Dan Jurman knew the workload that comes with helping a community in need. He knew the troubling statistics relating to health, economy and safety. He knew there were families to help, kids to feed and diseases to fight. His knowledge was personal — he grew up in a similar poverty-stricken neighborhood. • As executive director of the University Area Community Development Corp. since January 2012, Jurman, 43, brings people together to work toward a common goal of helping the 3.4-square-mile area west of the University of South Florida in Tampa. He wants to make changes that last through the use of youth programs, housing and more facilities, training, planning and support. • To that end, he's able to rely on community resources including the University of South Florida, surrounding business and hospitals to make a difference at the UACDC (uacdc.org). • But Jurman hopes his passion will make the most impact. • He recently spoke with Tampa Bay Times staff writer Arielle Waldman about his vision for the corporation and the neighborhood, and Magic Johnson's September media conference at the center to promote greater health access for HIV/AIDS patients.
What is the University of South Florida's role in UACDC?
The school is our driver for internships. We have 40 interns, mostly from the College of Public Health, which makes sense since our organization's strategy is based on public health and disease statistics for poverty-stricken communities. The professors are also involved by being active in our partner's coalition, which consists of professionals working with people at the street level who strategize with law enforcement, administrators, residents, funders and business owners.
Do you think they could be doing more?
I do, actually. I wish they would. I spoke with the provost and would like to see them engaging as an institution. Every major institution can plug into all the aspects of what we do. Other places could be doing more, as well, but I have to prove our strategies work . . . I just get fired up. Places like Busch Gardens and the Florida Hospital will have to see how this nonprofit organization can help the community. They need to stop treating one another as competition. Moffitt Cancer Center is already part of our coalition.
Tell me about the community market you held.
I spent my first year at the organization just studying. I told everyone, it may seem slow at first but I knew all the concepts are going to happen at the same time, and they did. For this concept, we were having trouble finding a venue and then we had a "duh" moment and said, "Let's just have it here." The market's goal was to provide the community with healthy options. It had 28 vendors and drew in a couple hundred people. But, my favorite part was at the end when a group of kids broke into a game of touch football. There were maybe 30 kids, laughing, playing football in safety. It made me forget how hectic everything had been.
Was it difficult speaking about AIDS? How was Magic Johnson as a speaker?
Yes, very difficult. To put it in perspective, our University Area Community has a higher rate of AIDS than Somalia. When I tell people that and they have the same shocked expression as me, I know I am getting through. When the community is right across from a hospital, we have to be missing the boat. Why would anyone want someone to die? For the cost of hospital expenses, it makes more fiscal and humane sense to treat them. Magic was great. He talked to everyone and took photographs with everyone. He even gave away a scholarship to a kid in the audience. He told him, if you keep your grades up, I'll pay for you to go to college.
What keeps you going through the challenging times?
I am not afraid to fail. I never had a day that's as bad as it was when I lived in poverty. I get to go home to a nice, safe house full of my family. Things like seeing the kids play football at the market also keeps me going. Church and great co-workers.
What were your family and community like growing up?
Well, I never knew my biological father. My mom had me when she was 16 and he was much older. I had a stepfather who I didn't know wasn't my real dad until I was 9, but then he ended up leaving too. But, we were better without him. We were homeless for six months after he left, wearing out our welcome on relatives' couches and cold basements. When my mother was finally able to receive benefits, we ended up in Vineland, N.J., in a nasty cockroach and rat-infested duplex. I used my love of writing and theater to stay focused in school and go on to be the first person in my family to graduate from college.
What are your strategies and goals for UACDC?
Some people may think we focus too much on the negative numbers, but if you don't know how bad something is, you can't fix it. Police are reactive; we have to be proactive. We get to the core of what keeps people poor. We get to know the community. What causes the problems? What do they want? What is their life satisfaction? We want to get them past the mentality of 'I have to survive today.' We need to stop putting them in dead-end jobs where they just end up quitting. But, our program is designed for people who want to work. You can't help anyone who doesn't want to help themselves.
Tell me about some present and future programs.
We had our first arts festival (Nov. 9) where local kids break-danced, sang and read poetry. It showed there are positives in the neighborhood. We designed a cultural mentor program for youth and foster kids. We pair them up with USF students who provide real support that lasts. There is the community garden cooperative, which gives families the opportunity to garden a parcel on the 2-acre property we've secured and keep a percentage of what they grow. Another project is the Homefront Project where we are partnering with Sunstone Homes and other private and nonprofit partners to build sustainable, green, single-family homes. Fueling off my love of theater, I am going to direct a Christmas pageant and Community Voices Project. Theater is how I recharged myself. In Pennsylvania, I directed the high school theater after work. It was how I kept myself sane.
Sunday Conversation is edited for clarity and brevity.