Reaching out

SFCC program is uniting public and private sectors

Esther Kelly, director of Prime Time after school program at Christ United Methodist Church, leads children in a praise dance.

JARRETT BAKER/Special to the Guardian
Published: Thursday, September 1, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, August 31, 2005 at 6:46 p.m.


East Gainesville Initiative

A partnership project organized by Santa Fe Community College, 395-5767 Areas of focus: educational outreach; access, success and retention; faith-based organizations, transportation, technology, cultural events and athletics.
A five-year strategic plan is nearing completion and will be unveiled by month's end.

Several students waiting for their tutoring director, Esther Kelly, to complete a telephone conversation, begged her pardon as they excitedly showed her their perfect scores on a weekly spelling test.
Kelly asked the caller to hold for a moment, then greeted each child with words of praise and encouragement before asking them to settle down for Primetime, a daily two-hour tutoring session.
In a classroom in the educational wing of Christ United Methodist Church, Primetime is one of three after-school programs supported by Santa Fe Community College's East Gainesville Initiative.
The initiative, started in 2001, features a variety of partnerships with government and private agencies in east Gainesville to address the educational, social and economic needs of the area.
SFCC will soon unveil a five-year strategic plan that will map out the specific goals of the initiative through 2010.
Karen Cole-Smith, executive director of SFCC's Community Outreach and the East Gainesville Initiative, said the project began as a way to increase the college's visibility throughout east Gainesville. The faith community is a key component, now with 14 churches on board.
"We recognize through the churches and the pastors that we can get the message of the initiative out to more people," Cole-Smith said.
Don Denton, pastor of Christ United Methodist Church, said the church has been involved since the beginning, providing more resources for Primetime, the church's mission program. Primetime is free to students who are typically at risk academically or are from low-income families.
"They have given us computers and recently we received about $2,000 worth of computer chairs for the children and they provided FCAT (Florida Comprehensive Achievement Test) materials," Denton said.
According to Cole-Smith, the computers are part of the 21 for 21st Century Project for churches in east Gainesville.
"We hope they create computer labs that can be used by the local community at large," she said.
Education is a focal point for the initiative, annually providing about $40,000 toward sustainable, long-term projects.
Odetta MacLeish-White, chairwoman of the East Gainesville Development Corp. and the Heart of Florida Prosperity Campaign, said the partnership with the East Gainesville Initiative has helped recruit more faith-based organizations to the campaign, which provides free tax preparation for low-income families and encourages financial empowerment.
In a two-pronged approach, the Heart of Florida Prosperity Campaign uses volunteers from the IRS to prepare tax returns, making sure earned income tax credits and child care tax credits are claimed if the wage earner qualifies.
"Through the faith-based community we have several free tax service sites and if it's at a church, residents trust that and it enhances our chances of reaching more people," MacLeish-White said. "Then we want to encourage them to think about saving the refund in a 401K account or get them to consider other options."
Investment in east Gainesville for Esther Kelly is in the lives of the students in the Primetime program. She is determined to work one-on-one with a student to ensure she is working above grade level, which Kelly believes will be the foundation for academic success in the future. "There is no (such) word as 'can't' for them."
The theme for the East Gainesville Initiative - partnering for a positive change - means just that, said Cole-Smith, who preaches the mission throughout the community. "We are willing to partner with anyone in east Gainesville who wants to make a positive change."
Harriet Daniels is a staff writer for the Star-Banner/New York Times Media Group in Ocala. She covers demographics, diversity and non-profits.

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