Community center may lose grant

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By William Snowden

A grant that pays for after school tutoring at the community center is in danger of going away, according to County Administrator David Edwards.
That grant, the 21st Century grant administered by Tallahassee Community College, is tied to another grant and programs operated at the community center by the Wakulla County Coalition for Youth. In fact, the loss of the 21st Century grant has the potential to be devastating to the youth coalition and its programs.
County Commission Chairman Ralph Thomas confirmed this week that TCC indicated it would withdraw the grant in July over some $40,000 in costs over snacks for students who attend the after-school program.
Thomas said that he had arranged a meeting between the parties and was hopeful that some resolution could be worked out.
“It may be possible that we can still keep it alive,” Thomas said.
The issue of money for snacks “may be something we can overcome or it may be something we can’t get past,” he added.
After word started spreading that the grant was in danger, there was some fingerpointing of blame, and Superintendent of Schools Bobby Pearce said he was getting calls from some people blaming him.
“The schools have nothing to do with the programs at the community center,” Pearce said, other than offering bus transportation for students at a cost to the center.
Pearce said at a meeting with Edwards he did turn down taking over the programs, saying the district already has after-school programs.
Chuck Robinson, president of the coalition for youth, which oversees a number of programs at the community center, said the youth coalition grant, known as Ounce of Prevention, is continuing to move forward – even without the certainty of the partner 21st Century grant.
21st Century pays the grant for the after-school program at the community center, which Robinson said brings in 120 to 130 students a day during the school year, and up to 150 in the summer.
The Ounce of Prevention grant is tied to 21st Century because it offers services to many of the students who take advantage of the after- school program.

Among the programs offered through Ounce of Prevention are a middle school program called Get Real, kids classes through the Wakulla County Sheriff’s Office, family intervention services and life skills classes.
The community center also serves as a sort of clearinghouse for services, where people in need contact the center wondering where to turn.
Robinson noted that during Hurricane Hermine, the community center was a place where people could get some air conditioning and plug in their electronic devices to recharge them.
Edwards said that after meeting with a TCC representative last week, he was informed that the college would not be renewing the lease. He was not specific in revealing the reason, only that it was economic and it was TCC’s choice.
Edwards said TCC would not renew the program after the current budget cycle ends July 31.
“We’ll be OK,” Edwards said. “I hate it for the community center, but other groups will likely step up to the plate.”
“I told the commissioners, ‘Things come and go,’ ” Edwards said.  “But I hate it for the kids it does affect.”
Edwards added that perhaps rentals of the building for events and more recreation programs would be uses for the center.
“At the end of the day, I think we’ll be fine,” he said.
Amy Geiger, who serves on the governing board of the youth coalition, said members had been informed by Edwards via email that TCC would not be renewing the 21st Century grant. She expressed concern that loss of the grant would put the coalition’s Ounce of Prevention grant in jeopardy.
Geiger noted that the Ounce grant is in the fourth year of its five-year life – and, after that, the programs are supposed to be self-sustaining.
The community center on Shadeville Highway, formerly New Life Church, was purchased about 10 years ago by the county with some federal grant money. The building sat vacant for a time,  except when the courthouse was undergoing renovations and staff from all the offices were moved there for several months in 2010, and then the Sheriff’s Office detectives took one building during construction of the annex.
Plans for creating a community center were bandied around and stalled in 2012, with talk about bringing in YMCA to administer the facility as a gym, and some commissioners suggesting it would be best to turn the building into a fire station.
Commissioner Thomas had worked to bring 21st Century to Wakulla Springs Baptist Church, where he was a board member. The church was looking at ending the program, and Thomas thought it might be a fit for the community center.
The 21st Century grant dovetailed with the Ounce of Prevention grant that the youth coalition was working on – it gave the coalition a core group of kids that it could provide services to.
The community center opened in 2014.
A gym for basketball and volleyball was built, and there’s an open gym  on Mondays and Wednesdays.
The county has looked at adding walking trails and other recreational facilities to the community center property, and it has been mentioned as a possible location for soccer or other ballfields on some of the property that hasn’t been cleared.