Sunday, July 30, 2000

At new stadium


Kids to sit in county's luxury box

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        The deluxe seats in Paul Brown Stadium are 22 inches wide — plenty of room for one genuinely fat cat. Or for a couple of skinny kids.

        Children in the box belonging to Hamilton County won't have to share a seat. And most have had to share almost everything else in their lives. This time, they'll get VIP treatment, including free hot dogs from Mike Brown. (I swear this is true.)

        They will be accompanied by adults whom Commissioner Bob Bedinghaus calls the “guardian angels of our community.”

        Foster parents.

        The county, as part of its lease with the Bengals, has a luxury suite at the stadium. I was picturing Mr. Bedinghaus lounging there Aug. 19 when the Bengals run out on the field the first time.

        In fact, I was working myself up into a good lather.

        The luxo-boxes are really swell. Retractable glass walls. A couple of TV sets. Carpeting. A refrigerator. Some cost as much as $134,000 a year. The cheapest is $45,000. Very nice.

        Mr. Bedinghaus assures me he will be sitting in one of the 19-inch seats he bought for himself and his family. He has two midfield and five for his kids in the end zone.

        The suite will be turned over to the Hamilton County Department of Human Services and the tickets given, by lottery, to foster parents and their families. Ten games, 16 tickets each game. It won't cover all 420 families in the county's program. But they'll all have a chance.

        I am trying to second-guess Mr. Bedinghaus. This is our customary relationship.

        Why didn't you just take the money? The box is valued at $74,000 a year. “We didn't have that choice,” he says. “If we hadn't gotten the box in negotiations, the Bengals just would have sold it to somebody else.”

        Were you restricted in any way? Could you have used it to reward big donors? “Well, we could have.” He grins. It would not have been a popular choice.

        “We thought of rewarding people who volunteer at the polls,” he says. A lottery for everybody in Hamilton County also was considered.

        “But when we hit on the idea of giving it to foster families, everybody liked it.”

        A PR move? Most decidedly. It is an unabashed attempt to get attention for the county's foster care program. “We need at least 200 more families,” Mr. Bedinghaus says.

        It's not a thankless job. Some of the abused and neglected children who find themselves in the county system no doubt say thank you. In small and large ways. And foster parents are paid.

        “It works out to about 60 cents an hour,” says Laurie Petrie of Children's Services. “No kidding.”

        Ms. Petrie hands me an old-fashioned paper fan with a wooden handle.

        A very cute baby is pictured on the front. On the back: “You can open your home to a child. You must be at least 21 years of age. You can be single, married, divorced or widowed. You may reside in an apartment or a single-family home. You may work full-time or part-time, at home or outside your home. You possess and can share patience, responsibility, manners, humor or community spirit.”

        You can call 632-6366 for a chance to see what it feels like to be a VIP. Maybe you'll find out in a 22-inch seat at the new Paul Brown Stadium for just one day.

        Or maybe one of those children will give you the chance to feel like a VIP every single day of the year.

        E-mail Laura at lpulfer@enquirer.com or call 768-8393.

       



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