TEMPLE TERRACE — Academy Award-winning actor Denzel Washington, highly acclaimed actor, singer and dancer Jennifer Lopez and basketball legend Shaquille O'Neal have something in common.
All are products of a Boys & Girls Club in the communities where they were raised.
One wonders where they'd be today without these safe and supportive places where they learned to believe in themselves, set priorities and think big.
Those very values are what Temple Terrace Police Chief Ken Albano aims to instill in local at-risk kids in his pursuit of establishing a Boys & Girls Club in or near the city his department oversees.
Toward that end, he's enlisted the expertise of Boys & Girls Clubs of Tampa Bay President & CEO Chris Letsos, Hillsborough County Sheriff David Gee and Hillsborough County Community Action Board Secretary Mel Jurado, among others, to assist him in the kickoff of what is called the Hope Lives Here campaign.
The long-range goal: raise $3 million.
The organization needs $500,000 to kickstart the effort to open a local club and provide three years of operating costs, and another $1.5 million is needed to acquire and refurbish a building Albano and his team have eyed for the club and to ensure the security of a long-term lease. The remaining $1 million would go toward an endowment fund.
"We've got to get the word out and I'd love to talk with people who could be potential donors," Albano said. "The key is asking and it's also the key for the kids in this community who will benefit from it."
Summer camp indicates potential
He and Letsos cite the overwhelming success of last year's Boys & Girls Clubs' summer camp program at Greco Middle School in Temple Terrace that was funded by the Children's Board of Hillsborough County and seen as the No. 1 reason for the need to establish a year-round Boys & Girls Club in the community.
"We plotted for 30 kids at last year's six-week program and we served 62 kids. Sixty of those kids didn't miss one day of the program," Letsos said. "So the need is there."
Letsos also pointed out that crime rates have been cut in half within the 20 communities in the Tampa Bay area where Boys & Girls Clubs are located.
"For every dollar invested in a Boys & Girls Club, $5 is contributed back to the community," he said. "That's something we're really proud of."
What's more, statistics show that kids enrolled in the Boys & Girls Clubs in the Tampa Bay community have an overall high school graduation rate of 95 percent and 99 percent of youth who participate in the clubs' crime prevention programs have no involvement with the area's juvenile justice system.
"What we've discovered is there is so much instability in the greater Temple Terrace area and the Boys & Girls Club can offer those kids a safe, fun place with limitless opportunities," Letsos added. "We know with the help of Temple Terrace Police Chief Ken Albano, the sheriff's department and others we can significantly change lives."
Jurado, a Temple Terrace resident agrees, calling the push to open a Boys & Girls Club in the area a "wrap-around holistic approach" to keeping youngsters off the streets and out of trouble.
"We need that patron saint who'll have a naming opportunity on the building we're hoping to take possession of and renovate," she said. "We direly need this in our community, so it's time for someone to step up to the plate and make it happen."
Upstart Wimauma effort reflects impact
The founding and success of the Wimauma Boys & Girls Club is a shining example of how community support and partnerships can positively impact the lives of children in communities where they are most vulnerable.
In early 2015 the South Shore Council of the Community Foundation got wind that many youngsters in Wimauma — made up of mainly farm laborers who work nearby and whose family incomes are well below the county's average — started kindergarten woefully unprepared to learn due to language barriers, poor nutrition and lack of medical and dental care.
The foundation soon went to work to supplement the students' educational needs by trying to establish a community school.
The group enlisted the help of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Tampa Bay, which in turn suggested starting a summer learning program for the at-risk youth, made possible that same year thanks to a $50,000 grant from the foundation.
They further partnered with the Hillsborough County Parks and Recreation Department to clean up and revitalize Wimauma's Bethune Park, which due to its longtime closure was rundown and served as a hangout for drug users and other criminals.
The ensuing summer program at the park proved to be highly successful, making it the catalyst that resulted in another foundation grant of $500,000 that helped create a full-time Boys & Girls Club at the site.
Albano seeks similar push in Temple Terrace
Albano wants nothing more than to see a similar effort in Temple Terrace.
He believes now is the time for potential donors to the proposed Temple Terrace area Boys & Girls Club to step forward so it can be determined by the fall if his longtime wish and that of others will indeed become a reality.
"We are at a critical juncture in the process," he said. "We must find the needed support or I fear that everyone's efforts to this point will be for naught."
Contact Joyce McKenzie at [email protected]