During her four years on the Hillsborough County (Fla.) Commission, Berger MacKinnon realized the need for help for abused children. But when her reelection bid failed, she decided to do it on her own. She was the primary force behind Joshua House in Tampa, a shelter for abused and unwanted children. To ensure it stayed afloat, she built a $1.2 million endowment to keep it running. Solving that need showed her another need, though: once kids are rescued from abuse or neglect, they were often split up from their siblings; where could they stay together until a permanent home is found?
Berger MacKinnon then established A Kid’s Place, a temporary foster home which had room for 60 children — and, according to Hillsborough circuit Judge Tracy Sheehan, Berger MacKinnon single-handedly raised a $5.5 million endowment to keep it running, too. “Dottie was tenacious and dogged in her pursuit for doing what was right and fighting for children,” said Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn. “To the hundreds of neglected or abused children whose lives she touched, she was not just their advocate, she was also their friend. Dottie listened to them and gave them a voice.” During it all, Berger MacKinnon was fighting breast cancer, and it was thought she had it beat. But instead, cancer had spread to her intestines, and was told she had only months to live. She decided to continue to work and serve on boards to help children — and was able to go another three years before she couldn’t work anymore. She died at home, under Hospice care, on October 12. She was 71.