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Two community centers for families get grants

(ran SE edition of LT)

Two community centers at opposite ends of the county will get more money to help families.

The Sanderlin Center in St. Petersburg and the Union Academy Cultural Center in Tarpon Springs each will receive a $200,000 grant from the Juvenile Welfare Board of Pinellas County. The money will be used to create neighborhood-based family support centers, said Kate Howze, JWB community relations director.

"They will be places where families can get access to the kinds of services that typically are offered by neighbors and relatives," Howze said.

Today, neighbors often are strangers and relatives live far away, she said. So the new JWB effort seeks to combine the full variety of family-support services under one roof in a community.

Each center will be tailored for the community it will serve. During the application process, each organization surveyed residents to find out what they felt was needed for a community center. The information will be used in creating the new and improved centers.

Lucius Pitts, executive director for the Citizens Alliance for Progress, the organization that operates the cultural center in Tarpon Springs, said the grant will provide a sort of one-stop shopping for family services.

"What we will be able to do is bring all the forces that affect families . . . to the neighborhood center," Pitts said.

For example, neighborhood residents will be able to take parenting classes, get tutoring for children, learn prenatal care and learn how to navigate the state health services system without having to travel all over the county, Pitts said. In Tarpon Springs, the money will mean additional people working in the center, including caseworkers and counselors, he said.

"We will be able to buy more things and provide more services, like day care," he said. "A person could walk in off the street and get their needs met."

No one from the Sanderlin Center was available for comment Wednesday.

The money to fund the programs comes from the Children's Services Referendum, which was passed by Pinellas voters in 1990. The referendum gave JWB the authority to tax county residents to help provide services for children and families. Over the next five years, JWB plans to expand the program to seven neighborhood family centers across the county.

The process begins with a nine-month start-up program. Each of the centers will design new programs, figure out staffing needs and begin the basic changes to their centers. During this time, each center will receive $75,000. At the end of the nine months, the centers receive the rest of the money. Every year thereafter, each center can apply for up to $200,000 more.

The sometimes serious subjects needed for families in crisis will not be the sole focus of the centers. Pitts said he hopes to offer programs such as painting and martial arts to parents and children who simply want to have fun.

"We want to make the center so attractive to people that they will want to drop in," Pitts said. "We want to make it a place that anybody in the city can walk into and say, "Hey, this here is something I like.' "