ST. PETERSBURG — Childs Park Recreation and Fitness Center at 4301 13th Ave. S., was abuzz Feb. 16 as it held a grand opening for its new computer lab. In partnership with City of St. Pete Parks and Recreation, the nonprofit DreamFaith Foundation provided brand new computers to the center as part of its Dream Big Initiative.
In addition, the DreamFaith Foundation has partnered with the citywide program, St. Pete’s Promise, to kick off its new mentoring program at the center. The mentoring program for youngsters grades four through 12 runs Mon. through Fri., from 3:30 to 7 p.m. after school with adult mentors. The computer lab student hours at Childs Park After School Program also runs from 3:30 – 7 p.m.
The festive event included a raffle for such fun giveaways as Sony headphones and mp4 players, as Deonte Thompson, founder and executive director of the DreamFaith Foundation acted as emcee.
“A few years ago we met with then Mayor Foster at the time and we went in with one question: How can we help?” Thompson said to those on hand.
Thompson, a St. Pete native, explained that although the foundation saw the negative statistics that plagued the south St. Pete community at the time like rising school suspensions and an increasing incarceration rate, the DreamFaith board members—which are almost all from South St. Pete—wanted to focus on a way to “build a bridge.”
“The answer that we got back from the mayor at the time was simple: Focus on the youth,” Thompson said. “Focusing on the next generation—grades four all the way up to 12th—to make sure that when they graduate from high school that they’re equipped to handle the world.”
When Thompson and his fellow board members left that meeting, they didn’t have a crystalized plan, but they had a desire and passion to give back to the community. Amidst that passion and determination the Dream Big Initiative was born.
“It’s about empowerment, it’s about hope, it’s about technology,” Thompson said, describing the DBI.
Thompson added that since we now live in a global economy, young career seekers will have to compete against people from all over the world for jobs, namely in the technological fields. Since he believes that science, technology, engineering and mathematics all figure prominently in the jobs of the future, he wanted to provide young people and adults with easy access to computers.
“That’s how the whole computer lab concept came about,” he said.
Access to hope was another key component of the DBI, Thompson said. That’s how the mentoring program came about.
“The goal is for every kid who wants a mentor, they have access to one and they get a mentor,” Thompson declared.
Thomas “Jet” Jackson, who has worked for the city for more than 50 years and recently had a building named after him, offered copious thanks to the foundation for its efforts.
“I want to thank the Dreamfaith Foundation for giving back to the community,” Jackson said. “There is hope and there is help, and you’ve given that help.”
Councilman Wengay Newton recalled some of the rough times he had as a youth growing up in a single-parent household, and encouraged the young people on hand to grasp any opportunities for a bright, productive future and take advantage of available resources.
“We don’t know which one of you guys are going to end up being the next president,” Newton stated, “or the next senator, or the next congressman, or the next mayor, or the next councilman, the next police officer, the next firefighter, the next park and rec manager. No one knows. But we have got to make sure we give you guys every opportunity—not a guarantee, not an entitlement—it’s an opportunity. And opportunities are what you make of them.”
Nikki Gaskin-Capehart, director of Urban Affairs at the city, praised the foundation’s new contribution to Childs Park.
“We are so grateful to you and your vision for stepping up and doing something,” she said. “We want to make sure that we support you as you support these children and these students, and anything that we can continue to do as a community. Let’s wrap ourselves around them!”
Gaskin-Capehart stressed the importance of mentors in young people’s lives and noted the positive impact that professional African-American women had on her when she was growing up.
“I just want you to know that there are opportunities for you and there are people who care about you,” she pointed out, “and just because you don’t have it necessarily in your household doesn’t mean that it’s not out there for you to get.”
Addressing the members of the community at the center directly, Thompson said: “Why are we all here? It is simply because you matter. We are here for you, and we want to be available for you.”