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Dottie Berger MacKinnon: A life fighting for children

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image Dottie Berger MacKinnon with her husband Sandy at the naming of a home at A Kid's Place in her honor. Photo provided by A Kid's Place

She is an example that one determined and dedicated person can make a difference

By Kevin Brady
 
Caring for children that society all too often forgets is the legacy of Dottie Berger MacKinnon, according to those who knew her best.

Founder of A Kid’s Place in Brandon, Joshua House and A Kid’s Charity of Tampa Bay, Berger MacKinnon, 71, died at her home Sunday morning, Oct. 13.

“Blessing and prayers have been answered at 8:27 this morning. Dottie went to be with the Lord. Love to all who have been on her journey with her,” was the simple message on Berger MacKinnon’s Facebook page announcing her passing.

Virginia Johnson, executive director of A Kid’s Place, said there was no more powerful presence than Berger MacKinnon.

“She was an amazing and remarkable woman. She never backed down from a fight and was a very strong and significant advocate for children in the community. She always wanted to do the right thing for children and she worked tirelessly to ensure we as a community did the best for them.”

The $5 million center has helped more than 700 children and acts as a shelter for abused, abandoned and neglected youngsters and their siblings. It provides a nurturing home for children who are taken from their homes while their cases are addressed in court.

“She really wanted to raise the bar in foster care and we really believe we have done that at A Kid’s Place. This was her passion and her vision.”

Berger MacKinnon would sometimes joke that her friends hated seeing her because they knew it was going to cost them money “but people didn’t mind because they knew she always produced results,” recalled Craig Latimer.

A former major in charge of the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office Child Protective Investigations Unit, Latimer had “many a conversation” with Berger MacKinnon about the state of foster care in Hillsborough County. A Kid’s Place was the realization of that dream.

“She was just an undying advocate for children and keeping siblings together,” said Latimer, Hillsborough’s supervisor ofelections and a board member at A Kid’s Place. “I thought the world of Dottie.”

A friend for more than 20 years, Tampa tax attorney Linda Hanna, said Berger MacKinnon had enormous energy and is an example of what one person can do.

“Lots of times we say one person cannot do very much but she is an example that one determined and dedicated person can make a difference,” said Hanna, who has served on the board at A Kid’s Place since it was founded.

“Her determination has been a huge factor in creating and sustaining Joshua House, A Kid’s Charity of Tampa Bay and A Kid’s Place. It was her vision and a result of conversations she had with folks in the foster care system about what was needed (that led to their creation). She then called on friends and acquaintances for all kinds of support. It was hard to say no to Dottie.”

“It always came down to one simple rule with Dottie: Do the right thing, and do it in the best interest of our children. A simple rule does not always mean it’s easy to execute and yet Dottie could move mountains,” said DeDe Grundel, executive director of the Friends of Joshua House Foundation. “She could push through almost any barrier to achieve her goal.”

Berger MacKinnon was inducted into the Hillsborough County Women’s Hall of Fame earlier this year. She served as a Hillsborough County commissioner from 1994-1998 and also sat on the board of Tampa General Hospital.

Berger MacKinnon overcame breast cancer in the 1990s only to be diagnosed with stomach cancer in 2010. She was given three months to live at the time.

“I always considered her a friend and a great servant and have tried to hold myself to the level of service that would meet her expectations,” said County Commissioner Al Higginbotham whose district includes Brandon and much of South County.

“She definitely had a great impact on the community both on and off the commission,” said Higginbotham who said he was sure the current commission would mark her passing.

Joe Troy, a member of the board at A Kid’s Place, said MacKinnon will be smiling today.

“While one can never really prepare properly for the passing of someone as iconic as Dottie, our board made a promise to her that one day when she looks down on us from heaven, she would be beaming proudly that her legacy and vision to help God’s children through A Kid’s Place was solidly intact.”

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