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Tampa opens Sulphur Springs center to Idlewild Baptist's program for at-risk kids

 
The Bartholomew center on N 12th Street will house a multipart program sponsored by suburban Idlewild Baptist Church.
The Bartholomew center on N 12th Street will house a multipart program sponsored by suburban Idlewild Baptist Church.
Published July 4, 2015

TAMPA — Sulphur Springs has an old community center with space available and more than its share of teenagers who have had scrapes with the law.

Soon, the first could help the second.

Hope Street of Tampa, a nonprofit group based at the big and suburban Idlewild Baptist Church, recently received city approval to bring a multipart program for at-risk youth to the George Bartholomew North Tampa Community Center.

The center, at 8608 N 12th St., has had unused space since the city opened the nearby Springhill Community Center in 2012.

Hope Street will offer:

• help to 16- to 21-year-old dropouts who want to earn high school diplomas.

• assistance so teens and young adults can find, compete for and keep jobs.

• a neighborhood-based reporting center where juveniles on probation can meet with probation officers during the week.

Making probation officers available to minors, organizers said, will help kids required to regularly check in, and thus stay out of trouble — a problem that's too common in Sulphur Springs.

The ZIP code that includes Sulphur Springs (33604) has more juvenile arrests than any in Hillsborough County, said Florida Department of Juvenile Justice spokeswoman Heather DiGiacomo. In 2013-14, the most recent year for which data are available, the ZIP code had 937 arrests, or 14 percent of the county's total for the year.

"That tells you the depth of the problem," Mayor Bob Buckhorn said. "Part of the problem, particularly with kids on probation, is they have no means of transportation to get to their probation officer."

Over the past 2 ½ years, Buckhorn has made reducing blight and building new homes in Sulphur Springs a priority.

The city has demolished more than 70 vacant, condemned houses in or near Sulphur Springs and hired contractors to build 11 homes that are now occupied by new owners. City Hall also has assigned three code enforcement officers full time to the area, boosted police patrols, hauled away 150 tons of trash and debris, and worked with Tampa Electric to install 408 new street lights.

Hope Street's programs are aimed at providing rescue, restoration, recovery and relief to the neighborhood, said Ken Whitten, Idlewild's senior pastor. They'll include mentoring, tutoring, recreation and block parties. Hope Street will offer snacks or dinner to volunteers and participants at no cost to the city.

Buckhorn steered Whitten's attention to Sulphur Springs during a meeting several years ago. When Whitten asked where in the city Buckhorn would deploy an army of volunteers, the mayor said Sulphur Springs.

Since then, Idlewild has opened a church in the area, Idlewild Sulphur Springs, in the former home of Trinity Baptist Church. It also launched an adopt-a-block program that sends 150 volunteers into the area every other Saturday to knock on doors and ask residents, "How can we help?" Volunteers have served as mentors, made household repairs and helped with funerals, Whitten said.

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Hope Street aims to build on those efforts.

The job skills program, for example, could help kids who need their teeth fixed, proper work clothes or help getting ready for a job interview.

"We're going to start small, we're going to think big, and we're going to go deep," Whitten said.

Hope Street dovetails with everything City Hall and other nonprofits have been doing in Sulphur Springs, Buckhorn said.

"The faith-based community has wanted to step up," he said. "They see that they have a role, and I couldn't think of anybody to partner with that's more equipped to do that than Idlewild.

"Pastor Ken really has a servant's heart, and he recognized that there was a need there that maybe a suburban church had a moral obligation to come in and help their fellow man."

The City Council voted 6-1 last week to approve an agreement to make the Bartholomew center available to Hope Street.

In casting the only no vote, council member Lisa Montelione said she had no problem with Hope Street, but said the city should have issued a request for proposals so that other groups could have had a chance to use the center.

"It's a noble cause," Montelione said, but the city should have a "fair and unbiased process."

City parks and recreation director Greg Bayor said Hope Street won't have exclusive use of the center.

"We seek partnerships where we can," he said. "If we have space available in there, we will try to fill it with other partners."

Contact Richard Danielson at rdanielson@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3403. Follow @Danielson_Times