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New Y to help bridge cultures

Congratulations were given and ground was broken Tuesday on the $2.9-million Central City YMCA complex near downtown in Tampa Heights.

But the real value of the center may not be measurable in dollars and cents.

Promoters hope the branch will be a bridge between races and classes and cultures of Tampa, bringing together executives who work downtown, the children of nearby public housing complexes and all sorts of people in between.

"It is not only a building that will enhance the neighborhood," Mayor Sandy Freedman told the audience that gathered at the site of the new YMCA at 110 E Palm Ave. "It is going to strengthen the minds and the bodies of the people who live in this community."

The ceremony, which was the highlight of a two-year fund-raising drive, featured the Kuumba Dancers, a marching band from Busch Gardens, and a performance by the Central City Day Campers, led by "Captain Jam." Otis Anthony, executive assistant to the mayor, was the keynote speaker.

The new branch, which should be completed next summer, is intended to serve residents of several public housing communities, including College Hills Homes, North Boulevard Homes and Ponce de Leon Courts. Memberships to the new Y will be available on a sliding scale based on income.

In addition to traditional classes and programs, the Central City facility will feature a computer instruction lab, a health clinic, racquet ball courts, an outdoor pool and a 7,400-square-foot child care center.

For the children living in the neighborhoods near the center, the YMCA can provide the kinds of positive experiences that can give a shy child self-confidence and bring out enthusiasm in a cynic, said Lyndon Johnson, director of one of the summer camps being offered by the Central City Y at a number of locations.

Johnson said when you spend time with children, you see ways to give that one a boost, this one a word of encouragement and that one an ounce of responsibility.

"We find something for them to shine upon," Johnson said.

Skyra Mitchell-Young said she has already noticed a big boost in her daughter's self-confidence after four days in a leadership program at the summer camp at Orange Grove Elementary School. Kawuan Rogers, 13, is bold at home but kind of shy when around other children, Mitchell-Young said. Through the counselor-in-training program, Kawuan has to be in charge of younger children, including her sister. The responsibility suits her, Mitchell-Young said.

"They are learning how to respect each other and listen to each other," she said. "She is very proud, you know, we are counselors."

Mitchell-Young said that such programs supplement the values she is trying to impart to her daughters.

"Right now there is so much out there turning our kids' heads," she said. "As parents we are trying to steer them in the right direction and this program is going to help."