LACOOCHEE — Ebony Pickett remembers a decade ago when beloved sheriff's Lt. Charles "Bo" Harrison was shot to death by a teenager avenging the deaths of friends killed in confrontations with law enforcement.
After the tragedy, nonprofit directors and county officials came to meetings and talked about things that would be done to make the impoverished northeast Pasco community better.
It turned out to be all talk.
"Sometimes people do things on emotions," said Pickett, a 38-year-old occupational therapist. "I do feel now like things are about to change."
What's different is a $300,000 grant awarded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the commitment of a major utility, the Withlacoochee River Electric Cooperative, which took the area into its service territory in 2007. HUD officials and WREC executives, along with other community leaders, met Thursday night at Lacoochee Elementary School with 320 residents to outline steps to use the grant and revitalize the area.
Earlier in the day, officials announced that Morrick Construction of Tampa had won the bid to design and build the 16,000-square-foot community center in Stanley Park expected to open by late fall. In addition to housing the Lewis Abraham Boys & Girls Clubs, it will offer indoor basketball courts, a sheriff's substation, a concession stand and kitchen. It also will include office space for a medical clinic.
The project is also being paid for with a $1 million state grant and $550,000 in private donations collected by the nonprofit Lacoochee Area Redevelopment Corp.
County officials urged the residents to get involved so the plan will be what's best for the community.
"We are not going to be making these decisions in a bubble," said Michelle Miller, a staffer in the county's community development department that is handling the HUD grant.
Officials mentioned economic development, transportation, job training and education as cornerstones of the plan.
Pastor Julian Ford said he hopes to have a "re-entry" program for youth who have made poor choices.
"We want to give everyone a chance to re-enter the norm of society," he said. "To get jobs and be strong providers for themselves and their families."
The overall mood was one of optimism. In one corner of the auditorium, Girl Scouts sold cookies. In the other, residents ate hamburgers and hot dogs.
Signs that said "Thank you, HUD" and "Lacoochee Loves HUD" were plastered on the brick walls of the school.
Community volunteers stood up and told HUD officials about gardening projects and scouting activities and school field trips.
In the end, the feds seemed impressed.
"Thank you for your hospitality and having the spirit of collaboration," said Pamela Lawrence, a HUD public housing revitalization specialist. "We're here to be a resource."