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Closed doors hold hope for youths

For years, the former Sand Dollar restaurant at 34th Street and 24th Avenue S has been vacant and boarded up.

But maybe not for much longer.

A group to be called Youth Build Tampa Bay is forming, and hopes to renovate the restaurant and make it into a community center.

First, though, another group is negotiating to buy the property at 2401 34th St. S, according to Tony Black, who is involved in the project. It is appraised at $395,000, property records show.

Property owner Mary R. Grizzle, a former state senator from Belleair Shore, could not be reached for comment Friday. Her daughter Mary said that Mrs. Grizzle would love to sell the property, and that she's waiting to hear from the real estate agent.

Youth Build is a nationwide program that started in New York City 14 years ago when Harlem youths wanted to clean up their community and build housing for the homeless.

Now, a group called Cooperative Housing Urban Rule Community Homes (CHURCH Inc.) wants to bring the Youth Build idea to Tampa Bay and to the Sand Dollar site. CHURCH Inc. officials are negotiating with the property owner for the site, Black said.

The idea behind Youth Build Tampa Bay is to offer an opportunity for "at risk young men and women to better their lives and the lives of their community," said Black, a consultant to CHURCH Inc. There are 14 Youth Build programs around the nation, he said.

The participants are unemployed high school dropouts ages 16 to 24. The 12-month program, which will begin in September or October, combines learning and on-the-job training with the hope that each participant will acquire a GED diploma at the end of the program.

Black said the students will go to school and work alternating weeks. One week they'll study for the GED and learn the construction trade in class. The next week they'll put their knowledge to the test under the "tutelage of experienced journeymen," Black said.

The Youth Build program is funded by federal, state and local sources, Black said.

Youth Build Tampa Bay will hold its first organizational meeting at 7 p.m. Monday at the Bethel Metropolitan Baptist Church, 3455 26th Ave. S. For information, call the Rev. Joseph Harvey or Tony Black at 327-0554.