NORTH TAMPA — Three years ago Jennifer Falcon gave up alcohol and drugs without looking back.
She never imagined those past experiences might one day have a valuable purpose. As co-director of the Generation His Youth Center at New Beginnings Fellowship church, Falcon says she is putting those moments of darkness to good use.
"I have the street knowledge," said Falcon, 50, a baker who lives in South Tampa. "I've been through a lot of hell in my life, and I know what these kids need, and it's all about love."
The concept of the youth center came about only three months ago, Falcon said.
At that time, the property at 3405 W Kenyon Ave. was being rented by a church employee who was ill and about to retire.
Falcon and her husband, David, 49, a contractor, had felt a calling from God to serve the church by working with youth, and Generation His was born.
The renter moved, and the Falcons started to build, paint and decorate.
Any young person, 9 years old and up, will be welcome at the center. Children there will find a cafe, game room, food bank and a free clothing thrift shop.
The center will offer outside sports activities in addition to classes in dance, music and basic living skills such as cooking, cleaning and doing laundry. Organizers hope to open in July.
Falcon said the center is critical for reaching out to young people who have no safe place to hang out.
"So many of these kids are left alone because both parents have to work all day, and that's just not positive for these kids," she said. "These kids need some direction, and that's what we're going to provide them."
Paul Hollis, pastor and founder of New Beginnings, said there isn't anyone better suited for the task than Falcon.
"She has a real heart for youth," Hollis said. "She understands the struggles youth go through. She and David go out of their way to help young people."
So far, the Falcons have collected donations from local businesses, including desks, a washer, dryer, refrigerator and deep freezer from Famous Tate's. They hosted a fundraising banquet at Sam Seltzer's Steakhouse, which generated another $1,800.
The plan is eventually to get a committee of church members together to help teach classes and continue raising money. Falcon projected the yearly expenses will approach $14,000.
"This is all about giving back, and giving these kids the love they need," she said. "I can give to them what God gave to me, to use through me."
Contact reporter Sheryl Kay with any religion news at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (813) 230-8788.