Published in 83 Degrees Media, 9.25.12
The faces and fallout of poverty exist in every community. Images of the people and places suffering the consequences can be seen on busy city streets and in lonely back yard alleys, in rural, suburban and urban neighborhoods.
But the residents of one North Tampa community are working together to stamp out poverty for good by creating the environment and culture that will help move their neighbors in need toward self-sufficiency.
The University Area Community Development Corporation (UACDC) aims to transform the once mostly transient area near USF (formerly known as “Suitcase City”) into a place where all people can thrive. Their most effective weapon? Partnerships.
“We’re stronger together. It sounds like a cliche, but it gets repeated so much because it’s true,” says Dan Jurman, the organization’s new executive director.
Having grown up in poverty, Jurman knows firsthand what the community is going through. “When I started working with elementary school students in summer day camp, we’d be outside doing crafts and would hear gunshots in the neighborhood. This is what these kids experience every day,” says Jurman, who was hired in January 2012. This experience, coupled with a love for anything involving children and an extensive background in nonprofits, puts Jurman in an ideal position to lead the ongoing transformation.
Creating A Safe Place
Located on 22nd street near Fletcher Avenue, the UACDC has been a conduit for community gathering since its formation in 1998. The nonprofit’s mission is redevelopment and programming to help families in the surrounding neighborhoods. Offerings include a 50,000-square-foot community center that provides critical services to thousands of residents, including literacy programs, affordable housing, recreation and workshops for youth in issues such as problem-solving and anger management.
The center is a lively, welcoming space where residents can feel safe to learn and play. On a given day, you might see youth playing basketball in the gym. Or, walk down the hallway of classrooms to find keyboard lessons, guitars, art projects or poetry class. “I couldn’t think of a better place to go,” says Alexis Santiago.
Santiago has been visiting the center since she moved to Tampa 10 years ago. With her father in and out of jail, her mother moved her and brother here to start a new life. After learning about the center through word of mouth, she immediately enrolled in a poetry class, which helped her express herself and cope with hardships.
“Just the fact that they were there for support made you want to join different programs and be there all the time,” says Santiago.
The program that makes the most difference in her life, she says, is the Teen Empowerment Council, which aims to get youth off the streets and active in the community. The Council meets weekly and participates in projects such as Keep Hillsborough County Beautiful.
“The council helped me grow as an individual,” says Santiago. “It was an overall good experience; I couldn’t be more happy.”
It Takes A Village Plus Time
The driving force behind UACDC’s success, and what will take them to the next level in the near future, is partnerships. Eight different organizations joined together to make the community center come to fruition in 2000. The group brought Muller Elementary, a nationally recognized magnet school, to the area along with Bowers Whitley Career Center High School, which now has one of the highest graduation rates in Hillsborough County. The collaboration with brought health and other offices right down the street, creating accessible community space that provides services where they are needed most.
“We’ve got well over 20 partnerships that aren’t just lip service,” says Jurman. “That’s about to get kicked into high gear.”
The “high gear” Jurman speaks of is a new model for nonprofits called the Partners Committee. In what could be described as the “next evolution” for nonprofits, the goal is to change the way services are delivered, where organizations work in tandem to make sure people are assisted through every aspect of life. Take, for example, a child diagnosed with asthma. Doctors can provide treatment through medicine and education, but if the child goes home to a house with mold in it, the problem will perpetuate. Through a collaborative effort, free legal services are provided to the family to require their landlord to remove the mold.
Pastor Don Grantham from University Baptist Church on 22nd Street, a strong supporter and volunteer for UACDC for more than 20 years, will chair the Partners Committee. He realized the value of partnerships years ago, while trying to improve the safety of the intersection surrounding the church. While navigating the political system, he learned that if redevelopment is going to take place in the community, and if the county is going to support it, the residents need to speak up. In a sense, the discovery reflects the adage, “the squeaky wheel gets the grease.”
“From that time on I appreciated the value in partnering with others of like-mindedness,” says Grantham. “Collectively we can do more than we can do individually.”
Grantham plans to make sure there are businesses that can support the workforce needs in the area. “In an ideal world, there should be enough work in our community so that people will want jobs,” says Grantham. He wants to develop a coalition of neighborhood landlords that will improve living conditions. He also envisions a partnership of local residents who will speak up for their needs.
Santiago, now 20, is now studying at Hillsborough Community College and ultimately wants to become a psychologist so she can help people in the same way she was helped. She offers advice for others in her situation: “Don’t give up. There are people out there who can help you do what you want to do. You’ll make it through.”
Jurman couldn’t agree more. “Positive activity is just as contagious and can build just as much momentum that poverty does in the other direction,” he says. The community will be the ones who ultimately create the transformation. UACDC provides them with the tools and motivation they need to do it.