West Tampa childcare center looking at ways to keep kids safe from gunfire


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TAMPA, Fla. — The Rosa Valdez Early Childhood Learning Center in west Tampa has served lower-income families who need affordable childcare for more than 100 years.

Cathy Stone has served as the executive director since 2011 and said she’s watched the center shape children.

Unfortunately, she said she has also seen her students and staff put in danger as a result of the crime she said continues to spread across the streets of west Tampa.

In May of 2020, a shooting near west Main Street came deathly close to the center and the kid’s playground. A shooting between parties ended with bullet casings lining the playground and a bullet lodged in the center’s fence.

“The police had tape everywhere and were picking up all of the casings,” Stone said.

After the incident, the center spent around $10,000 dollars and installed cameras, but a year later, history repeated itself and another shooting took place near the center.

This time kids and teachers were outside on the playground.

“The difference between the first shooting and the second one was more children and we got to watch it and it was heartbreaking,” Stone said.

Those two shootings aren’t the only incidents putting kids and staff in danger.

Stone said a child found a gun on the playground. Luckily, a teacher spotted the child pick up the firearm and took it away from the child.

She believes someone tossed it over the fence trying to get rid of it.

In another instance Stone found bullet casings on the front porch.

The viable solution now, Stone said is to build a barrier wall around the center.

“It will not be completely bulletproof, but it will be bullet resistant so a bullet won’t get through it,” Stone said.

The cost to install the wall is about $100,000 dollars.

She’s enlisted the help of the city and said Mayor Jane Castor and her office have been receptive in trying to find a solution, but at the end of the day, it comes down to funding.

“The situation we’re in is that I have to raise $100,000 for a wall or I have to raise $100,000 for our center for childcare scholarships,” Stone said.

The wall is the first line of defense and immediate action the center can take if they can get the funding.

Stone said the crime in the area is a systemic problem compounding the issues she said are a shortage of housing, programs for kids, and a lack of charges to keep criminals from repeating a crime.

In the years since the two shootings, she has seen a relationship build between law enforcement and the community, but said it’s the neighborhood’s responsibility to take ownership too.

“As a community, we have to understand what the real issue is issues are, and everybody needs to start working together,” Stone said.

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