TAMPA, Fla. — A staple in Ybor City and the LGBTQ community is the living proof of inclusion.
Carol Steen, better known as, “Mama,” made it her mission to make sure anyone and everyone has a safe place to call home.
Her infectious laugh will warm the heart and her acceptance will fill the soul.
”Growing up I had a friend of mine who was gay but back then you didn’t say much about it,” Steen said.
It’s that connection that has generated endless acceptance and compassion for those who were cut off from it because of who they love.
”It was just me doing what I felt was right. I never realized that eventually, it would be impactful on someone’s life,” Steen said.
One of those lives touched is C.J. Raimondi.
A friend introduced the two when he first moved to Tampa 11 years ago. He lost his mom in 2003 but found a mother figure in Steen.
”You know there was just that instant connection. You felt safe around her when she was in the room,” Raimondi said. “I would go in and play the jukebox and I would play all of her favorite tunes not knowing it though because they were mine as well.”
The bartender turned Realtor made her mark on people’s lives in Ybor and around the city.
”We are all looking for that because we already start out life knowing that we’re not going to be accepted and everything and then you have this one person that’s always there. Always accepting,” Raimondi said.
For Steen, it’s a little more simple.
”To hear thank you is amazing because you get more hugs,” Steen said.
Steen has six biological children, but endless “kids” who she’s taken under her wing and into her home.
Each year, in keeping with the tradition to make sure everyone knows they’re loved and welcomed, she holds an open invitation for Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners.
She said it started with about twenty people and has grown to more than a hundred.