While Clearwater officials struggle to find support for a program to divert youths in the predominantly black North Greenwood neighborhood from traveling the wrong path in life, residents of a neighborhood with similar demographics to the south are scoring points with a homegrown program that needed no government boost.
The Brenda's Kids program in the unincorporated Ridgecrest community west of Largo grew out of a mother's grief over her dead son and a local minister's energetic community activism.
Brenda Days' 18-year-old son Brennon, a senior at Largo High, was found shot to death in his car in January. Days later the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office arrested two local teens and charged them with murder. Investigators allege that the teens were robbing Brennon when a gun went off.
Brennon was Brenda Days' only child and "my everything," she said. Also grief stricken were many youths from the Ridgecrest area who knew Brennon and attended his funeral, officiated by the Rev. Edward "Bebe" Hobson.
It is a sad fact that in neighborhoods like Ridgecrest and North Greenwood, too many young people end up victims of violence, like Brennon, or in jail. After the funeral, a number of the Ridgecrest youths approached Hobson and said they wanted to change the pattern of their lives.
Hobson, who has been involved in several worthwhile efforts in the Ridgecrest area, knew that a door had opened. Quickly recruiting the YMCA and local churches, within a month he had organized a weekly program to share with local youths some of the tools they need to avoid the street life that has ensnared so many. Now, more than 100 middle and high school students flock to the Monday night sessions at the Greater Ridgecrest YMCA branch.
The program is called Brenda's Kids, and each Monday, Brenda Days is standing at the doorway to greet "her kids" with hugs and words of encouragement. She believes Brennon is there, watching as she mothers an entire community's children.
The program provides a little bit of spirituality, a little bit of guidance, a good meal, sports and music. Guest speakers talk about practical, real-life issues like budgeting or interviewing for a job. The activities are overseen by caring adult volunteers and Days' robust affection.
Ridgecrest seems to have found a way to get kids off the street, and on that one night a week, show them that there can be a better way to live. With that level of caring and commitment, other communities can do the same.