff member – or rather the staff member. In all of my experiences, only one team member was bearing all of the receiving responsibilities.
Momentarily defeated, I regrouped determined to do our part. I finished loading my carts and rolled down the windows. Although not ideal, I felt confident that my girls would be safe in the shade as I made the 20-foot walk to get our carts inside quickly. As I shut the door to my trunk, a car pulled in two spots over. A group of three women – two middle-aged and one young woman with eyes wise beyond her years. The most senior of the three assessed my situation and walked over. With a hand on my shoulder and a smile to my oldest daughter through the window, she told me to go on, and she would stay with them. I didn't realize how alone I felt at that moment until I suddenly wasn't. I wondered how many young families had felt that same sense of relief in that very parking lot.
For those of you unaware, BETA Center has served as a safe harbor for young parents, children, and specifically teen mothers for over 40 years. They have enriched the Orlando community with their acceptance, education and support for at-risk families – to the tune of 17,000 families benefited annually. Beyond their core initiatives, they have created a ripple. For my family, BETA Center will be my girls' first lesson in giving what you have to others. It will be where Evie hugged and said goodbye to her, nearly brand new, Ballerina Doll so that she may help make another little girl happy. It will be where a fellow mother, a stranger, showed me compassion in a moment when she and her family probably needed mine. Most importantly, it will be the organization that inspired the creation of Inclusive Health & Wellness.
I was deeply saddened to hear of the upcoming closure of BETA Center scheduled for June 30, 2016, and then revived with optimism less than a week later to learn that our community has rallied! We are not letting you go, BETA Center - not so quickly. In a heroic gesture, worthy of a Hollywood film, UCP of Central Florida has breathed life into an impending loss to our community - expressly a pang that would be felt by 17,000 families every year. Currently, UCP is made up of seven public Charter Schools catering to children with disabilities, and as of July 2016, they will also include the property housing BETA Center and their programs. Albeit BETA Center will no longer call itself an independent charitable organization.
It's unclear at this point, what programs will continue and in what model - most notably the residential program, which is without rival in Central Florida. However, we can all exhale in a moment of relief. We don't know what lies beyond June 30, for BETA Center, and it's families. However, rest assured; our community has acted, and the past 44 years of BETA Center's service and dedication will not be fruitless. With continued attention and a much-needed call to action, the ripples will continue, and your legacy will live on BETA Center. As a member of this community, as a mother, I am singing your battle cry.