It all started with a walking school bus, an idea that saw parents from Campbell Park Elementary and even volunteers from the Tampa Bay Rays organization accompany groups of students on foot to school near the stadium in baseball.
It was one of the first steps toward creating what is now the United Way Suncoast Campbell Park Neighborhood Resource Center, an oasis of services including after-school care, job training and referrals, a daycare -eating, financial aid, legal aid and, more recently, a health clinic.
“The focus is on accessible services for people who live in and around the community, a place where all of their needs can be met. A one-stop shop”, this is how Emery Ivery, United Way Suncoast’s Director of Impact describes it.
Housed in its own two-story building at the back of the Johns Hopkins Middle School campus, the center serves the Johns Hopkins and Campbell Park elementary school communities and their modest neighborhoods.
Those who originated the resources available at the center are proud of the collaboration that brought them together. It was cause for celebration at an open house Thursday that drew organizations including Evara Health, the Pinellas County School District, Feeding Tampa Bay and the Rays.
“This neighborhood is something near and dear to us,” said David Egles, executive director of the Rays and Rowdies Foundation. “Not only is it in our backyard, it’s where our employees live, it’s where their kids go to school. This is where our volunteers come from.
The Campbell Park center and two others, in Sulfur Springs and North Greenwood in Clearwater, owe their genesis to a business model adopted by United Way Suncoast in 2006. “problems,” Ivery said.
One of the best ways to do this, he decided, “was to target certain neighborhoods that needed services based on poverty rates, school grades, and a number of other factors.”
As Ivery recalled, in 2010, then-Rays executive Mark Fernandez, also a United Way Suncoast board member at the time, mentioned that the baseball organization was interested in working with United Way Suncoast. to help the surrounding neighborhoods. United Way worked with Fernandez and Rays President Brian Auld to identify a specific community.
“We met in Campbell Park and spoke with a representative from the school, neighbors and teachers, community leaders and nonprofit organizations,” Ivery said, adding that they had met during about six months.
United Way Suncoast leaders also met with the Rays to share what they had learned and began strategizing to energize the community. They didn’t deny the region’s challenges, Ivery said, but focused on identifying its strengths to capitalize on its strengths.
Residents were proud of Campbell Park Elementary School, “but really wanted their kids to do better and succeed,” he said. And United Way Suncoast “wanted to support the neighborhood’s vision for the school, for the kids, and for the neighborhood.”
This was one of the reasons for the walking school bus. Campbell Park Elementary was struggling with lateness and absenteeism, so the nonprofit and the Rays teamed up to launch the program, modeling it on a model in place in other communities. They recruited parents as volunteers. The Rays provided souvenirs and even sent their mascot on occasion.
“At one point we had about 15 volunteers on seven routes and 146 kids participating,” Ivery said. “They would meet at a certain place and we had snacks for them.”
The program ran for several years, but lost some parent volunteers when they found employment. Reboot plans have stalled due to the pandemic. But there was more to strengthening Campbell Park Elementary. United Way Suncoast worked with the Rays and the school to establish an after-school program that included stadium tutoring.
The new resource center opened in 2011. The Rays funded a full-time employee for the center which was initially based at Campbell Park Elementary. A number of agencies have signed up.
The program outgrew this space and moved to a nearby modular building owned by the city of St. Petersburg. A grant from Suncoast Credit Union funded the move. In 2017, a three-year, $1 million grant from Duke Energy added momentum, allowing the center to welcome more partners and expand its services.
These days, Bay Area Legal Services provides free legal advice, Pinellas County Urban League offers career preparation, and PEMHS, Personal Enrichment Through Mental Health Services, offers case management that includes emergency financial assistance for rent and utilities.
There’s also the Shirley Proctor Puller Foundation’s MASTR Kids after-school program. United Way Suncoast’s Campbell Park Network for Early Learning offers on-site learning and play experiences for families and their young children – from birth to 5 years old – as well as technical support for home and private daycares. The goal is to transform the lives of preschoolers and their families by improving their readiness for kindergarten.
This fall, a grant from Bayfront Health will allow the center to offer CNA courses. “We help pay the school fees. We help them with the exam fees,” Ivery said of the training that is also offered at the other centers. “It’s being done in a very supportive environment.”
The training programs, he added, have a 90% completion rate.
Continued growth necessitated additional space and an August 2019 move to the John Hopkins campus. Dr. Jeffery Johnson, director of support services at the center, marvels at the expansion of its resources and physical space over the years.
“When I started, we were in a three-room trailer that was about 800 square feet or less. Now we have almost 15,000 square feet,” he said.
The school district has been a “phenomenal partner,” he added. “It is thanks to their generosity that we can do what we do.
United Way Suncoast only pays for utilities and school district building cleaning, Ivery said.
The Evara Health Clinic is the newest addition to the center, opening just recently. “We have been working for some time to get things done,” Chief Medical Officer Dr Nichelle Threadgill said in a telephone interview. “What we understand is that people want services and health care to be included. Being able to be in the community makes all the difference.
Evara Health, formerly Community Health Centers of Pinellas, operates other health care clinics nearby, the Johnnie Ruth Clark Center at 22n/a Street S and Bayfront on Sixth Street S. Campbell Park’s location, however, provides significant convenience for neighborhood schools, their students and staff, and for residents, many of whom may struggle with transportation.
“It’s another access point for patients to join us,” Threadgill said.
“We’re going to be open five days a week,” Evara chief operating officer Kim Schuknecht said, adding that the clinic will be staffed with a vendor and a medical assistant. There is also a kiosk for telehealth visits.
On Thursday, Johnson and other leaders hailed the coalition of nonprofits and other organizations that has emerged over the years to provide essential resources to the community. The center is also a DCF partner, allowing residents to use its computer lab to access food stamps and other benefits.
The Pantry, a partnership between Feeding Tampa Bay and the Rays, opened in October 2019. Those in need can “shop” in this bright, cheerful space.
“During the pandemic, we continued with the pantry, but kept it outside. Each week, 15 volunteers served about 200 families,” Johnson said, adding that the center has even seen people from as far away as Sarasota, although most of the people looking for food came from St. Petersburg.
Campbell Park is now United Way Suncoast’s largest resource center. The nonprofit organization opened its first neighborhood center in Sulfur Springs in early 2008. As part of the process of establishing the facility, the organization met with neighborhood residents and leaders, teachers, faith-based organizations and non-profit organizations in the community. Similar discussions took place in the North Greenwood neighborhood of Clearwater.
At Campbell Park, Johnson said: “We tried to develop a center that was one stop shop. If it’s something we don’t offer, we know someone who does.